Ruffled Shoulders

One of the more amusing aspects of being in the fashion editorial business is the way that industry-outsiders like to test you. The "pop quiz" invariably happens when you run into an old classmate or some random associate you haven't seen in ages. After exchanging awkward pleasantries, there's inevitably a lull in the conversation, and then they pounce. Like a game-show host gone mad, they bark at you, demanding a list of the latest looks that are key for the season. These ambushes can be quite amusing, but we've noticed that one trend in particular provokes lots of follow-up questions: strong shoulders. It seems that most people remember the fearsome (we mean that reverentially) structured styles from the eighties and assume that exact silhouette is back. While there are some assertive interpretations of the trend out there, there are also scads of ways to translate this shape into non-scary, very chic outfits. So while angular shoulders are certainly important for fall, you can also go for a less architectural interpretation of the trend. As seen on Alexa Chung and Olivia Palermo, all you have to do is pick up cocktail frock with ruffled shoulders for a fabulous ultra-feminine look.

As the ladies above so aptly demonstrate, there are ample variations of ruffle-shoulder dresses available right now, so finding a style that works for you shouldn't be hard. The boldest dresses were created by equally daring designers like Jeremy Scott, whose three-dimensional Curly Dress ($812) has a playful Geena Davis circa Earth Girls Are Easy look. Admittedly, his eighties-style ruffles are challenging, but it's easy to translate the spirit of that dress into a wearable outfit. For example, you could take a page from Chanel Iman and Annabelle Dexter-Jones' playbooks and reach for a brightly coloured sleeveless column dress with ruched shoulders. The former stunned in a bright red Bensoni Ruffle Sheath ($695) at a party celebrating the brand's designers, while Dexter-Jones wowed in a shocking pink Notte by Marchesa cocktail frock at a benefit for Love Heals foundation.

While Dexter-Jones' dress is sadly no longer available, you can pick up Iman's exact frock at Barneys New York later this week (or buy it in black now). If that's not quite what you're looking for, there are loads of options out there that boast similar lines. For example, we love the delicate look of Laila Azhar's Puff Sleeve Dress ($385); the rich blue hue and subtle shoulder details are lovely. Another suggestion is the Animal Puff Dress ($100) by Topshop, which isn't an exact replica of either Iman or Dexter-Jones' selections, but definitely has the same vibe as today's Trend Report ensembles. (Plus, it's got a very Leighton Meester-in-Louis-Vuitton-at-the-Met-Gala look to it, no?)

If the bright colours and big ruffles are putting you in a fashion panic, take a few deep breaths and remember that you can try the trend in a toned-down way too. Just look to the less-intense styles that fashion fanatics like Alexa Chung and Olivia Palermo prefer. After all, who could resist the delicately detailed Poltock & Walsh Shoulder Ruffle Dress ($760) Alexa Chung wore to the Glamour Awards party in London earlier this summer? The frock, which is from P&W's S/S 09 line and already sold out, has a wildly flattering fit thanks to its shoulder-emphasising and waist-cinching silhouette. Plus, we adore the soft nude oyster silk; the colour allows Chung's peep-toe Chanel booties to really stand out. We know that many readers are interested in not-so-basic black versions of the trend, so we'll direct you to Olivia Palermo's interpretation for inspiration. As seen at Maybelline New York's celebration of the launch of Colour Sensational Lipcolor, Palermo embraced the trend with the feather-embellished Thane Dress ($595) by Diane von Furstenberg. Paired with a slim belt, Wolford tights, and Yves Saint Laurent Tribute Platform Sandalsicon ($760), she displayed a fashion-forward outfit that still looks polished and professional.

Fortunately for our neutrals-favouring readers, this season there's no shortage of serviceable ruffled-shoulder dresses in somber hues. In addition to the ones we've already mentioned, don't miss Milly's Ruffled Dressicon ($395). The fact that this frock has a belt and soft ruffles at the shoulders means it will look good on lots of different figures. Additionally, you should check out the French Connection Ruffle Shoulder Detail Mini Dress ($175), which offers perhaps the daintiest version of them all. Additionally, if you're in London, you could stop by the Poltock & Walsh Shop and pick up the Rocket Dress from their F/W collection. It's very similar to Chung's exact frock, but made in an autumnal fabric (wool) and colour (charcoal).

However you work this trend into your wardrobe, just remember that the dramatic shoulder calls for an equally compelling shoe. Whether it's a sophisticated platform, striking sandal, or noteworthy ankle boot is up to you-just make it memorable. Aside from the dress, your footwear is really the only other way to show off your personality and taste level. (Please don't fight the dramatic shape of the dress with oversized earrings, loads of bracelets, or a giant flashy bag, ok?) In other words: keep it simple, but make strong choices.

Runway image, from firstVIEW; Photo of Alexa Chung, from PCN; Photo of Chanel Iman, from Getty.