Oh crop tops, oh crop tops, wherefore art thou crop tops? is a question Juliet probably never considered – too busy mooning over Romeo and making some very rash decisions. That and the fact that she was a fictional character situated in a century not really notable for midriff flashing or belly button showing off.
Of course it’s a common misconception that ‘wherefore art thou Romeo’ means ‘where are you Romeo?’ – where it’s actually asking ‘why are you?’ or ‘why do you have to be Romeo?’ Substitute the name of a great tragic character for an item of clothing made from a scant amount of fabric though, and you can summarise the difference between two groups of people. The first are thinking “where are the crop tops? Let me get my hands on’em!” and the second group, myself included are slightly more inclined towards the “Whyyy are all these tops cropped? Do they have to be cropped? Where’s the rest of it? That looks chilly!” kind of approach.
I talk from pure, individual subjectivity here. I don’t really wear crop tops myself because they're designed to show an area of my body I’m more self-conscious about – the residual after-effects of scoliosis having left me with a more prominent rib cage than necessary. Of course, no one else might notice. But that’s why it’s called ‘self-consciousness’ – an aspect I’m aware of and feel dissatisfied by that few else would register.
However, I remain fascinated by the ‘comeback’ of crop tops. How have they so quickly become one of the go-to items, whether the activity is clubbing, exercising, going on holiday, hanging out in the office, or pretending you’re an extra in Clueless?
Perhaps one could point to how an item that was first the preserve of a handful of designers circa 2012 and 2013 then filtered down (as is always the case) to every high street chain going. What begins with Marc Jacobs ends up in Marks and Spencer, if you give it enough time.
Then there’s the well-established resurgence of the nineties, in all its jelly-shoed, spaghetti-strapped, backpack-toting regalia. It was a decade where crop tops were the staple of popstars, models and adolescents alike. Think grunge, think Britney Spears, think teen movies, think the Spice Girls, think Rachel from Friends (and then think of lots of other things too, because I didn't have time to collate a more comprehensive list…)
But first, a quick history for the uninitiated. Having first turned up in the forties and fifties, often to rather glorious, tailored aplomb, and adopted by more self-professed alternative communities in the sixties and seventies, the crop top hit the big time in the eighties – zest for exercise translating into items of clothing that could show off carefully toned muscles.
In plenty of ways, I think what we’re seeing now is – if I simplify it vastly - a mix of nineties aesthetic with eighties ethos. Often, crop tops today seem to have a kind of symbolic value. In a society obsessed with skinniness and body size and just how the Victoria’s Secret Angels got ready for striding up and down a catwalk wearing very little, is it any surprise crop tops are selling like (rather undersized) hot cakes? They’re a clever little item of clothing, a kind of social currency, a means of showing off your figure and/or proving that you’ve been racking up the crunches, gym sessions and green juice intake.
Or maybe I’m over-thinking the whole thing, and they’re just worn because people enjoy them and want to have fun. Who knows?
I wanted to wrap up this ending by making some very clever link between Romeo and Juliet, and Clare Danes – hoping that perhaps the 1996 version of the film had let a sneaky crop top pop up somewhere, so allowing me to suggest some marvelous circularity. Unfortunately, these hopes were in vain (although Danes did wear plenty of them throughout the nineties). However, do you know who does show off a fabulously impressive amount of flesh in the Baz Luhrmann adaptation? Mercutio – in a rather dazzling bralet. Look it up, if you're not already familiar. It’s quite something.
Here I'm wearing a cropped turtle neck top I nicked from my mum. I actually put it on for warmth underneath something else, then realised it would be interesting to shoot by itself. But what a palaver finding the accompanying outfit - skirt after skirt tried on and cast off again, deemed too unflattering or not quite right. Eventually I returned to the very first one I'd picked out, a leather skirt recently bought from a charity shop, then paired with heels from eBay and a vintage satin evening coat. And, of course, the photos chosen here have been carefully selected according to the merit of how they make me look. They're mainly the ones where I was breathing in lots, holding all my (very undeveloped) muscles in place. Note how in some of them my waist looks smaller - the black fabric of the sleeves creating an illusion of another shape that isn't mine. I include both those points for a reason, because I feel I should be questioning my own measure of 'flattering' - because in my head, that word is still mainly synonymous with 'looking slender', as silly, silly, silly as that is.