Crop Tops: Surprisingly Versatile

crop tops with skirts

one | two | three

I steered well clear of the crop tops during the 90s. They scared the living daylights out of me, since they were worn with low-rise jeans and therefore would’ve exposed the entirety of my middle-jiggle. When they came back around again I was initially skeptical, but people were styling them so differently that I converted fairly quickly: Nowadays you’re more likely to see a crop top worn with high-rise pants/jeans or a high-rise skirt. Much less torso is exposed. In fact sometimes you can’t see any torso at all and it’s just the short-top-longer-bottom proportions that become the outfit’s focus. A whole different ballgame.

But even in this revised form, some people still feel that these tops should be the exclusive domain of the slender and lithe. A couple of weeks ago, an article appeared in Oprah’s O Magazine with the following text:

Q: Can I pull off a crop top?

A: If (and only if!) you have a flat stomach, feel free to try one. For more coverage, layer the top over a longer shirt as shown in look two.

Aaaand the world responded with a cheerful – and completely appropriate – middle finger to that one:

crop tops collage

Source left | right

Because, ya know, it’s BULLSHIT. First off, everyone can wear everything they want all the time because no garment in the world will cause a body to spontaneously combust. Second, stuff like that is a form of body-shaming; Telling people that if they lack figures that fit the current beauty standard, they’d sure as hell better keep those figures out of sight, instead of accepting that if you see someone wearing something you don’t like, you can just look away. And third, even if you’re going for a relatively traditional set of figure-flattery priorities, crop tops are great on a wide variety of figure shapes and sizes.

Which brings me to the main reason I wanted to cook up a crop top post: I’ve found them to be a handy solution for the shirt-skirt proportion issue.

As a general rule, tops worn with skirts should be a bit shorter than tops worn with pants. With a skirt, an untucked top should hit about two fingers’ width below your navel. With pants, an untucked top should just about subdivide your butt or hit two to three fingers’ width above your crotch-point. (Whichever looks better to your eye.) These are incredibly loose guidelines, mind you, with the main point being that longer tops tend to suit pants, shorter ones suit skirts.

Most brands are designing all of their tops in incredibly long lengths these days, so if you want to wear a skirt-top combo you pretty much have to tuck. Which drives some people bananas because tucking can be constricting and uncomfortable … yet finding skirt-length tops has been well-nigh impossible for ages. Even petite tops tend to be a bit long in the torso, not to mention that many have shorter sleeves and adjusted armholes to fit actual petite figures, not just regular-sized women hoping to find shorter tops. (And rightly so – that’s how petite sizing works.)

But now? Now we have crop tops. And some of them are very, very short and clearly designed to show some skin, but others are longer. And if you find the right length, shape, and cut, they can turn out to be the perfect length for wearing untucked with skirts. I’ve snapped up a couple from Topshop and Kohl’s that are working beautifully with my summer skirts. Many of them are actually sweaters – if you search for “crop top” you’re likely to get tees, but “crop sweaters” gets you knitwear.

The best way to tell if a crop top will be long enough is to measure any tops you currently have that work untucked with skirts. Get within an inch or two of that length, and you’re likely in the sweet spot. Most websites will offer length measurements so you can compare before ordering. You can bring your tape measure to the mall, too, or just shop wearing a favorite skirt so you can see how various tops look worn with it.

If you’re long-waisted, crop tops still may be mighty short worn untucked with skirts – even crop tops that are cut on the longer side. But if you’ve got an average or short waist, this workaround might be worth exploring. Getting tops tailored to be skirt-length certainly works, but if you can get them off-the-rack at the right length it saves you time, money, and aggravation.

Crop tops can also be layered. They work worn over dresses for a variety of effects, from breaking up the outfit’s lines to offering more coverage. Pop a long-sleeved crop over a sleeveless dress and you’ve got interesting proportions and covered-up arms. If you buy them snug enough, they can also be layered under dresses and I’ve seen designers layering tank crops over button-front shirts for fall. So if you don’t like them on their own you might love them layered.

No one can force you to try this style, but I hope you won’t let anyone scare you off it, either. I’ve seen petite, plus sized, tall, curvy, curve-free, teenaged, and middle-aged women rocking crop tops in various ways and in a marvelously diverse group of outfits. They might just be the missing puzzle piece in your own wardrobe, too.

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5 Responses to “Crop Tops: Surprisingly Versatile”

  1. Stephanie Hartley

    You can style things however you want regardless of size! I love pairing a crop top with a high waisted skirt because I’m not confident enough to bare my midriff. And if people are, then that’s great for them too!

    Steph –

  2. Incognita

    I love this look! I got a lace-knit sweater at Kohl’s in the spring that looks wonderful with my white pique 1950s pattern full skirt. It just barely blouses over the waistband when I’m standing still.

  3. wonkyone15

    Timely post! I never thought I would want to wear a crop top, but I keep seeing this one on Forever21+ that is paired with various maxi skirts, and it looks great! Elbow length sleeves, plain black, round neck…but it doesn’t actually seem to be for sale. Argh!

  4. Serenity

    I wore crop tops in the 80’s AND 90’s. My mother was disturbed about the amount of time my midsection was bare. My high school yearbook pic has a crop top…. But I wouldn’t wear them now. the body is MUCH different now….

  5. Jennifer

    Hmmm, if I could find a crop top that definitely covered my stomach with skirts, I’d try it. I think the reason I almost exclusively wear dresses to church is because I have a short torso and plus-size shirts are so long. I did break out and buy and sometimes wear a fat bikini this year. It’s more of a crop top with high-waist bottoms than a true bikini, though, and I used a little liquid courage before wearing. As well as the fat, the stretch marks and gallbladder scars mean I’ll prob sit this trend out. But I do agree that I’ve seen several body types rock it. I think it’s in the confidence and what you pair it with.