Tag Archives: Henry VIII

The power of men’s shoulders

18 Oct

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.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

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.

Matador costume, Museum in Ronda Bullring Arena, Ronda, Andalusia, Spain

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.

Character shoulders

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.

The new royalty

10 Nov

The Canadian Press contacted me to do a piece on holiday wear for men this week, and the reporter mentioned something about pulling archive photos of people like Brad Pitt if I wanted to talk about a celebrity style. She needn’t go to the trouble of looking for visuals because I don’t encourage anyone to swipe another person’s mode of dress – to me, that’s like stealing someone’s identity. Why would we want to look like someone we’re not? We are our own people with  our own style, our own speed, and we are not Brad Pitt.

This got me thinking.

Why aren’t there more Brad Pitt types in the world? Why aren’t there more men confident enough to know themselves and laugh at themselves and illustrate themselves through their dress? Are we that uninteresting? Are we collectively afraid to do our own thing?

Throughout history, humans have followed the sartorial cues of influential people in positions of power.  Up until the recent past,  it was royalty that set the tone of dress to court and then on down to the common people. Kings were incredibly influential this way. To illustrate just how dominant royal men have been on society, I offer the following examples:

1.  Footwear during the Tudor period was soft, wide, and square. Some historians attribute the slashed, square-toed shoes of this era to Henry VIII who is said to have suffered from gout, a very painful arthritic-type of joint inflammation most often affecting the joint of the large toe.

A nice, soft, wide shoe would nicely accommodate this affliction,  often brought on by alcohol – wine, beer, and mead were the wet for the Tudor whistle, and high fat and cholesterol levels in the blood.  I have read that Henry may have been a binge-eater, taking much fatty red meat as a mechanism to cope with stress – his waist was 54″!

2. When Louis XIII of France went prematurely bald around 1624, the men’s wig was born. Louis’ choice of neat and wavy scalp covering swept across Europe and the fashion carried on into his son’s reign, when wigs rose in height and cascaded luxuriously over the shoulders.

The (extremely high maintenance) wig became a staple amongst courtiers and professionals, and the size of wig carried social meaning (“big wig”). Wigs even became part of military uniforms.

Wigs got longer, fuller, and astoundingly high; they changed to white and were powdered, then shortened to a simpler bob which morphed into tightly curled wigs. Wigs for men remained popular in Europe until the 1790s but were for various reasons abandoned however, British judges and barristers continue the tradition of wearing (strange-looking curled and tailed) wigs in court.

So we’ve got a fat guy with gout and a young bald man influencing the way men have dressed across the ages.

We’re well into the 21st century and royalty doesn’t really have the same pull that it once did, so what’s going on now? Who are the style leaders and who do men look to for cues? Entertainers.

Actors, musicians, and popular politicians have replaced royalty when it comes to setting trends. I ask my clients whose style they admire and often I hear James Bond, Cary Grant, George Clooney, and Brad Pitt. What is it about these guys that other men like so much?

Classy Simplicity

This group wears well-fitting and quietly cool clothes; clothes that aren’t stamped with logos and labels that shout out for attention, and busy, flashy accessories. Take Brad Pitt, he’s got his own cool style with a hint of cheekiness worked in through hats, scarves, sunglasses, and haircuts, giving him an interesting and fitting look even when he’s in jeans and a t-shirt.

It seems to me that Brad Pitt knows himself well enough to feel comfortable expressing himself and his sense of humour through his accessories; I like that he punctuates his simple, low-key wardrobe with cool pieces – not every man can pull off a knitted tam worn Rasta style with a long Van Dyke beard.

I’m always encouraging men to play with their clothes and the way they put themselves together. It’s important to find the right pieces that suit the individual in the right colour and the right proportion, even the right texture; something that suits the guy’s personality, things that they feel comfortable in, not what they think Brad Pitt would wear, for they are not Brad Pitt.