Off The Shoulder Style: Then and Now

One of the things I love about fashion is how styles come in, go out, and come back again.  As a historian I love looking for elements of historical style- or details that were stylish in the past now becoming en vogue.   So, when I saw that off the shoulder tops were the it item for the summer I immediately connected this style trend with a popular look in the 19th century.

In the mid 19th century off the shoulder gowns were the dominate style for ladies evening gowns and/or ball gowns.  The off shoulder look was not wore during the day, as it was not conservative enough.  When wearing an off the shoulder gown a woman’s bodice or corset would push her bosom up giving her lots of cleavage!  I know- it seems a little scandalous for that time period- but it was accepted and widely worn.  In addition to being very low cut, the dresses were also very tight and low across the shoulders.  They were so tight in fact that when wearing one a woman couldn’t lift her arms above shoulder height.  From the should down the gown would taper down to the waist tightly, and then balloon out over ample petticoats and a wooden frame hoop skirt.  Can you image wearing a dress like that in August?!?

I love these styles from a 19th century version of French Vogue- notice how low cut and tight they were- had to have been so uncomfortable!  The only dress pictured for day wear is the high collared purple one with the yellow bonnet.  Bonnets were wore during the day to protect the face from the sun- and at night an adornment such as ribbon or flowers would have been wore in the hair.

19th Century Off The Shoulder Style 2 19th Century Off The Shoulder Style











Thankfully, today’s look is much more forgiving!  I paired my top with skinny white jeans and a great pair of wedges.  They also look cute with cut off jean shorts.  A short cropped off the shoulder top pairs well with a pair of high waisted flare jeans (cute look for an evening out).  Off the shoulder dresses are perfect for summer and look cute paired with flat sandals and straw hat (got to protect your skin) and are perfect for a beach day.

top from target

off the shoulder top 1 off the shoulder top 2

















  1. Courtney

    I just bought an off the shoulder top from Target, too! I’ll have to give it a try.
    Happy Monday!

    1. Lydia Claire (Post author)

      Do! They are fun to wear! 🙂

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