Donna Karan designed the cold shoulder dress in 1992. It was a daring choice for Hillary Clinton to wear in the White House in 1993, even though plenty of other well-known women had chosen the knit dress for themselves.
The dress made perfect sense for Hillary Clinton. There are not many historical feminine precedents for the technique of opening the shoulders while covering the body from neck to toe — it’s an balance of revealing skin while covering everything else — or, to put this another way, it creates an erogenous zone (as Karan said in the February 7, 1993 story by Hal Rubenstein in the NYTimes, “It is the one place that is perfect on every woman’s body”) where there wasn’t one, and it cloaks from view and touch the more typical erogenous zones on a woman’s body: collarbone, breasts, thighs. It is a kind of armor, echoing more than any woman’s dress the 16th century’s men’s doublet with slit sleeves, such as this example from the Met.
Another inspiration may have been swimsuits, and indeed, many 1950s halter sundresses looked more like one-piece swimsuits that billowed out into a skirt rather than narrowing into leg openings.
So why is Clinton’s Cold-Shoulder Dress a “style of resistance”? By the early 1990s, Clinton’s prickly relationship with the press and her tendency towards introversion was evident. Likewise, the challenges for professional women about how to dress — the very short tight suit-skirt offered little physical or emotional cover. Clinton’s dress provided just such cover while satisfying the press and public’s demand that she reveal herself.