Summertime, and the shoulders are silly…

I’ve been trying to find something I can knit, given that because of my BPPV – positional vertigo – I can’t keep looking up and down at a pattern at the moment. Something plain vanilla. Something, in essence, boring. But useful. And not unattractive. I’ve got the yarn ready,


a rather lovely soft DK tweed from Queensland yarns.

In quest of this ideal project, which is proving difficult to find, I resorted to the Giant Pattern Mountain. The more recent are in my library on Ravelry, which makes hunting down patterns very easy as you can search by pattern type, yardage (OK, meterage), yarn weight. But it’s not as much fun as scrabbling through heaps of yellowing pattern books, even if you know there is not the slightest chance that you’ll find anything appropriate when you do so. My eighties horrors were to hand (I wrote about them a while ago, they just haven’t found their way back into the loft), and I became distracted with thoughts of summer. Not hard: it’s pouring down…

And if you thought shoulder pads couldn’t possibly have played a significant part in a sleeveless summer garment, you were wrong.

hat horror

If possible, they make you look even more deformed than they do when used in winter garments, with sticky little arms peeping out, apparently originating halfway along the shoulders rather than at the end. I cannot, seriously, believe that anyone ever knitted these.

Or did they? I mean, the yarn companies wouldn’t have wasted so much time and energy developing, designing, writing, testing, grading all these patterns if they though no one would ever buy the yarn and knit them up. Would they?

These seem deliberately designed to give an increasingly clichéd masculine profile. Of course, that’s true of all the shoulder-pad-infested 80s clothing, but here it’s strikingly obvious – especially in the case of the woman on the right with the tight skirt. Why did women do this? I suppose the same question could have been asked of flappers in the 1920s, and the answers are many and probably deserving of academic investigation (ah – now I know what to do for my doctorate: only joking). And yet they are combined with some femininity – lace patterns, pastel colours, no assertive musculature – just to reassure the chaps that the women are only playing. It’s OK, boys, we’re not serious.

(This would have been about the time that I was told I couldn’t join a BBC training course to be cameraman because I was female. Technical things? Oh, don’t bother your pretty little head about those. We’d like you to join us in another capacity, after all, you’re Oxbridge – you don’t want to be associating with nasty rough things like heavy equipment and cameramen. This is an edited version – barely edited; I was incandescent but there was nowhere to go.)

OK, rant over. Now, as we all know, the French reputation is for chic fashionability. As a half-Frog, this has always baffled me a bit: one trip to a supermarket somewhere in the Pas de Calais should lay that one to rest for ever. And so should this:

It’s an extreme example of the little-sticky-arms-and massive-shouder-pads genre. And what the hell is all that netting clutched at crotch level all about? Why do you need netting when you’re clearly on a beach or harbour somewhere (and it’s not that sort of netting; this is Strictly netting, not ‘arr, we’re bringing the catch in, cap’n’ netting, can’t see the fishing fleet being very effective when armed with that stuff).

After all the girly pallor it’s no surprise, really, that I became distracted by thoughts of colour. Easily distracted. A sudden outbreak of colour. Colour and – of course – intarsia.

Only, dear Lord, thoughts. Why? Why?

(Hmm. Ironic, retro, maybe I’m beginning to see why from the perspective of now, but… no, it’s not my plain vanilla. And it’s December. And it wouldn’t work in my Queensland tweed.) Right, back to the search…


8 thoughts on “Summertime, and the shoulders are silly…

  1. ohdebs

    Another great post Kate! I especially love the bit about the netting. I often wonder about the props dept in catalog shoots and what they could have possibly been thinking. Maybe she spilled coffee in her lap and they had to do a quick camouflage job on it.
    “Here, hold this…”
    “What the…?”
    “Oh just pretend you are contemplating missing never joining the ballet”.
    “Uh…O.K.” (eye roll).

    1. kate Post author

      Hee hee… I suppose there must be some sort og logic, but heaven only knows what this is. I mean, you’re on a photo shoot by a harbour, and you don’t just find ballroom-dance-costume netting lying about the place. Or maybe you do…

  2. Lydia

    I remember thinking how wonderful the shoulder pad silhouette was… now I think I must’ve been mad! I worked as a Producer’s Assistant at the BBC – no female camerawomen in sight – but they were edging into Film Editing. Coming from Oxbridge would’ve been an asset if you were a researcher, producer or director…. Hope you knit something soft and warm with the Queensland Tweed.

    1. kate Post author

      Yikes! Wash your mouth out!

      (Some of my contemporaries went into producing / researching, but I wanted to play with technology… naughty… Mind you, I did want to go to art school rather than Oxbridge, but I lost that one too.)

    1. kate Post author

      I hadn’t thought of that – and I think more people should dress like that for shrimping. Enough with the anoraks and/or the ridiculously short shorts on Barmouth harbour, already.


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