A story of men wearing crop tops

This article originally appeared on iD UK.

Among all the #couplegoals engagement photos of your old school friends and endless memes, there’s some interesting things left on the timeline. Throughout the Pride season, for example, there has been a mini revival of the crop top, pushed by fast fashion retailers alongside cropped shorts and all that glitters. As one of these ASOS ads pops up on my screen with a model wearing a neon green crop top, my finger hovers over the comments button. I already know that I don’t want to read them. I know they’ll annoy me and ruin my mood, but my self-control is abysmal. “Remember when ASOS had clothes for straight men?” said one commenter. “That time when no female role models are available,” said another. They were the polish. The rest was a cesspool of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.

The perception that a man wearing a crop top has to be gay, closeted, or at the very least feminine is almost ironic given that the birth of the garment is actually attributed to one of the most hyper-masculine activities of all. times, american football.

In what looks like the start of a grumpy gay porn movie, football shirts were constantly ripped and torn during games, exposing players’ torsos and abs. This accidental exposure then gave rise in the early 1980s to a trend of players deliberately cutting off their jerseys in order to show off their chiseled bodies. As Professor Vicki Karaminas from Massey University’s School of Design in New Zealand explains, “The belly cut lengthened their figure and improved the size of their torso and muscles. It was a gesture or a very masculine look.” The athletes worked hard and they wanted people to know that. Around the same time, the ban on being shirtless in gyms led to weightlifters also wearing crop tops in order to always show off their physique. It wasn’t long before brands such as Nike realized this and started designing and marketing crop tops for men for this very purpose.

Athletes weren’t the only ones sporting this look. In the 1982 movie Rocky III, Carl Weathers sports a fitted sleeveless t-shirt in blue. In the 1984 horror classic freddie, a young Johnny Depp makes his film debut lying on a bed in a cropped number 10 football shirt. The trend even continued into the 90s with Will Smith occasionally donning a cropped, baggy football shirt during his 6-year reign as The prince of Bel-Air, while the unfortunate image of Adam Sandler wearing an MIT crop top in 1994 Aerial heads was etched in my memory.

The crop top of the 80s and early 90s was deeply tied to sports, athletics and masculinity. A show-boating of the male physique and the work done to achieve it. So what happened? What made straight men reject clothing as feminine, even queer?

While I’d like to attribute the deaths of straight men wearing crop tops to Adam Sandler, in truth, the trend died because of an ongoing problem within society. A problem that still exists today and holds some of the most powerful offices in the world. Fragile masculinity.

By the end of the 80s, the image of the crop top had already begun to change. The fashion-forward and androgynous entertainer Prince was one of the first to wear the crop top in a way that didn’t reference sportswear, sporting a skintight, high-waisted black top that showed off his flawless torso during performances. a concert at Wembley in 1986. In the 90s the top image leaned more towards fashion and sex, as Calvin Klein’s iconic 90s androgynous adverts featuring Kate Moss also featured a Mark Wahlberg muscular and wearing a crop top. Similarly, underwear brands such as NIKOS marketed the garment in a sexual, sometimes homoerotic way, featuring models as Greek gods.

crop top-mark-wahlberg

It was this rebranding that led to the demise of trends. As the 90s gave way to the 2000s, the advent of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the brutal murder of young gay man Matthew Shepard betrayed a culture of closed identity, homophobia and harassment. . In the UK, Thatcher introduced Section 28, a new law that bans the “promotion” of homosexuality in British schools, leaving a whole generation of LGBTQ people to grow up without proper education on an important facet of their identity. “After AIDS, there was this backlash of straight men who didn’t want to be seen as gay,” says Dr Shaun Cole, associate professor of fashion at the Winchester School of Art. “Fashion, too, has traditionally been derided as frivolous and feminine.”

The men’s crop top, now less athletic and more fashionable, sexier and androgynous, began to embody everything that masculinity wanted to stand out from: camp, homosexuality and effeminacy. Straight, closed, equal men ignored the trend, replacing it instead with ill-fitting pants and tacky tank tops (the 2000s were a weird time). The last celebrity male belly in public for a while was Ginuwine’s extreme cropped blazer and no shirt look for the 2000 Radio Music Awards. A clumsy end to a beautifully crafted legacy.

However, not all men shunned the crop top. Some openly queer men, uninhibited by the fear of appearing effeminate, bravely continued to show their bellies throughout the decade. As a result, the crop top has become a staple of the Pride season.

Nevertheless, over the past 10 years, it seemed like something had changed and straight men were slowly starting to catch up. Jaden Smith, 20 years after his father wore them The Fresh Prince, posted a photo on Instagram wearing a black cropped T-shirt. Kid Cudi did his entire 2014 Coachella set wearing a red crop top and blue shorts, while NFL player Ezekiel Elliott paid tribute to Prince in the 2016 NFL Draft. were quick to call this the resurrection of the male crop top. But was that really the case?

When Kid Cudi stepped onto the Coachella stage in 2014 bare midriff, he did so at a festival known for its unconventional and slightly controversial outfits. Ezekiel Elliott’s tribute to Prince was more about protesting the NCAA’s ban on rolling up T-shirts than about the crop top itself. When Zac Efron wore one in the 2016 movie dirty grandpa and Will Ferrell on SNL in 2011, both did it for comedic value. Straight men in the public eye may have started wearing crop tops again, but it still hasn’t normalized. It is something worn to shock, or as a gag, played for laughs. The crop top, like many clothes, still carries a lot of the burden of gender and sexuality.

However, Professor Vicki Karaminas still has hope. “Gender has become much more fluid as Gen Z and Millennials experiment more with gender and fashion and rethink their identity through clothing,” she explains. Jaden Smith, with his androgynous and fluid fashion sense, is a key example. . One day we saw him in a crop top, the next in a black hoodie, the next in a dress. Never do any of these items become a piece worn just to make a statement. “Clothes are no longer simply masculine or feminine,” says Doctor Karaminas. “But much more complex as new gender identities start to emerge.”

Toxic masculinity obviously still exists, just look at the responses to ASOS’ Instagram post to see it. But things are changing. Whether it’s the handful of male celebrities who were ready to explore ‘Camp’ at the 2019 MET Gala or rapper Young Thug sporting an Alessandro Trincone dress on the album cover for No, my name is Jeffrey ; a new generation of straight men is rediscovering fashion and clothing that is separate from traditional taboos of sexuality and gender. This could well be the rise of crop tops 2.0.

This article originally appeared on iD UK.