Flashback Fashion Friday: The Rise of the Tunic

Mint green, long-line, sleeveless tunic with side slits

Way back in 2005, the tunic emerged as spring’s “must-have piece.” And why not? After the crops of the ’90s, most of us were happy to see a forgiving, flow-y silhouette take the spotlight.

Tunics in 2005

If you don’t remember tunics being the hot new thing 12 years ago, here’s a quick refresher in the form of an Old Navy commercial.

Old Navy tunic commercial from 2005
Clicking on the image opens up a new window on AdLand.tv, where you can watch the whole commercial.

Any garment Old Navy makes an entire commercial about is pretty much everything, to everyone. And you knew that every Old Navy store would be chockfull of that style, in every color of the rainbow.

Back then, Budget Fashionista called Old Navy’s long-top obsession “over-commercialization of a trend.” Maybe we’ve grown more tolerant with age, but that characterization seems a little harsh today.

After all, we do love our tunics. If Old Navy’s big bet on the style is the reason why it’s still a closet staple today, then all is forgiven.

Fast-foward to 2017

A dictionary might tell you the tunic is a knee-length, sleeveless piece that was popular in Ancient Greece. But in the world of style today, a tunic is any loose top that’s long enough to cover your bum. Tunics come in all types of fabrics and styles—buttoned or buttonless and with ruffles, cold shoulders, shark bite hemlines, side splits, and on and on.

On Styling Tunics

Tunics are very easy to style. If you have one that fits you properly, the only real mistake you can make is pairing it with pieces that are too baggy. Here are a few tips that’ll focus your style sense in the right direction.

Runway model wearing long top over loose pants.
Runway models can get away with baggy on top of baggy. Us normal people? Not so much.

Do wear tunics with skinny pants. If you want to pair tunics with another type of garment, keep an eye on the balance of your outfit. A loose top with boyfriend jeans, for example, puts you at risk of looking sloppy. Same goes for wearing a tunic with a maxi skirt.

Do try out tunics with a pencil skirt. This works best when the tunic is on the shorter side, so the skirt doesn’t look to be overtaken by your top.

Runway model wearing a loose-fitting top with a pencil skirt.

Do experiment with different shoes. The right pair of kicks will depend on the tunic’s material. I love a tunic with skinny pants and pumps. But that’s assuming the tunic is lighter weight and maybe even sheer. On the other hand, a cotton tunic may look perfect with your fav sneakers.

Do add a blazer, moto jacket or even a tidy bomber. Tunics can sometimes feel too baggy and lacking structure. That’s easily fixed with outerwear. Just avoid cardigans, especially long-line cardigans, as they can add bulk without structure.

Do add a belt. Get a second look from the same top by simply adding a belt.

Top Picks Under $35

Tunics were affordable back in 2005, and they remain so today. I had no trouble finding 10 stylish options priced below $35. Enjoy!

Royal blue tunic with scalloped hem
Royal Blue Diamond-Cutout Scallop-Hem Sleeveless Top, $16.99, Zulilly
Black Tunic with neckline detail and tassels
Le Sample Gauze Tunic, $24.99, Rue La La
Bright blue, patterned, sheer tunic with high-low hem
Women’s Sheer Print Button Front Long Tank, $13.48, Target

I suspect at this point you have the tunic rap from that Old Navy commercial stuck in your head. Sorry about that! But hey, you could commit the whole song to memory and break it out at your next cocktail party. That’ll earn you a few laughs, for sure.

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    Catherine Brock

    As a Southern California transplant now living in the Midwest, Catherine has turned layering into an art form and accepted that UGGs actually do have a place in the stylish lady's wardrobe. She's been featured in Woman's World Magazine, DrLaura.com, Refinery29, Wellness.com and has made appearances on ABC7 Chicago, FOX2News St. Louis, KCAL9 Los Angeles, Fox19 Cincinnati, WGN TV Chicago and WCPO TV Cincinnati.

    Blog Comments

    I found a great online site for quality cotton tunics and designer Indian Tunic Tops called Kurtis. It is http://www.yourselegantly.com where the amazing cotton tunics are made from soft good quality cotton from India that is machine washable, non crease and just so comfortable for spring/summer wear. I was glad to find this site. Huge up to 70% off sale and a gift is wonderful!

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