Casing the Joint: On Shoulder Pads, Knobby Knees, and the Mechanics of Fashion

Joints are the points of our bodies’ connection.  They’re what make limbed bodies move and bend in interesting ways.  (Obviously I tread lightly here in my generalizations, considering the plethora of kinds of bodies, all interesting and all beautiful.  Bodies without joints move and bend in interesting ways too, but today I’m focusing on the way in which fashion deals with these bone to muscle connection points.)

Your body as joints.

Joints are the reason we aren’t constantly falling over. They are what allow us to walk, wave hello, sit down, stand up. Imagine getting through the day without hands. And fashion hinges on them as well.  When creating a garment, the knowledge of how to address fabric in terms of these points of connections is the difference between a suit that allows you to sit down elegantly, and one that makes you look like you’re wearing a paper bag.

Below is a  joint account of the bodies’ connective points. I’ve made the deposits, you check ’em out.

We’ll start at the top.  Shoulders are integral to the construction of any jacket.  You want a garment to hug them but not be so tight that you can’t lift your arms.  Throughout fashion history we’ve seen shoulders dealt with in a myriad of ways.  First up, shoulder pads. They originated in the ’30s when they started out as adorable small triangles, or little circles, stuffed with anything from sawdust to wool.

Here’s the look that started the whole shoulder pad craze, Joan Crawford in Letty Lynton:

This enough shoulder for you boys?

After that, of course, came post-WW2, which brought a combination of the militarized look with women seeking to create an image of themselves as powerful and capable in the workplace.  That look of course, repeated itself in the ’80s when women tried to break through the glass ceiling, ostensibly through the sensible path of raising the height of and intensity of their shoulder pads.

We get it.

Of course sometimes fashion chooses to deal with a joint by exaggerating it.  Hence the wide-shouldered look.

This is just waiting for a bird to alight.

Anyone looking for shoulders?

Then of course, fashion deals with these blades by sometimes showing just one, or none at all.  Here’s the peek-a-boo one-shoulder, or off-the-shoulder look that I usually detest.  It’s rare this look can be classy, though I’ll dredge up some imagery.

Why wear anything at all? Is this a napkin?

No, no, no, no, no, and no.

Of course there are exceptions to the rule, I just can’t seem to troll through images to find them.  The first that comes to mind however, is a boss copper number owned and worn by the formidable Michael Braithwaite.

When in doubt, if you don’t want shouldered clothing, maybe you should just bare those beauties, but be warned, there’s a way to do it.  If you want to show your shoulders, you should probably show them.

Again with the napkin!

Another example of shoulderlessness is Jolie, who is often caught donning strapless dresses.

I could file my teeth on those things!

Most importantly when going bare-shouldered is to make it look intentional.  Nothing is worse than putting on a dress that looks like the shoulders are just incompetent at keeping it up.

And we all fall down...

God, I’ve exhausted myself just on shoulders!  Now I’ll speed us along through the rest of our joints.  Up next, wrists.  Wrists are very important.  To me, they are one of the sexiest points on a body, mostly because I’m a writer, and I can get a little worked up over how beautiful hands are.  They allow us to write, to touch.  I particularly love garments that address the wrist.  Men’s shirts should be tailored appropriately at that juncture, and men’s fashion pays so much more attention to cuffs.

I love when women’s garments add a little nod at that pulse point, but unfortunately sleeves usually see wrists as opportunities to end their stretch down the arm.  After gouging my eye out trying to find interesting contemporary women’s wrist lines, I ended up only by being able to give you the Victorian’s love for sleeve cuffs:

Next up are knees.  I’m not going to lie to you, knees are ugly.  Sure, they’re a complicated joint that bears the weight of our entire body and they allow us to walk and stand and do basically everything, but they’re still ugly.  Sometimes I can even see faces in them.  That’s why I look up not down.  Well, just one of the reasons.

I'm up for a closer look. Confirmed. Ugly.

The unfortunate twins.

I told you there were faces in there!

I wish this had never happened to me.

Do I have to make the decision about burial or cremation now?

There many ways to deal with these ungodly cartilege centers.  I recommend covering them at all costs, but then again I’m prone to being extreme and hyperbolic.  So, if you insist on showing the faces of your fluid filled friends, here’s a few ways to go.  The first is to wear something that just covers or brushes against the knee.

Marni saving me!

It's as if Marni inserted a little veil underneath, just to sheild us from the knees! Go Marni!

Then of course are the people who want to wear shorts and mini-skirts, and listen I understand you, or at least I pretend to.  It’s hot out, you think you’re hot, you are hot, whatever.  I’ll be on the beach in a full-length gown with a wide-brimmed hat, reading under a tree, and you can prance around, showing off your beautiful knees.

Did you really need to draw that line? Now we have to visually pass through those unfortunate peaks! Oh man.

But yes, I’m sure you have your gallery of hot knees.  Enjoy those guilty pleasures.

Moving on to elbows, which are cool.  Gross up close as well, like dried prunes, excess skin wrinkled up into the crooks of our arms, but we can do things like draw circles around them!

Circle marks the spot.

At this point I can’t even muster up the strength to deal with ankles.  So I’ll leave you with this.  If you want to show off the fancy points that make your skeleton swing, at least have the decency to be fashionable about it.  Don’t worry about me; I look up anyways.


About anissegross

freeartist, writer, lover of most things.

One comment

  1. Hazel Vaalbara

    The world loves Anisse Gross’s brain. And her joints. Especially her wrists. But I swear to god, I’ll never look at knees the same again.

IBC LOVES your brain, and we encourage thoughtful, lively discussion. We will, however, moderate comments that are abusive or disrespectful. Stay classy!

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