Upper body apparel in women is diverse. VERY DIVERSE. Dozens and dozens of different styles have flourished over the years and it can be quite complicated to classify and even to identify them. Fashion tops for women is such a wide and extensive subject that fully covering it in one guide is impossible.
For this reason, in this guide, we focus on the most iconic vintage tops for women. By “tops” we refer to clothing that usually has the word “top” on its name (Crop top, tube top, wrap top, etc…), this means that blouses, t-shirts, hoodies, and similar upper body clothing will not be covered here. But don’t worry, we will cover these in future posts.
As always we will focus on the most popular vintage models; how they came to be, their role in today’s world, and brief examples on how you can wear them today.
The tank top emerged in the early XX century and is still widely popular despite not changing a lot through time.
Originally evolving from the upper part of a swimsuit (hence the term tank since it’s another way to say pool) during the 1920s, tank tops were not very well seen among women and thus became popular among men first. Bad boys, movie villains, even wife beaters (I know, people are insane) were associated with the tank top.
As you can imagine, going from wife beater to young sweet lady required decades of a mind shift and social adaptation; it was finally during the 1970s that the tank tops were common women’s wear.
This, however, was slightly different from what you expect. At first, tank tops were worn both by men and women and with no particular style to them. Seeing a high school girl wearing a tank top next to a 40-year old biker that had one of its own under a leather jacket was not an uncommon sight.
In the following years, however, tank tops became what they are today; a mainstream piece ideal for a sunny day which in combination with a pair of jeans looks great, or alternatively a great option when going out for a jog or other types of exercise.
The cami tope, also known as camisole or camis, is a loose-fitting top generally made out of light materials like cotton or nylon and that features thin straps and that extends to the waist. More modern designs can be shorter so that they expose the midriff
Originally these started out as undergarments and remained like during the middle of the century. It was on until later decades that it was worn as a layering shirt, that is, underneath a shirt or jacket. At the end of the century, the combination of camis and cardigans was widely popularized and it is still trending up to this day.
Also by that time cami tops started to be worn on their own. As it was originally underwear it has an inherent sex appeal and it quickly became a popular night out outfit.
Amazing outfits can be created around cami tops. Our vintage tops outfits provides you with great ideas.
The tie-up top is one of those super feminine tops that its both very simple and flashy.
It was first introduced during the 1940s along with the crop top (see below) and although it was very progressive at that time, it wasn’t banned. The top extended way below compared to recent models, it covered shoulders, and some extended near the elbow. Overall much less skin was shown.
Colours were also more conservative and the tie was a basic design. Young ladies living in warm environments were common purchasers.
Nowadays, however, you can see all kinds of colours and knots as a tie. Shoulders are usually exposed and way more cleavage is shown. Take a look at the large amounts of styles that are displayed only on Pinterest alone.
Scoop Neck Top
The scoop neck is identified by one particular feat, which is, of course, the neck. The scoop neck has a wide u-shaped neck that extends near the breasts. Aside from that, there a no other unique traits in it.
The v-neck and scoop neck can both be traced back thousands of years to cultures like the greeks or Mesopotamia. It was then a common sight in dresses and another formal wearing. Of course, it was only until the mid-XX century and later, that the scoop neck was well seen in everyday wear.
Nowadays it is seen both in formal and casual clothing. Even the u-neck sometimes extends below the breasts and with more and more extravagant designs coming out.
Off the Shoulder Top
Another widely popular top seen today, the off the shoulder top is widely sought due to its radiant femininity. It is identified by the exposure of the shoulders and neck. All types of sleeves and waistlines complement these tops.
During the Victorian era, off the shoulder dresses were incredibly widespread. The trend, however, dried out for more or less 100 years until it was revived in the 1960s with the Bardot trend.
Off the shoulder, tops are also referred to as Bardot tops and these include a very wide range of casual, evening, and formal clothes. In our vintage tops outfits, we discuss and dig deeper into some of these options.
One of the main reasons to try a Bardot top is how flattering it looks. Women with all types of bodies look really good on them. They are loved by everyone around them!
A variation of this top is the one-shoulder off top, which was trending back in the early 2000s and still can be seen in many fashion shows
Another widely popular top, the crop top is known for its exposure of the waist and/or abdomen. The crop top was part of the eastern culture centuries before it popularized in the west.
As stated with the tie-up top it was introduced in the 1940s and it looked more like a slashed blouse rather than a crop top; it extended way below today’s standards and only exposed about two inches of the midriff.
Back in the 40s and 50s, the combination of high waisted mini skirts and crop tops was insanely popular during summer. In the following decades the crop top would become part of the hippie/cultural freedom movement, and the sex appeal it is now associated with eventually emerged in the 70s and 80s.
By the end of the century it had not only taken over the casual clothing and fashion industry with pop stars like Britney Spears adopting them but also the sports fashion was taken over.
In this day and age, we see crop tops with endless cuts and styles combined with jeans, shorts, skirts, leggings, you name it.
It is one of the most diverse tops out there!
We end our list with a not so common but nonetheless very elegant top. The turtleneck top.
Turtlenecks were (and still are) mainly associated with sweaters. In the 1950s it became mainstream fashion, both in men and women, but ironically around the 60s and 70s it was adopted by several anti-mainstream movements such as the black panther party.
They remained a low-key piece in the following decades, however, the transition to a wide range of tops began to popularize by then.
We started to see not only sweaters, but long, short, and even sleeveless turtleneck tops. The fabrics also diversified as with the passing of the years these have become thinner and softer. Today, the slim fit turtle neck top widely very popular.
Fabrics today also allow you to rock the turtleneck without needed a freezing cold temperature outside, as these are way more breathable, stretchy, and thin.
Overall turtleneck tops look great, slightly mysterious, and can be worn even in temperate climates. Vintage jeans and long skirts go great with it.
Tops are the past and the future!
With so many tops available nowadays the possibilities are endless. You can try going for a retro or vintage top and we guarantee you it will look good. This is because tops have changed slightly but in so many directions, that either you can’t tell it’s a vintage top, or you can but it still merges well with modern clothes.
Most women are wearing tops more than ever before and the trend will only continue to rise!
On the other hand, remember that these are not the only designs as there are lots of different styles out there. Also, most of the tops are a combination of other ones. For example, a top can be V-neck, tie up, and crop and at the same time, so don’t get too caught on the names and just focus on how they match with other clothing.
Stay tuned for more content and don’t forget to leave your comments and suggestions down below!
Have a lovely day!