It has always been my opinion that a man’s strength lies in his shoulders. Whereas women’s bodies have two expanses – the shoulders and the hips that meet at the waist (the smallest point of a woman’s torso and what I think of as the point of our femininity), men’s shoulders are much larger, broader, and rounder, holding his power and displaying his magnificence.
Zoologist, Desmond Morris, said in his BBC series, The Human Animal, that a man’s wide shoulders above a narrow waist is considered the most appealing. This classical shape speaks of a strong, healthy, and masculine body, and men often wear clothes to draw attention to the breadth of their shoulders, exaggerating their size, and visually increasing their power.
Take football players for example. Their padding is there to protect their shoulders but also to magnify them. Football uniforms exaggerate a player’s small waist and wide chest and shoulders, undoubtedly to intimidate the opposing team with their size, strength, and power.
Albeit all of the protective equipment worn on the “battlefield” of the football stadium, these men are not in the mortal danger that underpadding was created for – protection from weapons.
Unfortunately, where there is disagreement, there are wars, and with wars come weapons. The use of weapons calls for protection, and throughout history, body protection has come in different forms – thick quilted fabric, leather armor, and metal armor, each type with its own kind of shoulder protection.
In Medieval times, armies and knights wore rounded, moveable metal plates called pauldrons, worn to protect the shoulders in battle. Over these rounded pieces, armored fighters wore a gardbrace to protect the shoulder of their free arm. Sometimes two gardbraces were worn with raised guards at the top to deflect blows to the neck.
Henry VIII’s already enormous frame was further exaggerated by his armor. He wore one gardbrace with a huge guard (sometimes in the form of large spikes) on one shoulder – as seen on the left. Also note the armored codpiece peeking out of the faulds of his breastplate – even in battle, never forget the King’s penis!
Read this interesting take on Henry’s enormous girth in Daily Mail UK.
In Japan, the Samurai tradition paid special attention to the shoulders of their costume. Real Samurai wore the sode, rectangular shoulder protectors made of iron or wood strips laced together with leather. These shoulder pieces were very large during periods when bow and arrows were used as main weapons, getting smaller as Japanese armies operated on horseback. (Source.)
For modern men who wish to don armor but don’t feel like carrying around 45 lbs of extra weight, I found a Korean designer on Etsy who has created a wool “armor” hoodie, complete with fabric pauldrons, and designed so the eye moves up to the powerful shoulders.
Even when not in battle proper, men’s shoulders have been excessively decorated to draw attention to this manly body feature.
Before bullfighting was recently (and thankfully) banned in Spain, Matadors risked goring by bulls, but strangely, their costumes offered little protection from the hard horns of an angry bull. These costumes featured short pants, long stockings, and a beautiful jacket with hombrera, heavily decorated shoulder pads, again drawing attention to the virile Matador’s V shape.
Because there was such little protection for the bullfighter, I’m assuming that the gorgeous, heavily adorned costume was meant for show, drawing attention to the beauty of the Matador who received for his work not the spoils of war, but roses tossed out when the crowd was pleased with his performance.
Wide, majestic shoulders can give a man the illusion of size, making him more imposing than he actually is. On film and on stage, wide, exaggerated shoulders speak of size and power in heroes and villains.
Hero types are often young and strong, like Thor of The Avengers. Thor’s power is displayed through (the illusion of) his wide shoulders.
The actor underneath does not have particularly imposing shoulders, so the costume designer illustrates Thor’s power through the illusion of big, powerful shoulders in a V-shaped breastplate with an exaggerated cape growing out of it, drawing the eye to the girth of the breastplate and the colour of the cape instead of the width of the arm.
The power suggested by broad shoulders can add a touch of menace to a villainous character. Darth Vader is tall, dark, and broad-shouldered, cloaked in a large black cape to make him a very intimidating and imposing figure.
Orcs of Middle Earth have little patience for each other and strongly adhere to their hierarchical power structure. Like any other army, these horribly ugly Lord of the Rings creatures wear costumes that demonstrate their military position, and their the shoulder pads speak of their rank.
Here, the small, whiny foot soldier Orc wears what looks like bear fur shoulder pads on his cloak, decorated with what I’m guessing are pig’s teeth. Senior Orcs not only stand taller, but wear larger leather shoulder pieces for instant visual recognition of their rank.
Modern day armies flood into office buildings every day in their version of armor – the suit. Suits, with their padded, squared-off shoulders suggest credibility and authority, but suit shoulders can get out of hand – remember the 80s? Men and women wore suits with massive, jutting padded shoulders to exemplify power. While these magnificent expanses spoke of the wearer’s clout, they didn’t do much to frame the face – to0-wide shoulders diminish the head, giving visions of melons on teeter-totters.