At the start of New York Fashion Week, a co-worker posed the question: "How come girls outside fashion shows don't put their arms through their coats?"
"Rachel Zoe tells people to do it on her show" and "Maybe to prove you have an assistant to hold your things" were offered as half-joke answers.
But it was a good question: Outside fashion shows in New York this past week, it seemed there were hardly any arms actually in jackets. The trend has been around on street style blogs for a few seasons, but it was particularly noticeable this week. BuzzFeed's photographer saw it in spades (see here: 13 Fashion Week Showgoers Misunderstanding The Very Concept Of Sleeves), and Lucky, calling it an "epidemic," went so far as to publish a guide to "How to Wear a Jacket."
The Sartorialist first noticed the trend in September 2008, but said Americans hadn't really caught on, writing in a blog post: "I thought the pushed-up sleeves conversation was very interesting but here is an even more taboo-ish concept for Americans — jacket on the shoulders. I have seen a few young Americans doing it lately but it still seems so specific to the Italians."
In 2010, Fashionista took note, saying, "the fashion elite have taken to this trend like gangbusters." But you know a trend has really taken root when the media tries to name it. In the past year, The Guardian and Cosmopolitan settled on "shoulder robing," while Vogue came up with "coat slinging."
But back to that original question: Why? Ask around, and you'll get a variety of answers.
"People are really itching to wear their fall clothes, but it's 90-something degrees out," says Sheila Aimette, vice president of North American Content for WGSN, which analyzes and forecasts fashion trends. Street style during fashion week, she explains, is "all about showing what you have." Since it's too hot to actually wear a coat, draping will have to do. "It brings in some of the elements you've bought but you can't wear yet."
Blame global warming, but runway trends may also play a part. Aimette says '50s-inspired styles are popular again, and jacket draping is a take on that. "It's sort of the evolution of the preppy sweater around the shoulders," she says. "It's the new version of the twinset. I call it the jacket set."
Some say it's just a matter of negotiating between tight-sleeved jackets and bracelet-bedecked arms. "The reason I started wearing my jacket/coats over my shoulders was because I've always worn a lot of bracelets and they kept getting stuck in my sleeves," explains Aimee Song, a favorite subject of street style photographers, who frequently drapes her jackets on her popular personal style blog Song of Style. "So it was more convenient to wear them over my shoulders."
And others, yet, say it just looks good. "Back in 2006, I was working as a designer at Naeem Khan and we were doing a big charity gala in Dallas for Neiman Marcus. I sat next to Ken Downing at the dinner and he lightheartedly lectured me that evening on how a true lady NEVER wears her arms through her sleeves and especially not for evening," says Kelly Framel, who blogs as The Glamourai and is another street style favorite. "Even as a young designer I knew he was not to be argued with, and I've obeyed ever since."