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The Indian sari, lehenga, ghagra, and even the south Indian half-sari, or paavadai daavani , call for a short blouse that does not extend beyond the bust. wikimedia


While returning from a field trip in 2016, we passed by a vibrant display of embroidered blouses on Commercial Street. My friend stopped her conversation midway, thrust her hand and part of herself outside the window and shouted, "Hey, look! Indian crop tops!" It took some effort to yank her back on to the seat and explain that those were blouses and not crop tops. But then it got me thinking, what is the difference?


Earlier that year, crop tops had seized the fashion industry as a trend that could not be ignored. It soon found its way to becoming a preferred style of clothing, especially popular among teenagers. The girls crop top brought with it a sensuousness that thrilled youngsters and gave them a chance to show off their new bodies. Soon, crop tops became a must-have in every girl's wardrobe.

The Indian sari, crop top lehenga, ghagra, and even the south Indian half-sari, or paavadai daavani , call for a short blouse that does not extend beyond the bust. The skirt is worn at the waist, baring the midriff. In the fashion industry, the size and shape of this midriff bears various connotations, but in the Indian setting, it is simply that, a bare midriff. Philosophers ascribe a value to the showing of the midriff as having to do with childbirth and the life cycle. The action of not covering it is seen as giving it the freedom to develop. But these traditional attires allow for covering the stomach and navel, with a dupatta, a long rectangular piece of fabric that is draped across one shoulder, and around the waist. Crop tops are not accompanied by any navel-covering fabrics.


These days, wearing cotton tee crop tops with saris is widely accepted, and the same can be worn on jeans, or with skirts too, photo by Unsplash.


In South India, along with the sari, a kamarband, or a belt made of gold, is worn to adorn the waist. In the north, women cover their faces with the free end of their saris. These practices are signs of modesty, significant to the culture. Not covering the stomach is considered inappropriate to the values and virtues of a woman. In some states, the health of the community is evident from the amount of fat accumulated in the midriff. A healthy community had its women walking around with rolls of fat under their blouses, while women who belonged to drought-afflicted states hardly have any fat at all.

Crop tops work against the Indian function of baring the midriff. They do not permit the woman who wears them to have rolls of fat, but instead places strict norms of body image. Flat stomach, wash-board abs, relatively flatter chests, are accepted. Heavier, or curvier women cannot flaunt crop tops with the same confidence, and even if they do, they have to brave their own body image stigma against it.

Sari blouses are essential parts of the traditional Indian woman, and heavily impact the look she is trying to pull off. Crop tops are an ethnic off-shoot of these blouses for everyday use, that have been tailored for comfort. While crop tops are available in all kinds of materials, and patterns, they have evolved into an Indianism.

These days, wearing cotton tee crop tops with saris is widely accepted, and the same can be worn on jeans, or with skirts too. In the West, a blouse would refer to a formal, long-sleeved top for women, while in India, it refers to something worn with a sari or a skirt. In the native culture, the crop top is symbolic of womanly modesty, and in modernity, it is an essence of globalization, where the Indian custom has been adopted abroad, and re-introduced to the Indian, who has devoured it with a hungry relish, like one who has found lost gold.


Keywords: Crop top, Culture, Indianism


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