Tirade against the cold shoulder trend

tirade against cold shoulder trend

I love discovering and observing trends. Trends are a window into the consumer's soul and mindset, rich with revelations about cultural realities, nuances and shifts. But, never has the prevalence of a trend such as the “cold shoulder trend” triggered such animus. It's as if I have an allergic reaction when is see a cold shoulder top. But why do I have such an unprecedented aversion to this particular trend? I’m really, really trying to put my finger on it.

There is, on the surface, nothing overtly offensive about this trend. After all, fashion experts purport that the shoulder is the one part of a woman's body that ages well and doesn't too much show the vagaries of time. Or menopausal bloat.

Actually, the cold shoulder look isn't anything new. Here's Hillary Clinton wearing a Donna Karan cold shoulder dress in 1993 at her first official White House dinner (source). As the designer mentions, it features two prominent cutouts at the shoulder “which revealed a body part that looks good no matter your age or body type”. OK. I guess you can't say that about the midriff.

Hillary Clinton wears a Donna Karan Cold Shoulder

Hillary Clinton in 1993 wearing a Donna Karan “Cold Shoulder” design by Donna Karan.


It seems that designers recently decided to revive the look. It started off well. Like with this Balmain couture top from the fall 2016 collection, an intricate and highly embellished affair that could fare very well at a charity gala. Just be careful to keep the pompoms out of the consommé during dinner.

Balmain Fall 2016 Cold Shoulder Top

The couture “cold shoulder top”. It started off as a noble intention.


Evidently, it's upon seeing designs like this one that mass market clothiers had a meeting and unilaterally decided that, for Spring-Summer 2017, every women should be wearing their fast-fashion interpretation of this once elegant look .

Let’s not mistake Cold Shoulder with Off-Shoulder which is indeed a timeless feminine look. Personally, I’d stay away from wearing an off-shoulder top at the office. Though, if you’re Sarah Palin, you would feel that this is appropriate daywear for a visit to the White House. Who am I to judge. 

Cold shoulder trend gone from bad to worse

By cold-shoulder, I mean the pointless cutouts that are made in the sleeves of tops and blouses so that the top or side of the shoulder is revealed. At its best, it’s a fun and creative design. At its worse, it’s as if someone just cut out a circle out of each arm, like this:

White cold shoulder button shirt

A cold shoulder button shirt. To no surprise, these tops all seem to be on fire sale. This one is on clearance for $13.99!


C'mon! I know I'm not the only one who thinks this looks ridiculous and pointless. It's not even sexy or cute!

It could be that this trend also annoys me because it kinda brings to mind the DIY cut t-shirt projects we'd make in high school. See below. Remind you of anything? And hey, fringe is in this year too. Go ahead and add some fringe to the bottom of the t-shirt while you're at it. Because sometimes, one trend is just not enough. Ugh. 

DIY cold shoulder cutout t-shirt

A DIY version of the cold shoulder top. Almost cuter than what is found in stores.


Search results for the term: Cold ShoulderOr maybe, I'm annoyed because this trend is inescapable as proven by this search results for the term “cold shoulder” at Macy's. Only 1329 results!

Seriously, who needs that many “cold shoulder” choices? It's out of control. Every rack in the clothing store, every online store features hundreds of these tops, in one variation or another. It's even crossed over to little girls clothes.  

Maybe I'm really annoyed at this cold shoulder trend because it's now so ubiquitous that it's simply a reaction of “enough already”? Or maybe it's because the creative direction taken by some of these fashion houses just made the cold shoulder look so weird and tacky that it causes definite cases of the garment wearing the person and not the other way around. Take for example:

red gingham cold shoulder top

Yep. You'd be totally within your right of asking “WTF is going on here?”. Is she wearing her picnicking tablecloth or her skirt as a bustier? I love creative and quirky fashion. This particular design is a terribly misguided attempt to follow the cold shoulder trend while adding the gingham trend on top.

How about this little piece. Think there's enough going on here?

Orange Cold Shoulder Shirt

Between the washed-out milky orange color, the cheap poly lace, the appliqués on the collar and the dreaded cold shoulder cutouts, I don't know whether to avert my eyes or sordidly continue staring to see what-not-to-do lessons I can learn from this “thing”.

And, there's this one, where the designer is not quite committed to the cold shoulder look and went halfway:

Lecce cutout silk blouse

Looks like someone is trying too hard. But, if you can't live without the half cold shoulder look, this pretty little thing will only set you back $1015.

I'm really not sure where to start with this denim number. The designer of this piece just couldn't decide what they wanted. Dark or light denim? Pocket or no pocket? Sleeves or no sleeves… It's one big ugly oxymoron.

Denim cold shoulder shirt

And, last in the exhibit of horrors is this embellished piece. Because, the cutouts by themselves don't draw enough attention. Let's add some crochet flower appliqués. More is more, right?

Flower applique cold shoulder


But really, why do I find the cold shoulder trend so annoying?

