Crop tops for men make a comeback. Would you?

With its retro sensibility and sense of exposure, the crop top is disrupting masculine dress

Alex Winter rocking the crop top in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Photograph: Orion Pictures

Alex Winter rocking the crop top in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Photograph: Orion Pictures

 

With Donald Trump attempting to cut funds from the US Postal Service to suppress postal votes ahead of the November election, fashion is fighting back. A $20 long-sleeved crop top featuring the image of five envelopes outlined in different colours from the USPS online store became a coveted item, selling out over the weekend.

“I bought the crop top because I love the retro style,” says Jay M a digital artist who purchased one, “and [it] promotes body positivity in men. I guess the subversive element is an added bonus.”

Its popularity prompted the question: when is an item of clothing for men and when is it for women? The cut of the crop top, with its stomach-revealing length, suggests youth, confidence and sexual vitality. But, as both a symbol of body-positive queer culture (see the Queer Eye cast and Lil Nas X) and all-American jockism, it is also a piece of clothing whose ability to annoy and subvert shows no sign of stopping soon.

“Menswear has been increasingly embracing what was generally considered to be women’s garb – high heels, jewellery, frills, gloves, capes – and I think this is due in part to changing perceptions and greater acceptance of different forms of masculinity,” says Kati Chitrakorn, retail editor of Vogue Business.

But according to Crop Tops Are For Guys on Tumblr, the garment didn’t begin as womenswear at all. “The truth about the crop top movement is that it has existed since the 1970s,” it says. “The cropped shirt was originally created by men for men and was part of men’s fashion for years before women began wearing them.” The site says that it began in the early 1970s when bodybuilders cut off the bottom of their shirts to get around gym dress codes that prevented men from training without shirts.

In 2020, the crop top has continued to disrupt notions of masculine dress. In a scene from the ropey family movie Playing With Fire, wrestler-turned-actor John Cena wears a My Little Pony crop top, which causes co-star Keegan Michael Key to scream: “His masculinity is not up for debate!”

It was a strange twist on how Hollywood has traditionally treated the garment. In the 1980s and 1990s, it had strong “himbo” connotations, with many jock types wearing crop tops, exemplified by AC Slater from Saved By the Bell, Alex Winter in Bill & Ted (a third instalment of which is coming next week) and Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves (again) in Point Break.

But when Ilan Mitchell-Smith turned up to spook lugheaded brother Bill Paxton in 1985’s Weird Science, wearing Kelly LeBrock’s crop top and pants, it doubled as a comment on expected male outfits. Mitchell-Smith, as Paxton’s physically inferior, much bullied “little” brother was, in a sort of drag, having the last laugh on Paxton gaining dominance via the crop top’s button-pushing aesthetic.

Album cover for Parade by Prince.
Album cover for Parade by Prince.

A year later, on the cover of his Parade album, Prince, in a buttoned-up, body-hugging crop top, repositioned it as sexy and high fashion. And in fashion terms, there it has stayed. Whether that is French designer Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s AW20 look (partly off-the-shoulder, worn at an angle), Vetements’ neon green puffer jacket with a crop cut, Harry Styles’ cropped jumper in Watermelon Sugar or Christopher John Rogers’ green suit that he designed for Lil Nas X’s appearance at the American Music awards.

Lil Nas X poses in the green suit Christopher John Rogers designed for him at the 2019 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Photograph: Steve Granitz/WireImage
Lil Nas X poses in the green suit Christopher John Rogers designed for him at the 2019 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Photograph: Steve Granitz/WireImage

Like the short short, the male crop top has a retro sensibility and a sense of exposure that has come with the post-lockdown liberation of men’s wardrobes, a sexiness that lies in contrast to women’s fashion, which is, according to Chitrakorn, “focused on body diversity and toning down objectification”. – Guardian

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.