hermes spring 2011 runway tan jacket belted sharp shoulders

Hermès Spring 2011 collection featured chic tailoring and sharp shoulders. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain, Getty Images

Well-defined shoulders are currently at their peak. Look no further than the runways of Balmain and Hermès for evidence of this. But you don't just have to dream about owning this super-chic tailored look. Here's how you can recreate your own jacket and coats to fit this new shape.
  • Getting started: The first step is to master the set-in sleeve, which is seen on most jackets, coats and blouses. The sleeve is literally set into an armhole opening that circles the shoulder tip and arm. Creating a beautiful set-in sleeve is the underpinning of a well-defined shoulder. The sleeve hole is slightly larger than the armhole, or armscye, requiring you to gather the ease in the shoulder cap when you attach them. To avoid puckers, stitch two lines about 1/4 inch away from the sleeve opening edge and gather. Then stitch the regular 5/8-inch seam allowance, smoothing any other puckers out as you sew. Alternatively, you can hand- or pin-baste to ease a pucker-free sleeve.
  • Understanding shoulder pads: Once you have the set-in sleeve down, you'll want to learn how to insert the shoulder pad. To create that sharp edge, the shoulder pad is inserted by matching it to the shoulder seam or extending slightly into the shoulder cap. Shoulder pads come in different shapes and sizes. The most common type of pad for jackets and coats is the set-in shoulder pad and the thicker the pad, the bigger your shoulder will be (think '80s power suits!) You can even make your own shoulder pads or cover them for an unlined jacket or coat. While you can secure the shoulder pad by machine, tacking it in with needle and thread eliminates bulk and emphasizes elegance and fit.
  • Getting complicated: Once you have the basics of setting in a sleeve and inserting a shoulder pad, you are ready to move on to creating a more designer edge to your shoulder. Sometimes this means throwing out everything you learned as a beginning sewer and trying something new like working on narrow seam allowances. In addition, judicious use of stabilizers and interfacing can also give a shoulder the designer fit.
  • Getting educated: Any good book on tailoring can teach you the basics of creating a beautiful shoulder. For beginners, try Easy, Easier, Easiest Tailoring. For a thorough tutorial on old-school tailoring, check out Classic Tailoring Techniques. For a more affordable guide, try Tailoring: The Classic Guide to Sewing the Perfect Jacket.
The shoulder has a tremendous impact on the look of a garment and a strong shoulder makes the waist look smaller. Once you have the basics down, feel free to improvise and get creative with shoulder shape.

For more DIY Design columns, click here. Next week, making a sexy school marm skirt.