The Unraveled Thread – Male Tank Top

Wearing any bit of fabric always means carrying a bit of history on your body. Garments reveal many things and The Unraveled Thread will take apart one fashion element at a time to discover the then and now.

The male tank top. A way to show off skin, a tan, clusters of breast hair and perhaps a golden chain but no longer are tanks limited to plain white, hidden away as an undershirt or worn to a sweaty work-out. The male tank or athletic-shirt has left the gym and can now righteously adorn the bodies of those with toothpick-thin arms in the brightest of colors and boldest of patterns. Now it’s hip and so, with the passing of time, the tank top has again picked up a new set of connotations changing the way it is regarded. For years its nickname »the wife beater« conjured images of fat, trailer park inhabitants wearing white tanks covered in stains of BBQ sauce who drunkenly hit their wives. Funnily enough the term wife beater originates from the Middle Ages; British knights who lost their armor in battle often continued to fight wearing nothing but a chain-mail undergarment to protect them in their deathly duels. When knights survived these bloody battles they were called a waif beater referring to the fact that they had been abandoned from their protective gear but had achieved victory none the less. The absence of knights brought on a change of the word’s definition and waif eventually turned into the similar sounding word wife turning the once noble term into something despicable. The term peaked when photographs of a dirty, tank-top wearing man arrested for beating his wife to death in 1947 in Detroit were presented in the media with the accompanying nickname »The Wife Beater«. Marlon Brando’s brutish character Stanley Kowalski, who physically and emotionally dominates his wife Stella, wore a rain drenched white T-Shirt or tank top through out the movie and as a popular, handsome Hollywood star he made the look more sexual and desirable than it had ever been. Now there are whole blogs dedicated to sharing and spreading images of men in their tank tops and the wife beater has been tamed down a notch from hill-billy to hipster.