I love being covered up. My style icon? Laura Ingalls Wilder and her bonnet-wearing buddies from Little House on the Prairie. My signature look? A thermal henley worn under a chambray button-up and topped with a deliciously woolly, knee-skimming grandpa cardigan. My favorite season? The dead of winter, when the only skin anyone shows is the occasional flash of wind-reddened wrist.
I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember—I made my stuffed animals wear modesty T-shirts as a child—and never saw any particular reason to change. My collection of silky wide-leg trousers, well-tailored wool midi skirts and cashmere turtlenecks has allowed me to dress how I want without feeling like the office slob.
So imagine my surprise when I recently fell for a crop top, of all things. At first I chalked it up to desensitization, as the belly barers were everywhere during fall fashion week. But my interest lingered long after the last show, and I found myself occasionally Googling phrases like “crop top for beginners,” “my first crop top” and, in a fit of wishful thinking, “crop tops untoned abs spring 2014 hot new trend.”
What was it that made me consider abandoning the comfort of my slouchy separates? While a crop top might seem scary, it’s also something new—particularly for people like me, who think of an American Apparel deep V-neck T-shirt as risqué. But isn’t fashion all about trying new things and taking risks? And hadn’t I felt the same way at some point about skinny jeans, and high-waisted skirts, and mixing plaid with leopard print?
I realized it had been a long time since I stepped outside of my comfort zone. Maybe that’s why I found myself so drawn to the relative riskiness of a crop top. It was a craving—like how we’re said to thirst for a tall glass of milk when our bodies are lacking in vitamin D. When it became clear that my fixation wasn’t going anywhere, I decided I probably needed to talk to someone about whether I should give the trend a try.
“My belly button is private, and yours should be too.” This was the lovingly stern advice I received from Alexis Bryan Morgan, Lucky’s executive fashion director and resident crop-top skeptic. “It’s fine to show it on the runway or on the beach,” she continued, “but I’m generally not a fan of seeing someone’s rib cage.” As firmly entrenched in the anti-crop camp as she seemed, however, even Alexis was willing to concede a few points. “I actually love a shorter top as a layering piece. It creates a silhouette that feels completely new, and it gives you so many options to play around with,” she explained. “The crop tops we’ve been seeing lately are longer, a little boxier and just more wearable. With a long top underneath, I might even try one,” she added.*
If I have any one person to thank for ultimately expanding my sartorial horizons and shortening my shirt length, it’s Liz Giardina, the resident genius (official title: vice president of design) over at Derek Lam’s gorgeous diffusion line, 10 Crosby. It was a crop top that Liz created—a slouchy, drop-shoulder striped pullover in soft navy and cream stripes from the spring/summer 2014 collection—that I spotted and decided would be my gateway piece. “It’s a shame that crop tops have gotten a bad rap,” she lamented when I sat down to talk with her. “I think it has a lot to do with the name—for some reason people think crop tops and they think casual, ’80s acid wash. I wish everyone would picture something elegant, like a vintage Balenciaga bolero jacket, instead. Because it really can be a sophisticated and surprisingly classic piece.” We discussed my love of layers, and she echoed Alexis’ thoughts on wearing a crop top over a longer shirt, but it was the next thing she said that sealed my fate: “You know, if you paired a crop top with a pair of high-waisted, wide-leg jeans, it would make your legs look a million miles longer. Plus, it gives you the illusion of a really flat stomach, no crunches required.”
Armed with her encouragement and the aforementioned 10 Crosby crop top, I felt ready to finally suck it up (and in!) and actually wear one. I made my debut at home, to an audience of one—three, if you count non-humans. The top had a perfectly broken-in, roomy feel, almost like a favorite sweatshirt, but so much sleeker (and yes, shorter—it ended just about an inch above my natural waist). Paired with my trusty ’70s-inspired MiH flares and my even trustier No. 6 clog boots, I felt like … myself. Myself, with the longer legs and flatter stomach that Liz had promised, plus a little glint in my eye every time I lifted my arms and felt a whisper of cool air on bare skin. My husband gave his enthusiastic approval, remarking: “It looks like all your other shirts, but it fits you!” The dog winked at me; the cat yawned. In other words, it was a complete success.
The next day at the office, my coworkers were similarly supportive. Sure, I wasn’t sauntering down the hallways in a navel-baring bandeau, but as far as baby steps go, this one felt significant. I’d shed my layers, taken a risk and exposed myself—literally—but I felt more confident and comfortable than ever.
So, with apologies to Laura Ingalls Wilder, who I doubt would approve of my decision, I’ve added a few crop tops to my closet, and I can’t wait to wear them—playfully under vintage overalls on the weekends or dressed up with a pencil skirt to a dinner party—all season long. The best part? They take up half the space of everything else.