I'll admit, I've been avoiding writing about peplums. I thought it was a trend that designers were trying too hard to make happen ("Stop trying to make fetch happen!"), and the silhouette is a bit too retro '50s for my taste. But we're in the third season of peplums now—based on what I saw last month at the spring 2013 shows, they'll be around for awhile—and the good news is that they're coming in a bigger variety of fabrics and treatments. In other words, they're not all prissy. The other thing that changed my mind is that last weekend I saw a woman in the West Village wearing a peplum top with a black blazer and skinny jeans, and she looked so chic, a light went on in my head. There are peplum skirts and dresses galore out there, but I think tops are the way to go—they're so much more versatile. And if you do want that super-girly look—I'm not judging!—you can always wear one of these with a pencil skirt. See? Versatile!
Peplums can be edgy. Don't believe me? Check out this midnight-blue leather 3.1 Phillip Lim peplum top. This looks like something Diana Rigg would have worn on The Avengers, sexy and a little dangerous.
Of course, peplums can also be pretty. This silk organza Kenzo top is light and airy, and definitely more work-appropriate than the above top.
Calling something with a four-figure price tag a "basic" seems a bit silly, but that's how I see this gorgeous wool knit peplum top by Alexander McQueen. Everything about it is perfect: the darts for shaping, the not-too-deep scoop neckline, the dainty length of the peplum. If this is a look you're planning on wearing for awhile, it just might be worth the investment.
This Elizabeth and James Yumi peplum top at first glance looks like leather, but upon closer inspection, it's actually a metallic brocade fabric. Regardless, it still looks edgy and cool, and would be perfect with leather leggings.
I like Tibi's eyelet peplum top because the peplum is more sculptural and minimal—in line with Tibi's new mature direction—so it's a way to wear the trend in a more refined way. Plus, the shape won't add any bulk around your hips, if you're worried about that sort of thing.
Torn by Ronny Kobo's Judy peplum top is an all-around solid choice. It's ponte-knit, so it's formfitting yet comfortable, and the way the peplum curves down at the sides gives it a super-flattering shape.
If you want to go all-out trendy, ASOS has a lot of fun, affordable options. I like Darling's mesh-sleeve top, which is almost over-the-top in its femininity, but in a tongue-in-cheek way.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, J.Crew's striped peplum top is so subtle, the peplum almost seems like an afterthought. It's the most casual style here, and like pretty much everything J.Crew does, it's a brilliantly updated basic.
Sometimes, when you're buying a fleeting trend, you should just go for it. Case in point: Topshop's sequin peplum top, which puts a smile on my face whenever I look at it. Obviously it's not a daytime look, but think of all the holiday-party mileage you can get out of it. Not bad for $64, eh?