Who doesn’t mind showing a little navel? Lots of guys (and their girlfriends), apparently, if you look at the hubbub surrounding ASOS’ decision to include a few men’s crop tops.
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Back in May, their listings for a two-part top – one for the shoulder area and a second for the chest and waist – went viral, with many Twitter users questioning, if not outright mocking, the ecommerce retailer.
ASOS, in response, released a statement about being gender neutral and intentionally breaking down fashion norms.
The infamous tops have since spawned many variations, from shorter-hem tees to drapey camp collar shirts falling just above the waist.
Why Men’s Crop Tops and Why Now?
To get to the point: Androgyny comes in waves, and feminine-leaning menswear trends like the crop top come along with it. At any point in fashion history where gender norms were slightly stretched – the ‘70s with glam rock, New Wave in the ‘80s, and Grunge and rave culture by the ‘90s – some variation on the crop top emerged for men.
In the ‘70s and ‘80s, the half-shirt was a staple on many sports fields, initially created after a jersey’s bottom portion was torn off. By the ‘90s, the top itself didn’t directly have a name; rather, a shorter-fitting shirt hitting right above the navel precisely contrasted against mid-rise, pipe-legged pants. See Ewan McGregor in Trainspotting for reference.
The late 2010s, in following this pattern, have experienced another wave of androgynous-leaning styles. Beyond just baggier silhouettes for women and more fitted ones for men, the unisex fashion brand has been legitimized with LVMH and CFDA prize nominations. More feminine fabrics like lace and velvet are starting to feel fairly commonplace within a man’s wardrobe. And, following higher waists on men’s pants, it only makes sense to do the same for shirts.
Crop Tops for Men in Pop Culture
Yet, if men’s crop tops solely appeared in runway presentations, they’d be dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan, impractical trend. Rather, as part of the impetus for ASOS’ decision, male celebrities have been snapped in cropped tees.
The current wave goes back to Kid Cudi in 2014, when he sported a cut-off red T-shirt during his Coachella performance. It didn’t really catch on; rather, the trend sat around dormant, until the push for more gender-neutral fashion started a couple of years ago. Since that point, Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness has worn these shorter-hemmed tees as a more accessibly feminine style, while Justin Bieber, partially in comeback mode, was seen showing off his abs in one.
Although most might roll their eyes at pop stars and TV personalities, athletes have somewhat masculinized it. Bringing back the ‘80s gym class staple, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jason Kelce occasionally wears one during practice, and the Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott took it up another level, wearing a trimmed-down button-front under his blazer during a press conference, claiming the truncated combination is more comfortable.
Menswear, right now, looks like a hodgepodge of ‘70s, ’80s, and ‘90s styles, so the crop top seamlessly fits in. Particularly in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, you’d spot it as an active style: Re-watch Rocky III for Carl Weathers’ Apollo Creed, or pause for the gym class fight in the Coreys’ Dream a Little Dream to see what we mean.
On the other hand, it makes for a comfortable and freeing T-shirt, as evidenced by Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and Alex Winter in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
At the time, it simply looked like a shortened T-shirt or jersey meant to highlight your abs and complement the era’s higher-waist pants.
Wearing a Men’s Crop Top in the Present
As with many menswear trends, take a few cues from the past – think ‘80s fitness and high-waist pants – and blend them in with the present – particularly, the inclining toward unisex and gender-neutral styles.
The Short T-Shirt
Let’s begin with the most accessible option. This crop top looks like a tee, and by the usual poly/cotton blend, definitely feels like one. On the other hand, its hem is just a bit higher – navel or waist, as opposed to your hips – and the sleeves get proportionally shorter.
Unlike athletic styles, this shirt offers a bit more space and tends to drape down from your shoulders. For a retro-minded look, consider taking an older tee, cutting off the hem – you’ll want the raw edge here – and rolling up the sleeves.
Unless you’re relatively chiseled from head-to-toe and intend to show off your workout’s rewards, pair this silhouette with at least a mid-rise pant, if not a style that hits just below the waist.
The Athletic Crop Top
On the subject of abs, not every crop top you come across will offer some space. In the opposite direction, styles more in line with activewear cling to your skin, and are often made out of performance materials, like polyester or spandex. These pieces, while infused with a ‘90s vibe to some degree, are relatively difficult to pull off: If you’re a bit out of shape or have a boxier torso, this cut will literally accent every flaw.
Though, if you’re adventurous, think about the rules of contrasts. If you’re keeping things stretchy and fitted on top, opt for pants – higher-waisted, still – with a bit more space. Try it out with a pleated style, or even those revived JNCOs we’ve been seeing.
The Androgynous Crop Top
Sports don’t always have to be your inspiration. Instead, turn to music – Prince in the ‘80s, followed by Lenny Kravitz in the ‘90s – and runway presentations, particularly Ludovic de Saint Sernin and Telfar.
These contexts don’t repackage a traditionally feminine silhouette for a more masculine consumer; rather, they embrace and emphasize its inherent qualities, and simply cut it for a male body. Variations span materials – spandex to lace and organza – and play around with cut, including off-the-shoulder and fully sleeveless styles.
Through this lens, the rest of your outfit depends on how much skin you’re intending to show. An early ‘00s interpretation may play a low-rise pant off a cropped shirt. On the other hand, just a sliver of skin is impactful for a man, and in this direction, higher-waist pants with a wider-cut shirt offer enough coverage and contrast.