Forget the plunging neckline – show some shoulder instead | Fashion

Cleavage dates you. It shows your age. Not that I’m shaming you for less than youthful skin on your décolletage – surely you know me better than that. And you may well be immaculately well preserved under the collar, as it were, if you’ve been using your lotions and potions right down to your bra, as we are instructed to by people who know about such things.

So for all I know, your complexion is plush all the way to your nips. But your cleavage will still be ageing you, just because a plunging, V-shaped neckline that serves as an arrow to The Girls has become a little old-fashioned.

This is irritating, because I am a firm believer that showing a glimpse of skin is a good thing. Not a sex thing, by the way, but a human race thing. There is something chilly and distant in tone about an outfit that covers you up completely. It lends an ice queen vibe that can work in your favour, if you’re going for an ethereal-goth-princess Vampire’s Wife fit, but which in the general run of things can read as unhelpfully aloof. It can be harder to connect with people when you hide yourself from them. For the purposes of day-to-day human interaction, showing a bit of skin works in a primal way as a reminder that we are all flesh and blood.

Male politicians do this by rolling up their sleeves. In warmer weather, many of us do it by wearing a dress or a skirt without tights, which is one of the reasons why summer clothes tend to have a friendlier, more relaxed mood than winter clothes. Gen Z do it by means of their devotion to cropped tops in temperatures both seasonable and unseasonable.

For the rest of us, cleavage, or at least décolletage, has long been a default. A V-neck, or a blouse with a few unbuttoned buttons, feels like an uncomplicated way to loosen things up. This has been an easy solution for a long time, but there is a more modern, slightly different way to do it, and that is by showing off a shoulder.

I love a bare shoulder. A bare shoulder is glamorous to its bones. It is ball gowns and wedding dresses, corsets and jewels. There is something intimate about the clavicle, the throat, the nape of the neck, the secret dips where perfume lingers longest.

A dress that bares both shoulders is the black- or white-tie option. An asymmetric neckline, which slashes a diagonal from one collarbone to the opposite underarm so the garment is suspended from one side, is punchier – less debutante ball, more Studio 54. This is a look for going out-out – but, if it’s a stretchy one-shouldered top or dress, it can also form a useful base layer for a fun but practical going-out-for-drinks look, if you wear a blazer over it. A flash of something asymmetric under a sober jacket makes for an intriguing combination.

But the best entry point to this look at this time of year is something that has sleeves, just no shoulders. A stretchy, slouchy knit that can be arranged to bare one or both shoulders is high-impact, low-effort dressy. (If you don’t get on with strapless bras, a bra with nice straps that look designed to be seen – a bright colour is ideal – works perfectly. Think of a nice bra strap almost like wearing extra jewellery.)

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Or steal a styling idea from Paris fashion week and unbutton a white shirt before pulling it backwards to bare one or both shoulders, with some firm tucking in at the back so that it stays in place. Say goodbye to cleavage, for now. Or at least give it a cold shoulder.

Model: Cynthia at Milk. Styling assistant: Sam Deaman. Hair and makeup: Sophie Higginson using Sam McKnight and Victoria Beckham beauty. Top: Zara

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