The crop top was initially popular in warmer parts of the world. The delay in adoption in the West, however, was owed to practical reasons. Crop tops don’t, after all, provide much protection or warmth in cooler climates. That said, the belated adoption of the crop top was also cultural in nature. Crop tops were considered daring, immodest, and exotic.
Even after they became more common, crop tops caused a stir among fashion critics and modesty advocates alike. Modern wearers of the crop top faced much criticism. However, the garment’s controversial reception also makes it a symbol of feminist autonomy. Let’s take a closer look at how this garment gained popularity in the West and became a culturally significant garment.
Crop Tops Were Traditionally Worn in Many Cultures
While crop tops are a fairly recent adoption in Western fashion, they’ve been around for centuries in other cultures. The traditional Indian sari was worn over a cropped top called a choli. The choli emerged in North India in the 10th century as part of a traditional three-piece outfit for women.
The choli was the uppermost part of the outfit and was traditionally made of cotton. As the choli evolved, silk was also used in its making, giving the garment a more elegant and sophisticated association.
Western Sensibilities Class the Crop Top as “Exotic”
Initially, a crop top style known as the bedlah was created by cabaret owner Badia Masabni in Egypt. Badia was famous for her dancing clubs across Cairo. Today, she is known as the woman who brought the belly dance to public attention and spearheaded its popularity across the global stage.
Her bedlah was a two-piece costume used to show off the midriff during belly dances. Dancers wore the costume during performances at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. At the time, American audiences associated the bare-midriff look with the exotic dance and people from faraway lands.
The Rise of the Crop Top in Western Fashion
Although the crop top was initially criticized for its revealing nature, it eventually increased in prominence in American and European fashion circles. Relatively conservative versions of the crop top rose to popularity in America as early as the 1940s. They were typically worn with high-waisted skirts, thus showing off very little skin.
More daring versions became popular in the 1970s when the crop top became an outfit of choice for daring sex symbols. In due time, high-profile celebrities like Madonna and Cher began sporting the crop top in various guises. By the 1990s, this iconic piece of clothing became an important element of fashionable dress. Crop tops were not limited to women, either. Men frequently wore them as fashion statements, as well.
The modern-day version is something of a flashback to these trends in the 80s and 90s. Today, women frequently wear crop tops as a statement about liberation and body positivity, especially within the plus-size fashion scene.