The belly has become the new focal point of fashion statements. But does it advance fashion?
“Good luck,” said a friend when I told him I wrote on bellies. Which was interesting. I’m not sure she would have said the same if I had told her that I wrote on clothes that bare the shoulders or the thighs. Are crop tops more controversial than the neckline?
It’s not like stomachs have been kept a secret lately. Look at pop culture. Madonna got the ball rolling in the 1980s. Look for photos of her from that decade and, along with a crucifix and an armful of bangles, a bare midriff was her signature style. Britney, J-Lo and Riri all followed in her wake.
These days we see that Dua Lipa is a fan of the bra top worn on and off, for music promotions, on social media she even walked the Versace show wearing one for Spring 2022. Lorde channeled the sun’s energy into a yellow crop top for her Solar energy video and Zendaya made the belly a focal point of her fashion statements.
Standout entries include Vera Wang’s red ball skirt and matching mini tube she wore to last year’s CFDA Fashion Awards; Tom Ford’s custom-made hot pink breastplate cut out to reveal part of his midsection and, on the Oscars red carpet, a yellow Valentino dress with keyhole cutouts that gave an eye-catching point of difference to a traditional full -long evening dress.
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In the 1930s, costume historian James Laver developed the erogenous zone displacement theory to explain why for one decade fashion might focus on the chest, then the next decade it would fall to the legs.
What one generation finds appealing may not necessarily do so for the next. But these days, more and more, anything goes, and whether it’s him, her, them, or them, the choice of what to wear is probably more likely a statement of individuality or self-expression. rather than motivated by what someone else finds attractive.
In terms of fashion, crop tops aren’t just the preserve of women’s fashion. In the 1980s, when American footballers cut T-shirts over navy, ostensibly to better distribute body heat, it caused a fashion stir. Will Smith wore one The prince of Bel-Air.
Now Harry Styles and Lil Nas X, both vehement at defying fashion’s gender norms, have embraced them. Cropped tops may not be mainstream for men just yet, but they’re bubbling.
Where pop stars lead, trend-conscious teens follow. And fashion is keen to meet demand. In images from the Fendi menswear show, one outfit – a cropped jacket/shirt/tie combination with athletic shorts – looks like a surreal, precision-themed composition. “I think it’s time to break down boundaries,” says designer Silvia Venturini Fendi.
While they heralded a new trend start, the majority of tiny bare midriff tops didn’t look hugely groundbreaking when showcased at spring women’s fashion shows.
At Miu Miu, cropped cable-knit sweaters bared the midriff and low kilts revealed the hip bones, like a custom school uniform. Black long-sleeved bralette tops over sleek, cut-out black low-rise pants looked stylish at Balmain. Cropped ruffled tops floated high above the waistbands of baggy embroidered jeans with more than a hint of ’90s boho cool at Isabel Marant.
It took a New York designer with a much more simplistic approach to create an exposed midriff look of the moment. Maryam Nassir Zadeh kicked off her show with the belly fashion twist that emerged last year: flossing. Wrap a belt or ties around a bare waist (usually attached to the clothes you wear) and – your da! – Here.
But it wasn’t flossing that made this look. It was the simple fact that the designer chose someone realistically sized to wear it: curve-confident model Paloma Essler who, despite all the talk of inclusion, shows that runway fashion still has a long way to go.
From a design perspective, exposing different amounts of midriff can be an interesting way to study proportion – and there will be plenty of women wearing skimpy tops under oversized jackets according to Gigi Hadid in the months to come. If, in terms of both clothing and communication, exposing a flabby stomach is the fashion equivalent of flaunting ultimate vulnerability, no wonder it still packs a punch.