How to Wear a Crop Top…If You Dare

crop top

Picture it: New Jersey, summer 1990.  I was going into my junior year of high school.  My body, toned and sculpted from a spring season of being a hurdler for my high school track team, my long blonde hair, exactly like Kelly’s on Beverly Hills 90201, and my waist, oh my little waist, a teeny-tiny 24″.  The waistline on my shorts and jeans were high, so high they practically touched my rib cage, and my shirts cropped so that my stomach, that you could bounce a quarter off of, would peek out ever so slightly.

This was the last time crop tops were in, and, back then, it was perfect.  In fashion, what goes around eventually comes around and, this time, it’s hardly as perfect.  I’m 40.  I couldn’t jump over a curb, much less a hurdle, I’ve got short, red hair and my waist certainly isn’t 24″.  In pants, even though I’m not chubby, my tummy sometimes looks like a Pillsbury dough can after its been popped open with a spoon and my skin is about as white as the dough inside.

But this is what happens when you ask your 26 year old summer intern to pitch some ideas for the blog.  The last time crop tops were in she was three.  “Let’s do tips on how to wear a crop top”, she said, “it will be fun”, she said.  Why yes, I love traveling down memory lane to a time when I was 24 years younger, about as much as I enjoy sticking a fork in my eye.

Good or bad, crop tops are back, they have been for a while, and just about everyone who remembers (and wore) them back in the 90’s is thinking exactly what I am: “There isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell I’m putting one on again.”  Trends always make a comeback, but, when they do, they are usually embraced by those who don’t remember them the first time.  Oh trends,  perfect for the young and blissfully ignorant.

Yet, are crop tops so off limits for those who are of a certain age, who already wore them with their wide belts, high-waisted acid washed jeans with their wide legs and tapered hems, and Z. Cavariccis?  Is the party over, or can we revisit crop tops again, only this time smarter and wiser?

A new silhouette, not a new trend, is returning

Your memory may be fuzzy, but do you remember about a decade ago when leggings first started coming back?  Prior to this we hadn’t seen them in years and years.  Back in the 80’s and 90’s we wore them with slouchy sweaters, cardigans and big, boxy blouses, similar to exactly how we wear them now.   When this trend returned it wasn’t just the leggings that were new to us but the total proportion of the look too.  For years, we hadn’t seen a long and relaxed over lean look.  However, with the return of leggings, these big, slouchy tops had to make a comeback, we had to wear something with our leggings.  The shorter, shaped tops that we had been wearing just weren’t going to cut it with these pants (well, some missed that memo).  An now, again, we’re entering into a new proportion.  The waist is returning, pants are becoming higher in the rise, and fuller pants, like pleats, wide legs, drapey silhouettes and harem pants are back.  With all this shaped bigness on the bottom and emphasis on the waist, we need something to wear on top, hence the return of crop tops  So, really, it’s less about crop tops returning as it is the return of a new silhouette.

With that said, there may be a place for crop tops to return your wardrobe.  If you’re over 25, I don’t mean in a belly baring, under-boob exposing way, I mean in a way that allows you to embrace this new proportion.   Still don’t believe me?  Take a look at some of the ways I styled this Vince Camuto crop top and notice that, with certain trendy proportions this style really does have its place, even if you refuse to wear it.

How to Wear a Crop Top

Now, just because something is trendy does not mean that you throw all caution to the wind and forget about making the right choices for your body.  Regardless of how fashionable something is, even if you like it, it doesn’t mean if will work for you.  Crop tops come with a heap of dressing challenges, obvious tummy issues aside, that can be disastrous for large busted, the short waisted and women who are very pear shaped.  All of this I will address in my tips below.

Outfit #1- A crop top with wide leg pants or a maxi skirt

A shapeless top or tunic will hardly look all that good with a pair of palazzo pants or a wide maxi skirt.  In this case, a cropped top can create balance and proportion.  However, if you are very short-waisted or overly pear shaped you have to watch this look because the short and cropped look with wider bottoms may emphasize these body characteristics.  If you’re short-waisted, you’re better off with a shaped top that sits longer than the waist.  If you have a small upper body and are very pear shaped, a crop top can work but avoid them with halter necklines and crop tops with try wider necklines, like boat necks, to counterbalance the width down below.

