A recent email from a reader inspired today’s One Item, Five Fashionable Ways post, how to wear a cropped jacket.  I wanted to touch on this jacket style because I think it is very versatile but comes with a few style rules to wear it well.

Why cropped jackets are so versatile

Cropped jackets are versatile because they can easily go from casual to work and even dressier events.  They are also a style that can be just as functional as a cardigan.  If your closet is overloaded with too many cardigans, a cropped jacket may be something to consider.  Additionally, the versatility of a cropped jacket comes from the fact that they usually don’t look as buttoned up and serious as a true blazer and can be a lot more playful in appearance while still offering structure.

Key thinks to keep in mind with a cropped jacket

While cropped jackets may be versatile, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the right one for you.

If you are tall and/or have long arms: First, if you are very tall or have very long arms a cropped jacket may look shrunken and small on you.  Don’t know if you have long arms?  Rest your arms at your side.  If your thumb knuckle is longer than your crotch your arms are long.  If you have long arms and want to wear a cropped jacket, look for styles that have full sleeves vs. 3/4.

If you are short-waisted or have a short torso: If you are short-waisted, at first, a cropped jacket may seem like it was sent from heaven just for you, however, not so fast, a cropped jacket has the potential to overemphasize your shorter waist and enhance the appearance of your shorter torso.  When wearing a cropped jacket with a short waist, try to choose monochromatic pieces underneath the jacket to create a longer column look under the jacket.  Doing this will fool the eye to making your torso look longer vs. shorter.

If you are bottom-heavy: Cropped jackets can be great if you are bottom-heavy or have a pear shape if, and only if, the cropped jacket has some shape at the waist.  Typically, pear shaped women have defined waists and you want to show this.  A cropped jacket that is too boxy or has a wide swing shape will bypass the waist and make you look very square, squat and wide.

If you have a tummy: For a tummy, a cropped jacket can be a great choice, especially if the jacket either creates a waist through shape or delicately grazes over the tummy area in a more relaxed silhouette.  However, one thing to keep in mind is that the length of the sleeves of the jacket and the hem of the jacket itself don’t end at the same exact spot.  Optically, what will happen is the eye will see width because all the hems are ending at the same spot, usually right across the middle.  This can often happen with cropped jackets that have 3/4 sleeves.  A solution is to buy cropped jackets where the hem of the sleeves slightly shorter than the jacket (or hem the sleeves that way) to break up the horizontal line that cuts across your body or to look for cropped jackets with sleeves that hang longer than the hem of the jacket.

If you have wide shoulders or a big bust: Because a cropped jacket can have a shortening effect on the top half of the body, if you have wide shoulders or a large chest you run the risk of this widening your body (because any time you visually shorten an area you also widen it, too).  To break up the space, instead of cropped jackets that close high on the body, like in a jewel neckline shape, look for styles that have a lower stance or closure which will create a slimming and lengthening diagonal across the upper half of the body.  Also it is important to look for cropped jackets with shape at the waist.  If you own a jacket with a high closure and have either of these body features it is best to not button it.

What to wear with a cropped jacket

Using this versatile hook and eye closure cropped jacket from Modcloth I am going to show you five ways to wear it along with some tips and silhouette suggestions to wear with this style.

Outfit #1- With a basic work shift dress

A cropped jacket for your work shift dresses is smart to have in your wardrobe.  Not only can it get cold in an office but a jacket will add a professional finish where a cardigan might not.  This jacket works with the waist defining shape of this dress from J. Crew.  For a professional finish, I added these earrings from Stella & Dot that are so cool because they come with clips that can be added to them to turn them into chandeliers (talk about desk to dinner), nude pumps from Aerin and a cobalt bag from Vince Camuto.

Outfit #2- With a maxi dress

Proportionately, a cropped jacket is perfect to wear with a maxi dress, like this one from Modcloth.  Seldom does a long jacket or cardigan work with a long dress or skirt.  The crop shape balances the length of the dress, brings the eye upward and can add height to the body.  In cases where you want to dress up a maxi, or add some structure to the look, this type of cropped jacket works.

The outfit is finished in a dressier manner with Bauble Bar earrings, gold sandals from BCBG, bronze clutch and gold bracelet from Kate Spade.

Outfit #3- With a longer top

Sometimes cropped jackets can make the body look disproportionately squat on top (see tips above) and there is a way to create balance.  It is perfectly acceptable to have your top peeking out from underneath the jacket.  A few tips about this, however.   First, make sure that the top isn’t too thin.  The last thing you want, especially if the cropped jacket is too short, is a muffin top bulging over your pants or skirt.  Next, make sure the proportion works.  A small peek of the top is fine but too much may look awkward.  Third, to work around any lumps and bumps, a knit top with some ruching, like this top from Lord & Taylor,  can cover any signs of what may be your bumps.  Next, the reason I chose to style this top and cropped jacket with this Reiss pencil skirt is to give another tip on proportion.  Should you choose a boxier cropped jacket a slim skirt or pair of pants can give a relaxed over lean look.  Plus, the waist shape will be defined, which will create proportional balance vs. wearing it with a skirt or pair of pants that are too full.

To make this outfit work appropriate I used  nude pumps and Vince Camuto bag, also used in the first look, and a colorful necklace from Anthropologie to bring all the colors of the outfit together.

Outfit #4- To change up a sweater set

If you’re tired of your sweater sets, swap out the cardigan and wear it over the shell of the set.   This can no only add some professional structure to a work look but, if the jacket is shaped, it can also offer some waist definition.  As you can see here, the cropped jacket is worn over a sleeveless J. Crew top.  To further add some waist definition, you can also try belting the sweater and wearing the jacket open over it.  And, again, to avoid any lumps and bumps from a potential muffin top, the beefiness of the sweater under the jacket will help that while the waist is defined through the jacket.

The outfit is styled with a pair of brown T. Tahari pants, a pair of tan ballerina flats, a brown Coach handbag and a long gold necklace from Stella & Dot.

Outfit #5- With a loose top

Loose, flowy tops can be fun and relaxed.  They can also be boxy.  One fun way to add some shape is to wear an open cropped jacket with them.  This will add some subtle waist shape as it grazes over the body while still allowing the top to be fluid.  Here, I layered the cropped jacket over a red top from Mango and styled the outfit casually with a bootcut pair of jeans, strappy heeled sandals from BCBG and finished the look with a pair of Kate Spade earrings and a black Furla handbag.

Shop for cropped jackets

If this post has you on the hunt for cropped jackets, check out these additional styles