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Everyone Is Wearing Silly Little Shrugs

Olivia Rodrigo in a striped bolero

While bolero sweaters may conjure up memories featuring the chaotically-layered outfits and Disney Channel stars of yore, the style actually has a rich fashion history—and not just as the ultra-shrunken centerpiece of fashion classics Jawbreaker and Friends. The jacket, which is often made to be worn open and with long sleeves, dates back to Spanish bullfighting in the 1850s. Originally, bullfighters wore boleros in the ring because they needed something that could be discarded quickly during a fight. Women of the era swiftly adapted the bull-fighting jacket into its current cropped form.

In 2022, the bolero seems to be regaining its cache, popping up on fashion girls left and right. While the niche style might not seem like the most practical investment, its widespread appeal goes well beyond the novelty factor.

Indie brands like Paloma Wool, heaven by Marc JacobsDanielle GuizioJoah Brown, and Sami Miro Vintage first championed the style, and it’s since trickled into fast fashion retailers. Content creator Alayna Warsi, whose bolero DIY hack went viral on TikTok, guesses that nostalgia has something to do with the shrug’s surge in popularity. “Boleros (just like mom jeans, leather blazers, and leg warmers) were a statement piece a few generations back, so it was only a matter of time before they were recycled back into current fashion trends,” she says.

Alexa Coughlin, the owner of a small batch, ethical fashion brand, echoes this sentiment. “Boleros peaked in the ’90s, and with the rise in ’90s fashion trends, we are seeing them come back along with other signature ’90s styles.” Her line, Rat Boi, is known for its ballet sets, which include matching thongs, tube tops, and boleros ornamented with tiny rosettes.

“We created our first bolero in the winter of 2020 to style with our cotton basic undies for photoshoots,” Coughlin explains. After launching the campaign, however, so many requests to buy the sample flooded in from shoppers that she quickly added the shrug to Rat Boi’s lineup. Today, it’s the brand’s most in-demand product, says Coughlin. “We sold out within the first two hours of the launch.”

Besides the style’s clear Instagram appeal, the bolero also dovetails nicely with some of the top trends of 2022. ’90s workout fashion, which includes Princess Di-inspired throwbacks like biker shorts and scrunchies, has become a street style mainstay. And, of course, boleros feature heavily in the balletcore and ballerina sleaze trends that have dominated this year.

Over on TikTok, the #bolero has 1.7 billion views and counting. The trend even had its DIY moment when Warsi’s widely-circulated video, which shows how to turn a pair of tights into a bolero, went viral. “I’m always looking for ways to upcycle or repurpose clothing items,” says Warsi. “Tights are so cheap and versatile and can be converted into so many different clothing pieces, with just a pair of scissors and a little bit of creativity. The bolero hack is simple, just grab a pair of old tights and cut off the toes. Then wear the tights as sleeves instead of stockings.”

Kendall Jenner in a bolero

On the pop culture front, plenty of celebs have embraced the trend. Bella Hadid, Olivia Rodrigo, and Emma Chamberlin all wore a rainbow-striped knit shrug from Heaven by Marc Jacobs, which Dua Lipa later debuted in a grey colorway before it was available to the masses. Kendall Jenner put her own athleisure twist on the trend, styling a shrug with leggings and a sports bra during an errand run, and Emily Ratajkowski did her part by donning a mesh bolero, which lent a party-girl vibe to girlish trend.

Dua Lipa in a gray bolero

If you’re stuck on how to wear the piece IRL, Kelyin Chng, whose popular TikTok styling advice features more than a few shrugs, has some tips. “I usually style a bolero with a plain tube top and mini or midi skirt,” she says. “It plays as an accessory and statement piece at the same time. There are many different variations of it with regard to material and color. It is a piece we never knew we needed, and people can dress it up and down.”

Emily Ratajkowski in a bolero

Whether you just want a little extra warmth or you’re looking to amp up your gym look and tap into ’90s minimalism, you can always count on a bolero to do the trick.

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