Still, none of the evidence presented above really answers the “why does this trend irritate me so”. At this point, I'm realizing that the root of my annoyance has nothing to do with the aesthetics of this particular trend. It’s the fact that trends are, unassumingly but opportunistically, foisted upon us. Whether the public likes it or not, it’s what fashion manufacturers and marketers have decided and this is what we get. It’s the very fact that this cold shoulder trend is so unavoidable that brought about this thought process.

The initial creative spark that creates any particular trend might be inspired by street fashion or couture designs. But it's the hyper-commercialization of a trend, as is the case with the cold shoulder trend, that bastardizes the integrity of the original idea.

Add to that a handicap wrought on many women: a lifelong exposure to media and advertisements telling us that we are never good enough. This has crippled our self-confidence and, by association, our belief in our own sense of style. We have been conditioned instead to believe whatever the fashion brands – and their celebrity mouthpieces – tell us about how to dress, how to look and how to present ourselves. A real definition of fashion victim. 

I'm frustrated to observe so many women readily, unquestionably oblige: “This is the trend. I need to wear it”, “If there is so much of it in stores, it must be what women want”, “I should wear it too, whether it suits me or not”. I'm saddened that otherwise smart and savvy women keep falling into the trap. It happens in every single age group. In an era where all the fashion rules are broken – on purpose – and where anything goes, why would you want to look like everybody else? 

A word to the fashion brands and to my sisters

So, to the fashion brands, know that discerning women without a designer clothing budget are tired of being treated as mere sheep-like followers. We don’t all want to wear the same thing. Please give us choices.

And to the women who feel they need to follow fashion rules and trends, don't. It's not the 1960's where your bag needs to match your shoes, and your earrings match your necklace. Today, the {fashion} rules are our own. Listen to your instincts and to what feels right for you.

Slave to fashion, no more.


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33 Responses to Tirade against the cold shoulder trend

  1. Chris says:

    OMG – I’m so happy to read this. This trend is sooooo unattractive and unappealing and EVERYWHERE. It’s actually shocking about how prevalent it is as I look for tops, and like you said, both pure clearance and still coming! Thanks for giving me a vicarious rant.

    • Anne Marie Kovacs says:

      Such a relief to know that it’s not just me. And I’m really hating our fashion choices this spring, the cold shoulder being one of the causes.

  2. Hi Anne Marie,
    I haven’t written about it or modeled it, because I do not like how my “girls” look in these styles. I have invested in top quality bras to hold them up, but the cold shoulder style on me, seems to bring them down in appearance. I just have not found it flattering on me. So, I have not been able to share it with my audience. If others like it, that’s great for them and how they feel in it. I am just not confident in this trend.

  3. Let’s just pray that the next trend coming down the pike isn’t the “cold hips” look.

  4. There’s so much to dislike about this – it makes me cold to look at the pics, and I suspect a fabric shortage led to an “aha!” moment. Even the models don’t seem to think much of it. They look like dogs do when they’re dressed in Halloween costumes.

    As to your extreme disapproval, if you’re like me with hold music, you won’t hurt anyone hating something like this this hard. You just go right ahead.

    • Anne Marie Kovacs says:

      OMG, yes! The Cold Shoulder look is as irritating as hold music! Anyone with an account at Merrill Lynch will be forever marked by their hold music that sounds like an AM radio station, static and all.

  5. Diana says:

    Well I must say, this post surprised me. I thought it was going to be about giving someone the cold shoulder as in being rude, not the fashion cod shoulder. Lol
    It ‘s not my personal taste either. Hopefully it will be a one season wonder.


  7. Leah says:

    I fund myself laughing at some of these photos. Are they for real? You’re right, this has gotten way out of hand.

    • Anne Marie Kovacs says:

      They ARE all real, though I must admit I chose the most egregious cold shoulder tops I could find. You know, to make a point! 😉

  8. Those are some horrible tops you featured! LOL! I am not a fan of the cold shoulder top and will not be following the trend!

  9. Clarissa Chevalier says:

    Hmmm, I find myself in a bit of an emotional crisis–as I read this post while wearing a fast fashion cold shoulder black top that I picked up on the cheap a few weeks ago from H&M. In my defense, my top is nothing like the ones mentioned in the above article, it is plain and black free of any excessive embellishments. What I found most interesting about this article was the bit at the end about fast fashion, the “this is the trend. I need to wear it” part. Mainly this is so striking to me because it is EXACTLY what I did, this is the precise origin of the top I’m wearing. A couple months ago I waltzed into H&M, saw this cold shoulder top, and seconds later I was out the door and a proud owner of a new going-out shirt. It is exactly this mindlessness that I like about fast fashion–I didn’t need to think about it. It was cheap, it was accessible, it was fashionable. As a young broke college student, those were all the reasons I needed. For me, at least, this mindless fast fashion shopping ensures maximum appearance value for minimal effort.

