With Fendi and Prada both sending out bellybutton-baring looks for SS22, we look back at some of the moments the crop top has cropped up in pop culture
During his six years as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith often slipped into a boxy, cropped, football t-shirt. This is because crop tops literally came from American Football – the earliest examples being when players would hobble off the pitch having had their jersey’s ripped and torn mid-brawl. Only, they liked what they saw – a cut at the midriff extended their wedge-like physique, emphasising brawn and buff. After a while, sportswear brands0 like Nike began to manufacture jerseys to fit that exact purpose. The irony of crop tops as an alleged signifier of femininity is that they are rooted in the very opposite – sports, athleticism, and virility.
Prince was one of the first public figures to wear a crop top and not reference sportswear, housing the style alongside his flamboyant, gender ambivalent fashion. It came about in the mid-80s once the singer had renounced all the frills and the flounce of “Purple Rain”, and introduced the look into a darker, slightly more suited aesthetic – as seen in the videos and artwork for “Mountains” and “Kiss”. A crop top, here, seemed to riff on the in-betweenness of Prince’s persona – imbuing the style with an ambiguous frisson of eroticism.
Bad Bunny’s another one for gender-bending fashion – statement manicures, pleated skirts, full drag – and that’s just his “Yo Perreo Sola” video. Earlier this year, the singer uploaded a thirst trap which launched thousands of chaotically horny tweets. “uhhh idk what’s goin on but bad bunny... in a crop top... lord have mercy I’m about to BUST,” said one user, while others were thanking “@god”. It was deep into our third lockdown and quite frankly, even Winnie the Pooh’s lil cropped polo would’ve done some damage.
Kid Cudi stepped onto the Coachella stage in 2015 in a pair of jeans and a bright red, felt, crop top, sending fans and fashion writers into a tailspin. Was this some statement on gender play? No – it was a laugh and allowed the singer to show off his BAPE boxers, with whom he collaborated on a capsule collection last February. As Silvia says, the crop top can just gesture to a vague sensation of freedom, and the more liberal we are with that term, the better.
LIL NAS X
Lil Nas X’s journey to fashion figure was hotwired at the hands of (of course) Donatella Versace, who had done the same for J.Lo, Liz Hurley, and so many others before him. Stepping onto the red carpet at the 2020 Grammys, Lil Nas X wore a hot pink, lacquered, Versace suit. Complete with a vinyl harness, rhinestone cowboy hat, and a cropped blazer, the rapper was clearly lost for words – “I mean look at me, oh my god,” he gushed to a bewildered Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet.
There was an obvious homoeroticism to the way (problematic) actor and model Mark Wahlberg was portrayed in Calvin Klein ads, his body objectified in much the same way as Kate Moss’, worshipped like a greco-roman statue. Team this with the erotic nature of the Calvin Klein campaigns and the crop top, in which Wahlberg was so often dressed in, became embroiled in sex. This ran in parallel to a specific breed of post-AIDS homophobia. Policies like Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the US, as well as Section 28 in the UK, drove queer men deeper into the closet and pushed straight men further away from anything which could have been deemed remotely gay. This was the beginning of the end for straight men and their crop tops.
Twice has Keanu Reeves been spotted in a crop top. First during Point Break in 1991 when he played a heart-throb, ex-Ohio State quarterback and fledgling FBI agent alongside Patrick Swayze. Then, on the set for Bill and Ted Face The Music in 2019, when the actor had hoisted his Under Armour up to his nipples – which was enough to get the media crying crop top, apparently.
Is Lenny Kravitz wearing a pair of Ludovic de Saint Sernin trousers? Much like the raw-hemmed crop top that just snags at his muscular torso, these leather lace-up trousers reflect Kravitz’s luche, slightly camp style signature, plundered from all the swaggering proponents of 70s rock. This is the man who got up on stage in a feather-trimmed, pale blue, lycra body suit. Except, on these kinds of hyper-masculine individuals, crop tops do not break down a binary as much as they buttress it. Not only were they still, largely, associated with sportswear but they highlighted the very distinction that we now think they are meant to dissolve. A contemporary reading of Kravitz as “embracing his femininine side” is plain wrong – it’s not drag, it’s not femme, its an expression of virility, and alpha sex appeal.
In the riotous 1996 Trainspotting, a young Ewan McGregor plays Renton, a quick-witted heroin addict. With his buzzcut, acid wash denim, and clingy yellow t-shirt, McGregor looked as if he had just stepped out of Marc Jacobs’ Heaven boutique in LA. Except, Trainspotting was probably the furthest you could get from LA. Not in distance, of course, but in every single other way. It was gritty, and grisly, and constantly grey. McGregor’s shrunken t-shirt, which exposed his gaunt, pale belly beneath, was both a symbol of Renton’s drug-addled disintegration and the post-punk aesthetic of 90s britpop.
In 2014, Jaden Smith uploaded a picture of himself in a half-hoodie – the kind of cropped style you tend to only see limbering up in the corridors of Pineapple Dance Studios. Around the same time he also wore a cropped “Palm Springs” sweatshirt, which, again, would not have looked out of place in a Bring It On film. Since then Smith, who is often papped in skirts and kilt-like dresses, has gone onto become somewhat of a flag bearer for gender neutral fashion – at least for cis men, anyway.
Internet icon Rickey Thompson has given us just about as many crop tops as he has neck-swinging, truth-talking memes. Though fashion has always been a part of his persona, the social media star has undergone a style evolution over recent years with major endorsements from labels like Coach and Givenchy. Now, shrunken Y2K vests, scant vests, and holey singlets – usually paired with a glistening choker and low-slung trews – have become Thompson’s signature.
Back in 2015 Zac Efron was seen parading the streets of Georgia in a fringed “hakuna matata” crop top, tie-dye joggers, and tasseled loafers. It was very “taking the bins out”. Predictably, it sent legions of onlookers into a hot-headed, lust-fuelled frenzy worthy of a High School Musical flash mob. Plenty heralded Efron for “embracing his femininine side” – which, luckily for them, meant embracing his tanned bod and hulkling, veiny arms, too. It’s fun but like Lenny Kravitz before him, this is not femme – it’s a knowing expression of virility and sex appeal.
And then we have Harry Styles – obviously. The singer’s quaint, feminine frills are the work of stylist Harry Lambert, who is responsible for Styles’ decade-long style transition, taking the singer from a beanie wearing, Jack Wills toting, X Factor contestant, to the feather boa peacocking, international pop star of today. In his 2020 “Watermelon Sugar” video, Styles can be seen in the kind of skinny, boho scarf, exclusively worn by secondary school art teachers, and a purple striped jumper – revealing his tattoos and abs (in much the same way Kravitz revealed his burgeoning, hairy frame under a skimpy vest). He’s frolicking, lighthearted, even mum dancing, which, more than anything, speaks to the carefree nature of Prada’s skorts and Fendi’s cropped blazers.
The singer is, unfortunately, well and truly in bondage to the crop top complex, having worn a mere cross section of a Harris Reed vest to writhe about on a piano with Elton John at The Brits. Hope he recovers!