Peplum Tops Deserve Better—This Maligned Silhouette Is Chic, Not Cringe

In defense of the fit and flare.

Graphic of models wearing the best peplum tops from Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter 2023 collections.
(Image credit: Future)

Today's trend cycle is a machine operating at breakneck speed. Fashion's preoccupation with the Hot Aughts, undeniably the most influential era of recent seasons, is cooling as the blinged-and-bedazzled look has already lost its luster. Thus, onto the next epoch: Now, 2010s fashion is starting to resurge and the decade's sartorial signatures are coming back into play, even those once dubbed "so cringe-y it hurts": Ballet flats are a dominant 2023 shoe trend with universal appeal; Gen Z's remixing the business casual M.O. by wearing sneakers to work and blazers to the club: and perhaps most surprising is that peplum tops, the poufy and admittedly polarizing silhouette, are back on the runways. 

Brands including Brandon Maxwell, Richard Quinn, Proenza Schouler, and Tove all showed variations of the fit-and-flare, some sleek and tailored, others more romantic and frilly, in their Fall/Winter 2023 collection. Jonathan Anderson, ever the out-of-the-box thinker, has a love for peculiar peplums: See the camel sweater fit with a fluffy, feathered waistline in his eponymous label's fall edit or the feminine cargo jackets that resembled 17th-century panniers of Loewe's Spring/Summer 2023. Miu Miu's spring '23 edit followed a similar theme of girly-meets-gorpcore, featuring details like pocketed peplum belts that remixed the flouncy silhouette in Miuccia Prada's signature ugly-chic method.

"The old adage that nothing is new and every look gets recycled seems to be holding true—and the pace at which we return to past styles seems to be accelerating," comments fashion historian and museum curator Michelle Tolini Finamore, Ph.D. And while it wasn't that long ago when we saw Jil Sander and Alexander McQueen's nipped-then-flouncy blouses on the runway, or you were reaching for that skin-tight, scuba-like ruffle blouse on repeat, it's always fun to reminisce on yesteryear. "So much of the return to vintage style is rooted in nostalgia, and perhaps the 2010s already feel like a much simpler time," thus inciting "the faster return to the peplum trend," Finamore theorizes. However, the historian notes that the peplum silhouette has roots extending much, much farther than the 2010s.

Graphic of models wearings peplum tops from the 2010s

Peplums from Lanvin, Jil Sander, Alexander McQueen, and Stella McCartney in Spring/Summer 2010 and Fall/Winter 2010 collections.

(Image credit: Future)

"The word 'peplum' comes from the Greek word' peplos,' which referred to a full-length tubular garment and kept its associations with fashion throughout history," Finamore explains. Oh, but there's more: "In the early 20th century, the innovative designer Mariano Fortuny's finely pleated silk columnar gowns (a precursor to Issey Miyake!) were called 'Peplos' dresses when they had a belted overtunic, which formed a peplum below the waist. And Christian Dior's post-World War II New Look, which featured a cinched waist and corseted bodice, ushered in a revival of the peplum—especially the Bar Jacket, with its padded hips that accentuated the wasp waist of this overtly feminine silhouette." 

Now, we have today's iterations—cinched-in crepe blouses by The Row, Cecilie Bahnsen's cupcake-like tunics, and Batsheva's prairie-girl peplums—which offer even more of a well-rounded presentation. And before the industry inexorably moves on and puts another bygone trend in peplum's place, take this moment to reflect on the waist-defining style. Don't you find "cringe-y" too harsh a word for the humble fit-and-flare? As Finamore outlines, its influence and place in fashion's history is prolific. Thus, to lump all peplum tops into the same category as those you shopped at Forever 21 over a decade ago call is somewhat reductive. After all, you wouldn't call Dior's New Look, which celebrated femininity and altered the course of the industry, controversial or—gulp—tacky, would you?

Ahead, find a roundup of the best peplum tops of 2023 that make a case for why the style has been wrongly maligned over time. Because, as history and recent runways show, when crafted with intention and quality craftsmanship, the flared silhouette is undeniably chic.

The Best Peplum Tops

Meet the Expert

Michelle Tolini Finamore
Michelle Tolini Finamore, Ph.D.

Michelle Tolini Finamore is a Fashion and Design Historian, Curator and Author. She has curated numerous exhibitions, including the recently opened Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. She has written numerous books and articles for both the scholarly and popular press on topics as varied as fashion in silent film, menswear, contemporary fashion, and sustainability. Michelle has taught courses on fashion, design, and film history at Northeastern University, Rhode Island School of Design, Massachusetts College of Art, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. 

Emma Childs
Fashion Features Editor

Emma is the fashion features editor at Marie Claire, where she writes deep-dive trend reports, zeitgeisty fashion featurettes on what style tastemakers are wearing, long-form profiles on emerging designers and the names to know, and human interest vignette-style round-ups. Previously, she was Marie Claire's style editor, where she wrote shopping e-commerce guides and seasonal trend reports, assisted with the market for fashion photo shoots, and assigned and edited fashion celebrity news.

Emma also wrote for The Zoe Report, Editorialist, Elite Daily, Bustle, and Mission Magazine. She studied Fashion Studies and New Media at Fordham University Lincoln Center and launched her own magazine, Childs Play Magazine, in 2015 as a creative pastime. When she's not waxing poetic about niche fashion topics, you'll find her stalking eBay for designer vintage, reading literary fiction on her Kindle, and baking banana bread in her tiny NYC kitchen.