Practical fashion is all about problem-solving: water-wicking fabrics, smart soles, even innovative pocket placement. But a shrug seems like it should embody the opposite. What good is a pair of pull-on, disembodied sleeves, if there’s no torso to go along with them? Still, in its simplicity, the shrug — or bolero, as it’s often referred to — is proving to be a worthy style to try.
“It’s always interesting to me when there’s a ‘trend’ that is also highly functional – when those two worlds intersect, it’s great,” says Amy Smilovic, founder and creative director of Tibi. “I love really bare tops — something about the balance with a big, wide-leg pant or really full skirt is interesting to me. But as it gets cooler, a shrug does help keep you warm.”
Trendsetting celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski, Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Olivia Rodrigo and Paloma Elsesser have already shown off their individual takes on shrugs, proving it’s just as easily styled with a yoga ensemble as it is with trendy streetwear. There’s a pragmatism to it, argues Smilovic: “It feels modern, for sure. Modernity in absence of utility is never interesting to me.” (The designer coined the term “creative pragmatist” to highlight women who seek out clothing that celebrates personal expression with functionality).
Caroline Belhumeur, the creative director of Vince, considers the shrug the new alternative to 2021’s popular knit matching set, which became a favorite because it checked many of the same boxes: cozy, transitional, low-lift. “The shrug is a great piece to transition from summer to fall,” she says. “The addition of sleeves helps to extend the life of a summer dress or favorite tank top.”
After a summer full of eye-catching trends that ranged from colorful Barbiecore to sparkly “Night Luxe” minidresses, the simplicity of these throw-on-and-go sleeves adds to their appeal. “It’s an easy addition to more formal dresses which tend to be sleeveless, and stylistically doesn’t interrupt the lines of the dress the way a cardigan can mess with proportions,” Belhumeur says.
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The classic white tank — 2022’s It-top, as seen on the runways of Prada, Bottega Veneta and Chloé, to name a few — has served as the ideal foil to the relaxed jeans and loose trousers preferred by Gen Z. But to maintain that sense of proportion going into fall, shoppers may want to swap out chunky knits or oversized jackets for a little topper that avoids the bulk but can still keep you warm.
What further strengthens the case for incorporating a shrug into your own fall wardrobe is the simple variety currently available to shop. It’s a style that has been particularly prolific among emerging brands: New York’s Luar has a sweatshirt-inspired iteration; London’s Isa Boulder offers one in the brand’s signature diamond knit. Layered under or over a top, they’re meant to add color and texture to an outfit. But you can also look to athletic brand Alo Yoga, which designed a ribbed knit iteration for wear over spandex (a nod to the warm-up shrugs often used by ballerinas), or to Vince, for neutral balloon sleeves that can be styled with a slip dress — in these cases, it’s a matchy-matchy combination that wins out, to compliment instead of contrast.
In all of its many forms, the shrug aims to extend, not replace your summer aesthetic. Shop our favorite iterations below.
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