Midriff Top

AKA: crop top, belly shirt, half shirt, tummy top, cutoff top

How to say it:  mid-rif

Traditional Features: 

body template

  • a short top that exposes the midriff area of the body
  • can be varying lengths – from just below the bust to just above the navel
  • style of neckline, sleeves and fit vary


…of the style: The first midriff tops were worn thousands of years ago by Middle Eastern belly dancers and have been worn as part of the Indian sari since forever, but in terms of modern fashion, midriff baring was socially discouraged by Western culture until well into the 20th century. Madeleine Vionnet was the first to offer a midriff baring dress in 1932, followed by swimwear styles that showed an increasing amount of stomach through the 30s and 40s. This trend continued through the 50s, but fashion dictated that exposing the midriff was only acceptable for beachwear until the 1960s, when the sexual revolution got rid of all the rules and brought midriff tops into the fashion forefront.

Cheerleading outfits, popularised by the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, kept midriff tops in fashion, particularly with high school girls though the 70s and in the 1980s Madonna gave the style a massive boost in popularity when she appeared in a midriff top in her ‘Lucky Star’ video. The wardrobe choice was a controversial one, but the combination of Madonna’s star power and the hit movie ‘Flashdance’ ensured the midriff top’s place in fashion.

The midriff rode the wave of the dancewear trend through the 80s and continued to be on trend into the 90s thanks to celebrities like Britney Spears, the Spice Girls, Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera. Midriff tops came in all shapes and sizes during this time, from loose, logo baring t-shirts, to tight turtlenecks and short bustiers worn under a blazer. From the red carpet to the cafe, 90s women could not get enough of showing off their middles.

The style slipped from fashion in the early 2000s only to resurface in 2011 on the runway of Phillip Lim, followed by a greater show of force in 2012 with the like of Prada, Preen and Dolce and Gabbana bringing back the tailored crop top styles of the 50s. Spring 2013 shows added further flame to the midriff revival and one quick look at the marketplace in 2014 will tell anyone who cares that 21st century fashion is not done with the midriff top just yet.

…of the name: The top is called a midriff top because it exposes the wearers midriff. The word midriff comes from the Old English word midhrif which literally mean ‘stomach’ and dates back to 1000AD. The word became obsolete after the 18th century but was revived by the fashion industry in 1941 as a means of avoiding the word ‘belly’, a term which many women disliked using in reference to their bodies, as it carried connotations of obesity.

For more info on Midriff Tops try Wikipedia, The Courier Online, The Toronto Standard, The Boston Globe or check out the Fairchild’s Dictionary of Fashion

Random Facts

  • some American Schools still have clothing guidelines dating back to the 1970s that outlaw the wearing of midriff tops on school premises

21st Century Midriff Tops

While the midriff top is available in all lengths and styles, high-end designers seem to be leaning towards a longer, tailored version of the look, often worn with a high waisted bottom, giving this revival of the style classier overtones than its predecessors.

Jil Sander mason by michelle mason

Jil Sander, Mason by Michelle Mason

Elizabeth and James clover canyon

Elizabeth and James, Clover Canyon


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