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The History Of: The Crop Top
"Fashion has retired and resurrected the belly top in a manner similar to that of Amanda Bynes' career"

  image from mtv.com

“If you’ve got it, flaunt it” might well be the mantra of summer 2012. Mini-skirts, high-waisted short-shorts (yuck!) and sheer blouses have all made their timely returns as wardrobe staples of trendspotters worldwide.

Unfortunately, I’m over the age of 25 and no one is interested in seeing my midriff, so I haven’t had the opportunity to test out what one can only pray is a fad. However, the 14-year-old hipsters at the Eaton Centre, decked out in their Nasty Gal ‘tummy tops,’ got me thinking. Where did these ‘belly shirts’ come from? Who decided parading around like a Show Girl was a good idea? WHERE ARE THEIR MOTHERS?! Thus my first column for TorontoStandard.com was born: The History Of.

The History Of will take a closer look at the origin of trends in fashion, from a historical standpoint, as well as some of their most famous imitations in recent years. I know, it’s hard to believe that prior to making appearances on the runways at Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Emilio Pucci, and Versace the crop top was already a popular craze. Would you believe me if I told you that prior to appearing on Selena Gomez’s svelte body the crop top was first worn thousands of years ago by Middle Eastern Belly Dancers? You better believe it because it’s truly the history of the belly top!

As previously mentioned, arguably the first known appearances of the crop top was in the Middle East by Belly Dancers, traditionally known as “West Asian” performers. Similar to the colourful garb donned by belly dancers today (Shakira doesn’t count), customary belly dancing costumes are generally two-pieces and contain stunning accessories such as beaded fringe and coins. Perfect for the shimmying and shaking that I can’t seem to perfect in my Wednesday night ‘Belly Fit’ class.

image from kyleshurgeproductions.com

While there are many different types of belly dance and attire, the most popular of all styles is the “Bedleh.” The Bedleh (pronounced BED-LUH) refers to the cabaret-style beaded bra, belt, skirt, and body stocking that the western world commonly associates with belly dancing. Literally meaning, “suit,” the bedleh was designed by Cairo cabaret owner Badia Masabni in an attempt to draw western tourists to his establishment. While most bedlehs incorporate the classic harem pant, there are many variations incorporating sheer fabrics for the bottom portion. Some cultures (such as Egyptian) require the belly button to be covered by a ring or a brooch. Nicole Sherzinger, please take note and don’t be so rude!

North America was first introduced to belly dancing by way of Egyptian performer ‘Little Egypt’ at Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. According to BellyDance.org, “Americans found themselves fascinated by the exotic body rhythms and music.” Since then, fashion has retired and resurrected the belly top in a manner similar to that of Amanda Bynes’ career. (She was great in “She’s the Man,” wasn’t she?) While Designer Madeleine Vionnet reintroduced the bare belly to western fashion in 1932 when she showed a dress with strategically-placed cutouts, fashion has got significantly more inventive since. Here’s a look at some of the most famous crop tops in recent years:

1983: Flashdance‘s Alexandra “Alex” Owens

Jennifer Beals made her very sexy movie debut as Alexandra “Alex” Owens. Welder by day; Dancer by night. Despite having virtually no proper dance training, Alex commits to being accepted to the renowned Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory. Ultimately this leads to a lot of cut-off sweaters and one very memorable (and wet!) scene at The Zanzibar. 

1983: Madonna’s “Lucky Star”

Released the same year as Flashdance, Madonna was the first mainstream artist to rock a cut-off in her first top 5 hit on the Billboard Top 100, “Lucky Star”. Coincidence? I think not! 

1979: Dukes of Hazzard’s Daisy Duke

In 1979, Catherine Bach emerged as fictional character Daisy Duke in Dukes of Hazzard. Rocking her signature jean cut-offs (later nicknamed “Daisy Dukes”) and her trademark red Lumberjack shirt (now sold at Aritzia), the sexiest lady in Hazzard County was among the first to bare her midriff on TV.

1989: Saved by the Bell’s Kelly Kapowski

Zack Morris was my first crush and I know he was yours too. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen played Head Cheerleader, Kelly Kapowski, for four seasons of Saved by the Bell and a victory lap season of Saved by the Bell: The College Years. Using her sexy stomach to win the attention of suitors such as AC Slater and that creepy new Manager of The Max, Jeff, Kelly’s exploits in the early 90’s left us all jonesing for a toned tummy.

1992: Aladdin’s Princess Jasmine

Notably the first Disney Princess to bare her belly (Ariel doesn’t count because her shells are like a bathing suit), Princess Jasmine puts all of the other princesses to shame. Gallivanting around the streets of Agrabah with that “street urchin” Aladdin, Princess Jasmine’s traditional bedleh has been my Halloween costume three times. It’s important.

1999: Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time”

Arguably “THE song of the 90’s,” Britney Spears’ sexy schoolgirl outfit is still considered one of her most iconic looks. While her kilt and pigtails, not to mention belly-button ring, caused an uproar among parent associations, the video shot her to superstardom overnight. Eight years later she shaved her head.

What will the future bring for the crop top? It’s been a while since a belly shirt really made a statement, but with the style trending so fiercely I anticipate a new Queen (or King) of the midriff in weeks to come. Watch out Britney, soon there could be a new belly babe in town! 


Jessica Denomme is Toronto-based publicist and fashion writer who enjoys a good pair of high heels. Flats are for quitters! Follow her on Twitter @jessdenomme.

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