Shoulders back!

By Karen R. Smith


Looks like our three-digit days are here again, so dressing for the warm weather is the way to go for the next five months or thereabouts. By now, you’ve seen as many beautiful off-the-shoulder dresses and tops as I have, and probably at least a few have followed you home. I have one question: were you as miserable wearing yours as I was in mine???

A historical perspective

Cleopatra couldn’t stand up under the weight of some of her wigs and headpieces, but as least she had a reason for being a slave to fashion: she had to display her ruling the upper and lower kingdoms in a way that the crowds could see and understand.

From Japan to the British Isles, women died young from mercury poisoning. Those white face make-ups literally killed them...and then there were the bound feet in China...and the corsetted waists here in America.

Women’s willingness to suffer for beauty is well-documented, but personally, I thought that was all behind us. That we’d opted for clothing and make-up that looked good without such dire consequences.

What does it say about America in 2016 that both off-the-shoulder dresses and one piece jumpsuits are the height of fashion? Do we feel so hog-tied by the political scene that we need to illustrate it in clothes that don’t let us move freely?

Shouldering the burden

I brought home an off-the-shoulder dress - a really lovely off the shoulder dress - and decided to wear it to a dinner party. I found I was incapable of holding my wineglass and cocktail nibbles in the normal posture, and ended up looking like a demented cartoon character as I experimented with how far I could extend my arms before the band around my shoulders stopped the motion.

Dinner wasn’t much better. Seated, I could feed myself without having to adjust my dress if I ate very carefully. By the time the entree was served, I was ready to remodel my dress in the ladies room with a pair of manicure scissors...but I resisted the urge thanks to my husband, who said I looked great and offered to feed me dessert.

Off the cuff advice

I attended a trunk show at a major retailer’s, and there were dozens of off-the-shoulder pieces being worn. Obviously, the models weren’t trying to eat, but they seemed to have more range of motion than I did in my dinner party dress. And I saw one model reach up, dislodging her top, but it went right back into position. It was either magic, or she had an off-the-shoulder hack that I needed to learn!

Lurking by the dressing room door, I accosted the model as she returned to change. A real pro, she invited me inside to learn the trick. Under each armpit, she had attached a covered hair elastic to the inside of the dress, using a safety pin at each end. I realize this might be difficult to visualize, so bear with me here. With an elastic under each arm that is attached to the dress, when you raise your arm up and your off-the-shoulder flounce gets displaced and heads toward your neck, the elastic under your arm keeps it from going astray and ‘boings’ it right back into place!

This is a great solution for all those flounced off-the-shoulder dresses, but doesn’t do much for the binding, tailored sort like my dinner party dress. But it does solve the problem for the other half.

See Refinery 29’s version of this hack here on Youtube:

Fitted Facts

For those fabulous tailored or body-con off-the-shoulder tops and dresses, let the buyer beware. You will want to try these on and see what the motion restrictions are. I have a couple of very body-con dresses from Lulu’s ( that I’m completely comfortable in; the arm parts stay down, probably because the dresses do too -- like I said, these are body-con.

If you are tempted by an off-the-shoulder dress or top online, do yourself a favor and read each and every review. Women are terrific about sharing their experiences when it comes to a fashion purchase, and you’ll be spared feeling like a penguin in a straightjacket!

Of course, there are some places you can’t find a review...but a dress is this beauty by Nicholas

I don’t think I’ll be able to move my arms...but I could look exceptionally good just standing there, couldn’t I?

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s a terrific looking floral pattern dress on sale at New York and Company and some of the reviewers have actually managed to eat while wearing it!

I bought a black knit off-the-shoulder top on clearance while I was in New York City, so returning it wasn’t an option. It only looked good when I stood with my arms at my sides. I opened the seams and inserted black elastic gores, front and back. Presto! I can even order a cheeseburger in this top now!

Flush with that success, I find myself looking at jumpsuits...but I remember having to get completely naked to use the ladies room wearing one of those back in the day...and that’s not something I can change with a bit of elastic!!!

About the Author:
Karen R. Smith is an award-winning journalist and publicist. Her book, "Stylishly Sexy" is available online and she takes private style clients throughout Arizona and across the country. Visit her at