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The tank top, the story of a clothing revolution - Marie Claire

Long considered a popular and then macho attribute, the tank top now takes on a queer and feminist image. Many brands are making it a standard of the new sexual revolution, where bodies are revealed, mixing feminine and masculine with pride and audacity.

Marie Claire - Icone de la mode, Le Débardeur

Rare clothes convey so many fantasies. The tank top is one of those. Invented in the 19th century by Marcel Eisenberg, owner of the Marcel hosiery in Roanne, this tank top initially dressed workers and farmers, as it was particularly suited to physical work. “Initially, it’s men’s underwear that is not meant to be revealed. It’s a garment that keeps you warm and washes easily,” recalls Sophie Lemahieu, fashion historian.

"The tank top is a heterosexual basic that conveys many clichés." - Virgil Lamette and Arthur Ballorin

It is often seen under a shirt, a caricature of the Frenchman with a beret screwed onto his head. But the tank top will gradually leave this primary function to settle down permanently in our wardrobe.

"In the 1950s, the tank top became sulphurous precisely because it was not supposed to be worn in public", adds Sophie Lemahieu. This is a first shift, the one where the tank top goes from the status of underwear to that of clothing, in the same way as a t-shirt. It even becomes sexy thanks to the actors who wear it in many films, like Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Marie Claire - Débardeur au cinéma

The history of the tank top does not stop there, in the 80s this garment became the macho and virile attribute par excellence.

"It conveys the cliché of ultra-strong masculinity, it is used to show muscular arms. We all have in mind the image of Sylvester Stallone in Rambo", continues Sophie Lemahieu.

Or that of sidekicks Archie Andrews and Jughead Jones in the American series Riverdale.

The tank top, symbol of a sexual revolution

It is only more recently that the tank top has infiltrated women's and LGBTQI+ wardrobes.

"There is a reappropriation of the body today and the tank top is used to send a message. He participates in a certain sexual liberation claimed by the queer community, which takes on a macho attribute. It is one of the only pieces of clothing that allows men to reveal so much of their body. It's a rather banal piece of clothing which nevertheless becomes a strong symbol of counterculture", explains Sophie Lemahieu.

An opinion shared by the co-founders of the committed collective Ballorin. “For us, clothing must highlight the body. We have a real militant desire to offer LGBTQI+ people bold clothing to express their creativity. And the tank top was a bit obvious,” explain co-founders Virgil Lamette and Arthur Ballorin.

They continue: "the tank top is a heterosexual basic that conveys many clichés, particularly of macho men found in popular Hollywood culture. For the queer community, it is as interesting as it is repulsive, there is an ambivalence about this garment which seduces us and complicates us at the same time. Because there is a lot of pressure around gay men’s bodies.”

"With the tank top, men agree to reveal more of their body, with pride."- Virgil Lamette and Arthur Ballorin.

For several years, many brands have taken advantage of this basic to transform it, rework it and give it a much stronger, assertive and sexual image. The Ballorin collective has joined forces with the French brand Les Tricots de Marcel, a true institution in the manufacturing of this historic garment.

If Ballorin imagined a particular logo to illustrate this collaboration, the cut remained traditional. “We wanted to keep the iconic tank top, and it’s one of the pieces in our collection that worked the most,” rejoice the co-founders. Proof that this garment has become a wardrobe essential. “With the tank top, men agree to reveal more of their body, with pride, it symbolizes this new sexual revolution in the queer community. It allows cuts that would never have been found before in the men's wardrobe. It’s a new kind of commitment,” say Virgil Lamette and Arthur Ballorin.

Non-gendered clothing

For his part, Kingsley Gbadegesin, a young designer based in Brooklyn, is also redrawing a new imagination around the tank top. He defines himself as “a creator working to advance the liberation of the black community, the queer community and people of color”.

Through his label K.ngsley, it offers tank tops with reworked cutouts, asymmetrical straps, and sexy cuts.

"I wear a lot of tank tops and I usually buy them in the women's section," Kingsley Gbadegesin explains in Vogue US.

"In the 60s, the tank top was feminist. Women wear it without a bra, like Jane Birkin." - Sophie Lemahieu

"Femininity knows no boundaries. Even though I might look like a black cis man, trust me, the moment I open my mouth you're like, 'Oh, she's one of us,'" he laughs.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the French brand Omear also offers a gender-neutral tank top. “Masculine and feminine codes no longer have much of a place in fashion today. There is a desire to free ourselves from diktats,” says Kim Nigay, the founder of the brand.

The tank top, a feminist garment?

Prave for women, men and non-binary people, the tank top now liberates the body. Except perhaps for women who are still too often victims of bodyshaming.

"In the 60s, the tank top was feminist. Women wear it without a bra, like Jane Birkin,” recalls Sophie Lemahieu. Unfortunately, today, some people are insulted for “daring” to reveal their nipples under their tank top.

Marie Claire - Le débardeur dans la mode

Léna Mahfouf paid the price on her Instagram account. “Faced with a story where she was wearing a simple tank top, without a bra, Internet users invented the right to make inappropriate remarks to her, harassing her for simple visible nipples,” recalls the media Madmoizelle .

To which the young woman replied: “I find it important to remind the young girls and boys who follow me: you are free to wear whatever you want”.

Source: - By Chloé Cohen Published on

The tank top, the story of a clothing revolution - Marie Claire