Cropped tops, or “half-shirts,” expose the midriff with a much tighter fit than your average t-shirt (see an example from Rick Owens’ FW19 collection below). But unlike virtually every other menswear trend from the 80s and 90s that has resurfaced over the past decade, there hasn’t been a big revival of crop tops.
That said, one of the biggest takeaways from Paris Fashion Week in January was that items traditionally associated with women’s fashion, such as handbags, were all over the men’s catwalk – and we’ve feel like we’re about to see cropped shirts follow this pattern. After all, in today’s fashion world, all the potential is there: the crop top is sportswear, it’s retro, it’s androgynous, and it’s kind of ironic.
Crop tops burst into menswear in the 70s and came to mean different things at different times. Take, for example, its history on the football field, particularly college football, where the crop top was introduced unintentionally and even before the 70s, with tear-off jerseys often losing their lower sections to tackles, resulting in exposed abs.
Most recently, Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott made the cropped jersey his signature look while playing for Ohio State. In 2015, Elliott told USA Today, “I just don’t like the way the loose jerseys are on the bottom, so I fold them up and roll them up. I get in trouble for that from time to time. I will have to go out at half-time, take off my jersey and put it in.
NFL rules mean Elliott’s abs have generally remained hidden since turning pro, although that hasn’t stopped him from wearing some kind of button-up/cropped hybrid on the red carpet for the NFL. Draft Day 2016. Did the look work? Not enough. Does he have the right idea? We’ll leave that to you.
So what about the crop top? The belly-baring t-shirt wasn’t just worn by college football players. The crop top is generally perceived as a gendered item, a slightly suggestive fashion choice for women, with all but a few men opting to keep their navel covered.
However, there were a few outliers making the look more neutral, with early champions of cropped tees including Lenny Kravitz and Prince. Prince in particular was known for employing an unapologetically androgynous style, cementing his place as an enduring fashion icon.
Other notable mentions go to Johnny Depp, who gave the look screen time in his starring role in the 1984 horror classic. Freddie, and to Ewan McGregor in 1996 Trainspotting. The tightly hemmed t-shirts and shaved head of McGregor’s character, Mark Renton, epitomize the wave of “heroine chic” of the 90s, a phenomenon that went hand in hand with the scuzziness of grunge and was presented as a reaction to cleaner and healthier cuts. models from the late 80s and early 90s.
Crop tops have also found their place on the body of another prince. Will Smith could be seen wearing cropped college-style t-shirts in The prince of Bel-Airaired from 1990 to 1996. Paired with vibrant sweatpants and a snapback, Smith was an iconic ’90s look, one that surely deserves a revival or at least a rack of vintage-inspired options at Urban Outfitters.
Unfortunately, the rapper, actor and future genius doesn’t feel the same way. Reflecting on her fashion choices on the show, Smith expressed regret about the style, despite how good it looked. “I blame my friends. You know, you can’t wear half a shirt on national television,” he lamented to GQ in 2015.
But it was then. Today, Smith’s son Jaden has picked up where his father left off, proving that the apple never falls far from the tree. In addition to subtly dismantling gendered fashion by featuring a womenswear campaign for Louis Vuitton, Jaden has been wearing cropped t-shirts since his teenage years.
Calvin Klein threatened to revolutionize crop tops by launching a line of tight-fitting t-shirts for Spring/Summer 2011 under then-Creative Director Italo Zucchelli, although it seems the fashion world isn’t was not ready. Tim Blanks of Vogue wrote at the time, “The cut-off tops seemed intended to suggest a gridiron player’s workout clothes, but were instead reminiscent of Hulk cast-offs.” Ouch.
One of the crop top’s greatest contemporary moments came in 2014, when Kid Cudi donned a vermilion terrycloth sleeveless cropped t-shirt at Coachella to a range of reactions from horror and confusion to applause. and admiration. Cudi paired his t-shirt with denim shorts, BAPE boxers and Nike Air Jordan 2s.
But it seems Cudi’s Coachella crop top moment was just that: a moment. Like with Calvin Klein in 2010, maybe 2014 just wasn’t ready for dudes in crop tops, with the bold retro look just not firing off. But now, in 2019, a few designers are reviving the cropped tee for the post-luxury streetwear era.
Nominated for the 2018 LVMH Prize, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, described in these pages as “the sexiest menswear brand in the world right now”, has become an industry favorite thanks to collections that dress fashion masculine in a decidedly sensual and provocative way. The Saint Sernin designer, formerly of Balmain, leveraged traditional concepts of beauty, elevating menswear into a new realm of glamor – including cropped leather tops.
London designer Bianca Saunders has also taken a new and critical perspective on masculinity, black masculinity in particular. Her SS19 collection featured cropped, ruffled and styled tops with wide-leg athletic pants. It’s a name to know if simple yet nuanced fashion is your bag.
Finally, unisex New York brand Telfar, worn by actor and understated style god Ashton Saunders on the 2019 Met Gala red carpet, included off-the-shoulder cropped tank tops in their most recent collection, which can be styled at the top – fitted pants that sit above the hips as well as below for a refreshing and contemporary silhouette.
So it feels like the stars are aligning for a revival of this divisive masculine look. The main thing holding him back is the men themselves.
Fashion has championed retro styles to the hilt, whether it’s chunky sneakers, straight-leg jeans, or the abundance of ’90s-style sportswear. Crop tops for men don’t have never really taken over the world, and only now are they beginning to infiltrate. For another stellar example, check out PAQ’s Danny below. It’s probably only a matter of time (or until A$AP Rocky wears one) before menswear lets go and embraces the cropped tee with the attention it deserves.