The adorning of crop tops was quote-unquote a phenomenon that was unknown primarily to the West. In fact, for the crop top to percolate into mainstream fashion, it took a long while, mostly due to the colder climates.
European and American women’s fashions, until relatively recently, were meant to cover and restrict as much of the body as possible. However, the East was a different story; it made little sense to cover entire body parts in a tropical/warm climate. For example, in India, the traditional sari is typically worn with a short top underneath called a choli. This style dates back hundreds of years and is still paired with saris today.
Additionally, the midriff-baring garments worn for belly dance also come from the East. It is difficult to ascertain the exact origins of the outfit, as it went through various changes over a period of time, and different places such as Egypt, the Middle East and Asia had their styles.
The early history of the crop top intersects with cultural views towards the midriff, starting with the performance of “Little Egypt” at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.[ Although the crop top started gaining prominence in the fashion industry during the 1930s and 1940s[— the latter in particular due to fabric rationing in World War II — it was primarily confined to swimwear at the time. Eventually, a style known as the bedlah would gain prominence, at least to Westerners. Designed by Egyptian cabaret owner Badia Masabni (who was hoping to entice tourists), the bedlah was a two-piece costume that, of course, showed off the midriff for the purpose of dancing. In 1893, belly dancers gave a performance at the World’s Fair in Chicago, introducing the West to the bedlah, and the concept of the crop top in general.
While the crop top was intriguing, it would take several decades before it caught on with Westerners. For a time, it was considered too “exotic” and revealing to be incorporated into their fashions, and unlike parts of the East, there was not much of a need for it. It was not until the sexual revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s that it started to achieve widespread acceptance, worn by celebrities such as Barbara Eden and Jane Birkin. A variant style, the tied-up top or knotted shirt, also started appearing in 1940s fashion and spread in popularity during the 1960s.
In the 1980s, cut-off crop tops became more common as part of the aerobics craze and as a result of the popularity of the movie Flashdance. Singer Madonna wore a mesh crop top in her music video for the song “Lucky Star”. In the 2010s, the crop top experienced a revival due to the popularity of 1990s retro fashion.
2020 was the season of midriffs. It began when French actress Marion Cotillard opted for a crop twice at Cannes Film Festival; once in a Ludovic de Saint Sernin two-piece paired with Balmain kimono, and again in a vintage Chanel Haute Couture set that brought to mind 10 Things I Hate About You’s Bianca Stratford at the prom. Ariana Grande, the poster girl of the late 90s and early 00s revival, also wore a prom queen style two-piece by Schiaparelli at the Grammys last week.
At the SAG Awards there were two stand-out stomachs; Charlize Theron let her chiseled abs peek through her sparkly Givenchy number and Phoebe Waller-Bridge accessorised her taut tum with a bedazzled Armani Privé mesh top, proving that the crop is certainly back at its best.
Paris Hilton’s toned midriff was a landmark of the early 2000s, becoming a firm fixture on the red carpet of the Hollywood scene. Closely followed by Gwen Stefani, a ‘more is more’ attitude was adopted in terms of exposed middle; low rise jeans and skimpy tops were de rigueur paired with a California tan and peroxide blonde hair.
Now the look is back, with designers presenting the cream of the crop for Spring Summer 2020. For Dolce & Gabbana it’s safari-meets-Sicily with high waisted skirts and bralettes emblazoned with jungle prints while Balmain take their cues from 1990s street style and pop culture. With the BAFTAs and the Oscars just around the corner, who will be next to flaunt their skin on the red carpet?