In this outfit, the top is styled with a pair of Topshop printed palazzo pants, a pair of tan Anthropologie sandals, a long beaded necklace, leather bracelet and tan suede handbag.

Outfit #2- A crop top with a high-waisted pencil skirt

High-waisted pencil skirts look best when the waist and curve of the hips are shown.  Often, when a top cuts at the widest point of the hips you lose this curve and smallness of the waist.  What a crop top does is create more of an hourglass figure.  However, a word of caution if you are very large chested.  Crop tops can be your enemies because a crop top will shorten the look of a torso and a busty women look disproportionately top heavy and much larger.  This is not to say that crop tops are off limits but avoid styles that are too cropped with too high of a neckline or your risk looking torso-less, like you are just boobs and a waist.

Here, this elegant outfit is styled with the crop top and an orange French Connection pencil skirt, a pair of nude ankle strap pumps, a pair of blue and orange earrings from Bauble Bar, blue wristlet, and bangle bracelet from Max & Chloe.

Outfit #3- A crop top with pleats

So you’ve welcomed pleated pants back into your life.  You’re a bigger person than me.  If you have, you may be wondering what sort of top will work with them, particularly if the pleated pants have a high rise.  In this case, a crop top will make sense because with all the fullness in the hip area you are going to want to wear something that doesn’t sit over the pleats (unless you like the bumpy topographical map look over your tummy) and is slim fitting.

In this outfit, I styled this crop top with a pair of black Alice + Olivia pleated pants, a pair of perforated mint flats from Modcloth, a silver cross body bag, mint Trina Turk stud earrings and a toggle bracelet from Nordstrom.

Seriously, between the mint, the pleats, the crop top, the perforated flats and the crossbody bag I feel like I am playing a starring role in that Hot Tub Time Machine flop of a movie.  Somebody, please wake me up before  you go-go…and knock me out with a jelly shoe, okay?

Outfit #4- A crop top with a tie at the waist

Another time where a crop top may come in handy is when you are wearing a skirt or pair of shorts or pants with a tie or bow at the waist.  Like pleated pants, unless you are tucking, what are you going to do if your shirt is longer than the bow, wear it over it?  Doubtful.  Here a crop top will prove itself useful.  With pants and shorts on the rise, there is a good chance the bow or tie of your pants will be sitting mighty high on that waist of yours.

This crop top in this outfit is styled with a pair of printed shorts from Jessica Simpson, a white handbag and red sandals.

Outfit #5- A crop top with a long cardigan over it

If this whole reintroduction of the crop top is making you woozy, assimilate slowly.  Remember, we’re not as young as we used to be.  One way to wear this trend is to wear something long over it to balance the proportion of a top that is so short.

Even boyfriend jeans are getting higher in the rise.  A small blessing for sure (at least we won’t see those dastardly thong lines when someone bends down)  and a crop top may show just just a hint of belly when worn with them.  Plus with higher waist jeans, perhaps the only muffin tops we’ll be seeing is when we break our diets and eat one for breakfast.  Here, a pair of Mango boyfriend jeans is styled with this crop top and layered over it is our good familiar friend the drapey cardigan.  To finish the look, because it’s all about the late 80’s and early 90’s, a pair of white peep toe oxfords, and, for a splash of color, an orange beaded necklace and orange handbag.

Regardless of whether you like to nostalgically stare at crop tops, like the look for others but not you or you’re ready to add one to your wardrobe, the crop top is back, like it or not.  Now, if you excuse me, I have to find a 7″ wide belt to wear with my new pants that has a waistband that sits right under my boobs.

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  • trace

    Very helpful, timely and weel -written/funny. Thanks.

  • Kelly

    I am completely in team – I’m never wearing a crop top. I didn’t do it the first time around (and if there was a time to wear one – it was then!) and certainly am not in a position to do it now. I like the looks you have created though – all you lovely lean waisted people, embrace to your hearts content!

  • amy

    Good article. I really don’t like crop tops on anyone regardless of how fit they are. It just reveals to much skin for my taste. However, if the crop top just barely touches the top of a high waisted skirt or pants and just shows a sliver of skin, I kinda like that look.