    • Anne Marie Kovacs says:

      Clarissa, Thanks for your candor. I know that you look great in that cold shoulder top. You are pulling off the look better than anyone I know. However, I also know that you have an awesome sense of style and unlimited creativity. With that, I encourage you not to fall prey to fads because you feel you might have to. Instead, pull something out of your bottomless bag of tricks. It will be massively more satisfying for you and the rest of us will only be in admiration of YOUR unique style.

  10. DeAnna M says:

    I actually love my cold shoulder tops. I had bought mine a couple of years ago, but the ones that they are putting in the stores now are not very cute. The ones that I have have several cut-outs down my arms, some have a chunky piece of material between each one and others have beautiful thins metals. It all depends on how they are designed but i do agree that the tops I have seen in the stores and on line are not very cute or sex appeal.

  11. Elizabeth Roae says:

    I could not agree more! One or two in my closet to stay on trend, but just shopped the Nordtrom sale and it was either that, or bell sleeves! Even in sweaters, which makes zero sense. I bought a hand bag and called it a day.

  12. Dana Hoffman says:

    Hallelujah! I loathe this style. Blech. Here’s my fashion motto: just because I fit into it doesn’t mean I should wear it. Your examples and comments above are spot on, and so funny (the tablecloth one is the worst and I think looks like Minnie Mouse was involved).

    • Anne Marie Kovacs says:

      Unfortunately, writing this post just made me notice the cold-shoulder look more. Like when you buy a new car and then you see there are so many of the same model on the road. Except that I cringe every single time I see a cold-shoulder top and I want to provide an intervention to all the poor fashion victims that fall for this ridiculous trend.

  13. Joy says:

    I bought a cold shoulder top and thought it looked good, not like hideous ones you show. Then I went to a tourist attraction and everyone and their sister was wearing them, and they looked so bad. I tried mine on again, then I put it in the Goodwill bag. It was not expensive, but a waste of money.

  14. Kathy says:

    I hate cold shoulder tops. When I’m paying for a shirt, I want the whole thing, not a cut-up version of a shirt. They are so tacky and ugly. Thank you for speaking out against this ghastly look

  15. Don says:

    Recently (June 2017), I witnessed 6 of 8 women seated at a table at a local bar wearing cold shoulder tops. I snickered. Not an original thought among them. Most of them have clearly been suckered into what is easily one of the most unflattering of all styles hoisted on adult women. I understand trends. Boots anyone? Black yoga pants? Butterfly tattoo on the ankle? But these shirts? One of the women could have been mistaken for an NFL lineman. It’s not her best look, but she’s trendy!
    I wondered what women thought about these shirts and was gratified to learn some hate them as much as I. But I thought a man should weigh-in, too – ditch these shirts. They are ugly as sin and not flattering. Still snickering…

    • Anne Marie Kovacs says:

      Don, I feel ya! However did you find us? I’m quite impressed with a man who 1) has such an enlightened opinion on the topic and 3) knew what this trend is called and 3) took the time to comment. Thank you! 😉

  16. Janet says:

    I absolutely hate this trend with a vengeance and I so wish it would pass. Off-the-shoulder can be nice and pretty, even asymetrical shoulders, but this style is hideous, especially with all the cheapo versions coming out – and the ones with just little bits cut out for the “more mature”. I find it offensive when I see people wearing it at work. The only time I don’t mind it is when I see it on real youngsters, 20somethings and younger, but often that is because it is styled with a very young look, like a playsuit, which on a youngster looks cute. It’s nothing to do with flashing the flesh, and I suppose I could wear it myself, even tho I’m “mature” (old?) because I’ve always had a reasonable upper body. But nothing short of being lined up before a firing squad would persuade me to do so.

  17. Mary Hinkle says:

    I hate them too. They are ugly and unflattering. The problem is they are everywhere! I have a couple out of necessity, I was going to an event and needed something to wear and got them because there were no other choices. As a fuller busted person, they make me look bigger yet, not just in the bust but all over. Where can I find a decent blouse? Great article, I am glad others feel the same.

  18. Laurence Rothschild says:

    as a guy I hate these cold shoulder tops too,they are not good looking at all,I hope this trend ends soon,every time I see one I like to tell them how stupid it looks,it gives me the cold shoulder..lol

  19. Cheli says:

    I love this article. Recently, I received a box of clothing from a company that has a personal stylist pick out your clothes. Well, in the box were TWO of these cold shoulder monstrosities! I absolutely hate this look! I swear I thought I was alone with this irrational hate. Thankfully, I found this brilliant piece of writing and was able to put my mind at ease that my eyes were not deceiving me, and that this cold shoulder look is truly unattractive.

  20. RJ says:

    Another guy here – stumbled across your blog looking for more info on why this annoying trend persists. My wife had NO interest in these kind of blouses. My wife knows what she likes and doesn’t like, and tends towards classic and timeless looks. That keeps her away from trends, and also allows her to wear what she likes without going along with whatever is supposedly fresh and new (which will look dated more quickly than her preferences).

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