Shoulder pads are small, generally foam, pads that are used to add extra shape and dimension in the shoulder area of garments. Shoulder pads can either come sewn into the garment or as an aftermarket item that can be attached with Velcro or another form of fastener. A benefit of aftermarket shoulder pads is the fact that one can change the size of the shoulder pad without having to alter the garment. Depending on the desired look, or situation, one size of shoulder pad may be more appropriate than another; therefore interchangeable shoulder pads are generally seen as more desirable than shoulder pads that are sewn into the garment.
Shoulder pads first made their debut in the clothing industry in the 1930s as small bits of padding found in the shoulders of men suits to help them achieve the broad shoulder look that is so desirable. Shortly thereafter shoulder pads were added to women's dresses and jackets to provide gentle shaping around the shoulders and help deemphasize large hip sizes by creating a more vertically symmetrical appearance.
Briefly during the 1940s shoulder pads became much more exaggerated than they were previously in the 30s. During this timeframe it was not uncommon to see excessively large shoulder pads being used to create a boxy appearance. This trend was quickly reversed in the 50s when small rounded shoulder pads became more fashionable. Small shoulder pads remained the norm until the 1980s when over sized, exaggerated, shoulder pads once again took center stage. This time around, however, shoulder pads of excessive size were limited to women's fashion as men seemed to avoid them entirely. During this time it was not uncommon for some women to actually wear multiple shoulder pads to achieve even greater height and width in the shoulder region.
In the 90s fashion trends once again turned towards minimizing shoulder pads and they all but disappeared from most articles of clothing. Today shoulder pads can still be found in many garments however they are not used with the purpose of creating an exaggerated figure; instead they are used to provide slight shape and definition to the shoulders as they were originally intended.