The ‘Going-Out Top’: My Love Affair with Jersey, Lace and a Whole Lotta Rhinestones
Yes, we all have fashion regrets. (Looking at you, JNCO pants and layered polos with popped collars.) But there’s something about the “going-out top” that holds a special place in every woman’s heart. Or at least any woman in her mid-20s to early 40s who ever attended a house party circa 2003.
The top in question was specially reserved for, you guessed it, going out, and was typically cut from stretchy jersey designed to hug the bosom and flow away from the belly. Though the going-out top—or GOT—has been a key part of the party scene for quite some time (see: every fashion choice within the walls of Studio 54), she truly reigned supreme from the early to mid-aughts, and was particularly ubiquitous in sorority houses, dingy bars and terrible clubs blasting Nelly Furtado.
What was my most memorable GOT? I’m glad you asked. See, the year was 2008 and I was still in high school. Having just endured the requisite bout of mono, I was fully recovered and in search of the perfect outfit to wear to a New Year’s Eve party.
Enter the white jersey top I scored on a sale rack at Saks. Fitted through the bust, pleated like nobody’s business and billowy from the rib cage to the top of my hips, this chemise was decorated at the neckline with eight marbled stones—plus an extra-large rock right in the middle of the chest. Seriously, this thing had heft and made a satisfying thud when dropped into a hamper or, more realistically, onto the floor next to my bed.
It wasn’t my first GOT, and it certainly wasn’t my last, but the pure joy I felt while tugging on that particular shirt has stayed with me. Maybe it’s because finding the perfect shirt was the key to having a good night back in those days. See, if your Forever 21 persimmon number with halter straps and a balloon hem wasn’t just right, you were basically destined to end up crying in a corner of the bar or fighting with your boyfriend by midnight.
Plus, how else were you able to ooze sex appeal if you weren’t flashing a shoulder blade, a purposely visible lacy bra and a sliver of midriff? For shirts that tended to cost $21.99 or less, they were expected to do a lot for us, and we relied on them to both keep us seductive and provide the kind of coverage you need before that second vodka cran kicks in.
Luckily, this was also the era of the bandeau bra as a crutch. Does your tank expose too much cleavage? Does it dip so low under the arms that fellow club-goers can see your ribs? Simply wiggle into a bra-sized tube of fabric and call it a day! (Bonus points if your bandeau adds a pop of color, is embellished or otherwise coordinates with your shirt.)
Speaking of embellishments, there were many. Crochet trim was a popular one, as was a swipe of dark lace. Sequins were an obvious choice, whether you were rocking a black tube top or a short-sleeve one with a flashy design that shimmered in even the dingiest of bars. Lamé anything was also acceptable, especially if it was black with gold shimmer, and a dash of faux leather was never a bad idea.
But, for better and worse, much has changed since the early aughts. Now, I hardly ever differentiate between a top for day and a top for night. If it’s winter, I might simply choose my tiniest, tightest sweater. In the summer, any tank or cami will do. Plus, as normcore staples, modest silhouettes and all-around boring dressing became mainstream, the idea of the GOT started to feel dated, falling somewhere between Uggs and a pair of low-rise flares.
That said, over the past few years, many fashion types have deemed the trend officially back. In 2016, Vogue proclaimed “the colorful, abbreviated noughties precursor to the slinky slip dress is back with a vengeance.” A year later, Leandra Medine of ManRepeller shouted to the world that not only were these shirts having a resurgence but they were “legitimately better than before.” And who could forget when The Cut postulated “What Even Is a Going-Out Top Anymore?”
But the return of the beloved (or maligned) style has been nothing like the movement of our youth, when a shirt was so much more than a spangly piece of fabric. This time around, the GOTs were even skimpier (as if made for women who weighed 90 pounds or less) and they were expensive. Because, let’s be honest, $1,510 i is too much to spend on a cami. But more to the point, this time around, the trend just didn’t have the same emotional resonance.
Yup, these shirts meant things to us. And throughout the course of my highly scientific research for this story, most of the women I talked to admitted that even if they didn’t wear it anymore, they still had their most beloved going-out top. Maybe it was tucked away in the bottom drawer or tossed into a storage bag in the hall closet, but somehow it had not made its way to the Goodwill pile.
The same goes for my own hideous selection of GOTs. The stone-embellished one resides in a dresser in my childhood home. The emerald-green tank with faux buttons (a nightgown that I cut into a shirt!) is lingering somewhere in my storage unit. And while I’ve sadly lost the black balloon-hem number and the fancy silk top with slits up to the armpits, if I ever find them in a suitcase or something, you know I’ll be elated.
As a fashion editor, I get paid to care about what people wear, but logging into Facebook to find pictures of these tops made me long for an era when I prioritized having fun over everything else—especially sartorial coherence. And while I’ll never revert to wearing a mustard-yellow jersey knit while making a peace sign in the mirror (I think??), I really don’t regret my fashion decisions. After all, that nightgown was begging for an update.