How To Sew On Shoulder Pads Into Jacket (Helpful Guide)

If you remember the 80s, you'll remember the shoulder pad. They were bold, they were brazen, and most of all, they were big.

But they were more than just a fashion statement. Women were barreling into the workplace, smashing the glass ceiling and wearing armor-like clothing as they did it.

Women's blazers suddenly needed to have the same sharp, defined silhouette that men had been rocking for years. Power dressing became the biggest trend of the day, with everyone from Joan Collins to Margaret Thatcher showing the world what the girls could do with a sharp suit and a big shoulder.

But no trend lasts forever. By the 1990s, people were in the mood for a softer look. Big shoulders were suddenly passe. Women wanted feminine, relaxed silhouettes - and that meant no more shoulder pads.

But now they're back. They might look a little different this time around, but their essence is still very much intact. If you want to introduce some 21st-century power dressing to your closet, here's what you need to know.

Types of Shoulder Pads


If you're thinking of sharpening up your jackets with some shoulder pads, don't make the mistake of thinking that all shoulder pads are the same. They're not.

Some are huge - unless you're planning on wearing the jacket to a Dynasty themed fancy dress party, steer clear. Others are a little more understated, adding structure to your shoulder line but mercifully little bulk.

The most common types of shoulder pads include:

Dolman: The dolman delivers a squarish look and is a bit bulkier than other varieties. It consists of a molded fiberfill foam interior covered with a fabric layer for added comfort. It's best suited to medium to larger figures - petite frames may be slightly overwhelmed by its bulk. It has a straight edge that runs down the sleeve, making it ideal for those looking for wider coverage.

Raglan: The raglan shoulder pad offers a softer, more rounded look than the dolman with a smaller area of coverage. It's ideal for smaller-framed women looking for a little extra lift in the shoulder department but who don't want to take things to the extreme. It's usually seen on unlined jackets.

Set-in Sleeves: Set-in sleeves have a seam at the shoulder that circles the arm. It delivers a tailored look with the same professional aesthetic of the shoulder pad, but with a more natural finish.

The thickness of shoulder pads typically ranges from 1/4 inch (.3 cm) to 1 inch (2.5 cm).

When you come to buy a set of shoulder pads, you'll find them listed by thickness and length. The thickness designates the height of the pad. If you're happy with an extreme shoulder line, look for a pad of around 1-inch thickness. If you want a more natural appearance or are simply looking to even out your shoulder line, a 1/4-inch pad should suffice.

Add Shoulder Pads to Blazer

Shoulder pads are an excellent way to add shape and structure to the shoulder line. Although they can be used to lift any type of upper body garment, they're most commonly found on jackets and blazers.

If you remember the suited and booted style of the 80s with horror, you're probably more used to ripping out shoulder pads than adding them back in. But it's time to revise your opinion.

Today's shoulder pads are far more subtle than their predecessors. If you want to even up sloping shoulders or add a bit more structure to an unlined blazer, they're ideal.

When it comes to adding shoulder pads to a blazer, you've got two options: you can either take the easy route and buy a ready-made pair or make your own.

Attach a Shoulder Pad


Attaching a shoulder pad is easy enough, but before you start, it's worth considering whether you want to add a permanent shoulder pad or a removable option.

If you plan on adding shoulder pads to multiple jackets, it's definitely worth considering a removable pair - that way, you can simply switch the same set of shoulder pads around multiple garments without going to the expense of buying a dedicated pair for each piece.

If you decide to add removable shoulder pads, here's how to do it.

What You'll Need:

1- inch-wide hook and loop tape

Shoulders pad of your choice

Sewing needle and thread

The Method

  • Step 1 - Cut 2 x 3-inch strips of hook and loop tape, then cut each strip in half lengthwise.
  • Step 2 - If the shoulder pad doesn't have a seam, fold it in half and use a piece of chalk to mark the center.
  • Step 3 - Align the hook tape (the stiff, rough side of the tape) with the center of the shoulder pad and hand stitch the tape in place using a double thread.
  • Step 4 - Align the loop tape (the soft side of the tape) on top of the shoulder seam allowance. Hand stitch a single row of stitches to attach the loop tape to the edge of the shoulder seam allowance. If you prefer, you can use a straight stitch on the sewing machine for this part.
  • Step 5 - Push the body of the garment out of the way and stitch a second line of stitches as close as possible to the shoulder seam. The stitch should be on the seam allowance only - take care not to stitch through the garment.​
  • Step 6 - Attach the shoulder pad and you're done.

Sewing Shoulder Pads into a Jacket


We've looked at how you can attach removable shoulder pads to a garment using the hook and loop method, but what if you want something a little more permanent?

Fortunately, it's just as easy to sew in a pair of permanent shoulder pads as it to sew in a removable set.

Start by deciding what kind of shoulder pads are going to suit the look you want. If you're dealing with a lined, formal jacket that can take a shoulder line with plenty of oomph, a dolman shoulder pad could be a great fit.

If it's an unlined jacket or if you're hoping to simply even out your shoulder line, a raglan shoulder pad may be best.

Once you've decided on your choice of shoulder pads, grab your supplies and hit our next section for instructions on what to do next.

