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What is a Trapeze Top?

G. Melanson
G. Melanson

A trapeze top is a top that’s fitted at the bust and gradually flares out into an A-line shape as it extends toward the hemline. The gradual flare creates waves in the fabric similar to unstructured pleats, and may continue to flare or become fitted with a band at the hem. Trapeze tops can be sleeveless tank tops or have capped sleeves, three-quarter-length sleeves, or long sleeves. Longer sleeves on a trapeze top often feature the same structure as the top itself, with flared fabric that billows before fitting at the elbow or continues to flare into a bell sleeve.

The trapeze top style originated in the 1930s when it was featured in certain dress designs, although it was not considered a mainstream style at the time. It wasn’t until 1958 that the trapeze style gained widespread recognition after it was featured in Yves Saint Laurent’s designer collection. Ten years later, Mia Farrow would further popularize the style by wearing floral patterned trapeze dresses, sometimes referred to as “tent dresses” in the film, Rosemary’s Baby. The trapeze style of tops, dresses and jumpers continued into the 1970s and 1980s but disappeared from mainstream fashion in the 1990s before making a big comeback in the 2000s. The modern trapeze top is often paired with fitted pants or shorts such as leggings or skinny jeans to contrast with the garment’s loose fit.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Trapeze tops or dresses are similar to empire waist and baby doll dresses in that they make a popular option for maternity wear, due to the volume of room that the angular side seams create in the waist area. Trapeze tops vary in their details, which may include embellishments such as layers at the waist that create a “tiered” effect, sequins, ruffles, bows, or embroidery. They also vary in their fabric, which ranges from jersey knit cotton to silk or chiffon. Trapeze tops that feature halter necks look best on slim frames with broad shoulders, while larger frames with a full bust line look best in a trapeze top with a scoop neck or V neck. Petite frames should avoid baggy trapeze tops and opt for those that have such features as spaghetti straps, an empire waist and tiered fabric.

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      Woman holding a book