This Summer, It's Cropping Up Crop Tops

wilkinson midriff
From left: Victor Virgile/Gamma-Rapho/Getty, Karl Prouse/Catwalking/Getty, Chris Moore/Catwalking/Getty (3), Jennifer Polixenni Brankin/Everett Collection

When the Spring/Summer 2013 collections debuted on runways last fall, it sent a collective shiver through the fashion world: by summer, fashionable women everywhere were going to have to have really, really flat abs.

Could women stomach midriff mania? The answer, apparently, is yes. As summer swelters on, the belly-baring trend has popped up on red carpets, on the streets, at pool parties, and even in offices—to relieve those for whom a swath of fabric across the stomach is just too much to bear.

Crop tops are nothing new, though their skimpiness has always attracted attention. Ginger Rogers played tennis in one in 1950. Ann-Margret paired one with a whip in 1964. A ponytailed Barbara Eden wore one in every episode of I Dream of Jeannie. Madonna spawned a fashion craze in 1983 after she wore a mesh version in the music video for "Lucky Star." And Jennifers Grey and Beals turned them into dance and workout staples in Dirty Dancing and Flashdance, respectively.

Russian street-style star Miroslava Duma attended the Giorgio Armani Privé show during Paris Haute Couture Week in July in a palm-printed gray skirt, jacket, and matching bralette by Jason Wu. Jacopo Raule/FilmMagic/Getty

The current crop-top trend has been swept in with the tide of '90s revival everywhere in fashion, from platform shoes to ripped jeans to backpacks. Think Britney Spears, who took the belly tee to eye-popping extremes in the coy form of a tied blouse (...Baby One More Time), midriff-revealing turtlenecks (Sometimes), and finally a plain old bra (I'm A Slave 4 U). Christina Aguilera answered with an even skimpier version in her raunchy Dirrty video. The Spice Girls, too, were crop-top enthusiasts, prancing around in belly-button-exposing costumes while ruling the charts.

But this season's crop top isn't something you sweat in. And it doesn't want to shock. It's cooler and fresher than ever before, without the titillation of the Britney era. When paired with high-waisted pants or skirts, it's ladylike and refined. Michael Kors's striped versions are vibrant and sophisticated, and Alexander Wang's assortment of minimal, monochromatic cropped tanks and bra tops are the go-to summer shirts for the style set.

At the Dior Haute Couture show in early July, Jennifer Lawrence paired a pink crop top by the designer with loosely fitting pants. Beyoncé recently wore a striped skirt and matching crop top from Topshop, and Kim Kardashian shimmied herself into a tightly fitting black one before announcing her pregnancy.

Despite the current season's midriff evolution (or revolution?), the question for the uninitiated remains: who dares to bare? From Barbara Eden to Miley Cyrus, take a page from crop-top history.

Ginger Rogers swung for the fences in her fashion-forward tennis whites and scarf in 1950. Bettmann/Corbis
Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of young, wild, and free in a cropped sweater and high-waisted shorts in 1951. Everett Collection
wilkinson midriff
Barbara Eden in her iconic role on ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ in 1967. Silver Screen Collection/Getty
Madonna’s controversial video for “Lucky Star” in 1983, in which she wore a mesh crop top over a lace bra, started a fashion craze. Kees Tabak/Sunshine/Zuma
wilkinson midriff
Jennifer Grey played a sultry Frances “Baby” Houseman in ‘Dirty Dancing’ in 1987. Vestron Pictures Ltd./Photofest
The Spice Girls spiced up our lives in the ’90s with their outrageous ensembles, pictured here in 1997. Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty
Britney Spears may have covered her neck while filming her video “Sometimes” in 2000, but she bared her abs. Ron Wolfson/WireImage/Getty
Kim Kardashian was caught in a stretch crop top with a leather peplum skirt in Miami last December. Pacific Coast News
‘The Hunger Games’ star went all out for the Dior Haute Couture show in Paris in a billow­ing Christian Dior skirt-pants paired with a pink crop top. Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty
Most recently, Miley Cyrus visited ‘Good Morning America’ in a revealing crocheted black-and-white skirt and matching bra top. James Devaney/WireImage/Getty