How to Sew Shoulder Pads Into a Jacket

To attach shoulder pads into a jacket, you'll need a thread, a sewing needle, pins, a pair of shoulder pads, and, of course, your jacket. Once you have your supplies set up, get started with the following method.

  • Step 1 - Fold your shoulder pads in half to find the center points of the straight and curved edges. Malk the points with chalk.
  • Step 2 - Align the straight edge of the shoulder pads with the edge of the fabric in the armhole. Stretch the pads slightly to fit and pin them around the armhole.
  • Step 3 - Try the jacket on to check that you're comfortable with the placement of the pads. Tack in the pad with a firm but not too tight stitch.
  • Step 4 - Pin the marked center on the curved edge to the shoulder seam. Catch stitch the pad to the shoulder seam allowance to finish.

Adding Shoulder Pads to Jacket Tips

Attaching shoulder pads to a jacket is almost as easy as ripping them out - and if you were around in the 1990s, you won't need to be told twice how easy that is! But it never hurts to have a few tips and tricks up your sleeve to make things easier.

  • Always use a pad that fits well inside the garment, both in terms of its size & shape. Think about the kind of shape you're trying to achieve before settling on a pair: do you want a strong, defined look, or an understated, more natural aesthetic?
  • Sewing by hand is generally recommended, but you can use a sewing machine if you prefer. Stick to a straight stitch if you do.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words - if you're struggling to get the placement right, simply look at an existing garment you have with shoulder pads to check how they've been attached.
  • Stitches should be secure but not too tight: if you end up using too tight a stitch, the pads won't move in line with your body.
  • Don't tuck the thread as you sew - if you do, the shoulder pads will dimple and show through the jacket.
  • Use a nude color shoulder pad for the most inconspicuous look.

When Did Shoulder Pads Become Fashionable?


Shoulder pads may have started life as a protective layer for football jerseys, but it didn't take them long to hit the mainstream. In the 1930s, they found a place in women's fashion thanks largely to one woman - Elsa Schiaparelli, an Italian fashion designer who, for a brief time at least, was considered Coco Chanel's greatest rival.

Schiaparelli was greatly influenced by the surrealist movement and was noted for her ability to incorporate illusionistic details into her own creations. She liked to play with silhouettes, to subvert the standards of the day, and to create something extraordinary in the process. One of the ways she achieved that was by incorporating shoulder pads into her structured jackets.

By the 1940s, the look had worked its way down from Haute Couture into everyday fashion. The utilitarian, military-inspired designs of the war era were strong, shapely, and accentuated with strong shoulder lines - the perfect fashion for a new generation of working women.

When the post-war era welcomed a softer, more feminine look, the harder-edged fashions of the 40s took a back seat. Dior's New Look was in - shoulder pads were out.

For the next three decades, shoulder pads were considered outdated and unappealing. The style de jour was fluid, flowing, and intensely feminine. And then the 80s came a-knocking, and with it, the big shoulder was back with a vengeance.

When Did Shoulder Pads Go Out Of Style?

The 1970s may have set the scene for the women's movement, but it was in the 1980s that women started truly making their mark in the workplace.

Women needed to compete with men, and to do that, they needed armor-plated clothing. More specifically, they needed shoulder pads. Shoulder pads were the key to the concept of 'Power Dressing' - if you were a woman with ambition, the bigger your shoulders, the better.

Every high-flying woman's wardrobe had at least a handful of sharp shouldered suits in it, and every suit had shoulder pads the size of a small country propping up its shoulders. Margaret Thatcher, Britain's first female prime minister, was one of the forerunners of the look. Her uniform of skirt suits and padded jackets became almost as famous as her politics, allowing her to assimilate with the men she worked with while leaving any sense of traditional femininity at the door.

The trend got even bigger when soap operas such as Dynasty and Dallas introduced us to the laser-sharp wardrobes and equally sharp tongues of Joan Collins and Linda Evans.

But then, it was over. With the turn of the decade, the style that had defined the 80s was dead. The suited and booted look had served its purpose. Women didn't need to dress like men to be taken seriously in the board room anymore.

But the consignment of shoulder pads to the pages of fashion history was about more than just how women wanted to dress their bodies - it was about how they wanted their bodies to look. The death of the shoulder pad tied into the rise of the waif. Whereas Amazonian women had once ruled the catwalk, suddenly everyone was embracing the bird-like silhouette of Kate Moss and co... a style that was the complete antithesis of power suits and big shoulders.

Are Shoulder Pads in Style Again?


If you get a little hit of nostalgia every time you glimpse a picture of Joan Collins in full-on Dynasty mood, you're in luck. Shoulder pads are back.

They're not exactly as we remember them from the first time around - some of the extremes have been dropped in favor of a slighter softer look - but they still do a great job of accentuating the shoulder, slimming the waist, and making you feel just a little bit more put together than you would do otherwise.

The key to pulling off the trend is balancing out the pronounced shoulder line with a slimmer body throughout. Proportion is everything - match a shoulder enhancing blouse or jacket with some slimline tailored pants for a polished look that stays just the right side of 1989.

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