The tank top. A mysterious clothing item that looks good on some people looks ok on others, and yet when I wear it, it looks like I am either about to murder someone or just in bad need of a tan. The tank top is a clothing item that has grown in popularity over many decades and survived many changes in fashion. Let’s take a look at the history of the tank top, how it got its name, and why I can never wear one.
The tank top came about in the early 1900s as a result of the conservative nature at the time. Women were allowed to compete in swimming for the first time in the Olympic Games in Sweden in 1912. However, for women to compete on a global stage with many people watching them they would have to be dressed appropriately. It was agreed that they needed their arms to be free to allow movement but that their chest and upper legs should be covered. At the time swimming pools were called swimming tanks, so a tank outfit was created. It looked like the tank top that we have today but with a pair of shorts attached that covered the upper thigh. This allowed women the mobility to compete but covered as much of their bodies as possible.
It is clear then that the tank top got its name from being the top half of this outfit. In the 1930s the tank top started to appear as a regular fashion item. However, they were rarely worn. They were only really worn by the bad guys in American movies. It soon became a classic item to give a bad guy. In the movie ‘A streetcar named desire’ we can see Marlon Brando sporting one. This led the top to be known as a “wife-beater” for some time and it still is in many places today.
However, as time has gone on fashion has changed and the shirt has moved more into the mainstream. The 70s was a key factor in its success. At that time the fashion was to wear loose pants and tight shirts. The tank top fit perfectly and both men and women embraced it. Since then we have seen many movies with leading actors sporting a tank top which has slowly saved its reputation from the bad guy.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the fashion changed once again and now people wore loose tank tops. These were seen as more comfortable on hot days and so the tank top became a staple of the wardrobe. In the 2000s fashion changed again and people embraced loose tank tops with large openings on the side. These were seen as a great item of clothing if you wanted to show off your chest and your abs. Today the fashion appears to be continuing to change as there are now so many varieties of tank top it can be confusing how it is even supposed to fit.
Are we supposed to wear them tight or loose? Are they supposed to come to our knees or stop at our waist? Should they cover my chest or show my chest? It has become a real minefield for those not used to wearing a tank top and depending on your body type can leave you looking pretty strange.
The truth is that tank tops are still not very everyone. While they are a great item to wear in the gym or the swimming tank it is only bold and brave who can get away with one on the street. This does not stop many people from trying although thankfully there is usually someone around the corner to put them in their place by shouting “wife-beater” at them. I wonder do they realize they are referencing a movie from the 1950s when they do this?
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