Asleeveless triangular top that ties around the back and at the back of the neck, the halter top loosely covers the breasts and chest, while leaving bare the shoulders, upper back, and sometimes the midriff, the area below the breasts and above the waist. The halter top was at the peak of its popularity during the late 1960s and 1970s.
First seen as a dramatic neckline on formal gowns in the 1930s, the halter top was based on the sleeveless, high-necked design of some Asian clothing. The halter top appeared again during the 1940s, this time on the beach as part of a two-piece bathing suit popularized by movie stars such as Betty Grable (1916–1973). The simplicity of design made the halter top easy to make at home, and the small amount of fabric required made it a good choice during World War II (1939–45), when the demands of war limited the supply of cloth.
By the late 1960s the rise of youth culture and movements for women's rights and civil rights impacted fashion. A new informality and naturalness was in style, and women began to shed the tight, cumbersome undergarments that they had long been expected to wear. The rise of feminism, an organized movement advocating for female equality, also contributed to women's desire for freedom from constricting clothing. The first garment to go was the girdle, and the brassiere soon followed. The new braless look was perfect for a revival of the halter top.
Halter tops were casual, comfortable, and playfully sexy and soon became a staple of many young women's wardrobe. Like the women of the 1940s, women of the 1960s appreciated how easy it was to make one's own halter tops. Some even tied scarves or bandannas together for an inexpensive and simple, but exotic, look. Manufacturers, of course, picked up the trend and stores began selling halter tops in a wide variety of colors, fabrics, and styles. Some halter tops came almost to the waist, covering most of the midriff, while others stopped just under the breasts for maximum skin exposure. The halter top design was also used to make an elegant top for dresses and jumpsuits, which were one-piece outfits that combined pants and top. Sexy female celebrities like Cher (1946–) and actress Goldie Hawn (1945–) were pictured in halter tops, which made even more women want to buy them.
Halter tops did go out of fashion after the 1970s, though many women continued to wear them for beachwear and other informal summer occasions. They were revived as high fashion in the mid-1990s, when popular singers like Britney Spears (1981–) and Mariah Carey (1969–) tied on the revealing halters.
Powe-Temperley, Kitty. 20th Century Fashion: The 1960s, Mods and Hippies. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2000.