The Genuine Marcel Tank Top from Roanne in Switzerland with Encore!

Heating Marcel!



This is the adjective that the fashion world associates with the tank top. Jeans? With a simple tank top. A long tulle madness? With a simple tank top. The basic piece stands out in the wardrobe with a key function: to highlight. Like a blank page which would reveal, by contrast, what should be remembered in a silhouette. The winner of this shaping is the body, this great mold. Never have the plump biceps and trapezius of rapper 50 Cent – ​​to name just him – come out as powerfully as framed by this absence of sleeves.

If the undershirt is so popular, it is because it is part of a line of timeless clothing, so valued currently, as opposed to ephemeral and expensive fashion. Strong pieces that stand the test of time, that go with everything. Pieces so well designed that they would have to be invented if the first mechanical knitting machines specialized in hosiery had not taken care of them at the end of the 19th century, in France and England. As its name suggests, the longshoreman was born from the port economy, with the need to lighten the outfits of sweaty workers unloading (stewarding.) cargo arriving by boat, in London or Marseille. It was necessary

ventilated clothing, which absorbs perspiration and above all a close-fitting outfit, which does not risk getting caught in the cogs of a machine.

From Halles workers to Hollywood stars:

However, for almost a century, circular knitting machines have produced seamless stockings and socks. This technique was adapted to produce undershirts. The real ones are knitted with the so-called brogue stitch, with tight ribs on the sides, wider on the front, thus ensuring great elasticity to the cotton garment, well before the invention of elastane. In Paris, the strong-armers of the Halles, those who moved the crates of food from these fabulous centralized markets, ended up cutting the sleeves of their sweaters. A hosier from Roanne, Marcel Eisenberg, quickly reproduced this idea and the new outfit was named “marcel”, like him.

This underwear reclassified as work clothing has become the emblem of the working class, hardworking and needy. At a time when industrialization was dispossessing manual workers of the meaning of their work, the longshoreman came to highlight male bodies, exposing them to view in all their wild strength and their helplessness in the face of machines. It is this imagination that Hollywood is attached to: doped with testosterone, bulging muscles and sweat, the undershirt signals the bad boy. The muse of this vision obviously remains Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire, in 1951. He portrays Stanley Kowalski, a brutal worker of Polish origin, self-described as “common as dirt” – vulgar like dirt – whom social frustration and sensual desire push beyond all prohibitions. A prestigious line of bosses in shorts and bare arms follows in his footsteps, from Yves Montand in The Wages of Fear (1953) to John McClane in Die Hard, via James Dean, Rambo or Robert De Niro. A somewhat old-fashioned American term continues to refer to the longshoreman as “wife beater” – in reference to the cliché of the exhausted proletarian, who takes out his nerves on his wife.

A more hygienist vision, but no less muscular, nevertheless coexists with brutalist symbolism: it is the sports jersey. Wrestlers and other weightlifters already used sleeveless outfits to make their efforts clearly visible to spectators. Other disciplines got involved at the beginning of the 20th century, when medicine discovered the benefits of movement. Swimming especially helped to popularize thisform of clothing, since swimsuit tops were inspired by it. Even for women, as demonstrated by the Australian Fanny Durack, the first Olympic medalist in Stockholm, in July 1912. Freedom of arms, bodies, ideas.

It was not until the end of the Great War that the tank top became established in women's wardrobes. Aspiring to a more emancipated life, the “Garçonnes” abandon corsets and sometimes wear short skirts, low waists and pants. The tank top contributes to this liberation of the body, but it takes guts to assume, as Renée Perle, the muse of the photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue, does, her breasts free and heavy under this fabric which hides nothing, full of laborious virility. Later, from the 1960s, the tank top was part of all androgynous games, blurring barriers: hypervirility was reinterpreted in a fragile, tomboyish version on the small breasts of a Jane Birkin, For example. Or in exhibitionist flamboyance, a basic ingredient of gay aesthetics.

Since then, the tank top has continued to play on the transgression of registers: it is lingerie, but was immediately worn alone. He's virginal, but he hides his game well. It is masculine and brutal, but it gives a disarming charm to those who wear it. Heis of working-class tradition, but he lives at night, to the rhythm of all music. Isabelle Crampes, passionate about the history of fashion, has just immersed herself in this moving symbolism, as general curator of the exhibition “Model Clothing” (until December 6 at the Museum of Civilizations of Europe and the Mediterranean, in Marseille). The tank top is presented there, alongside the espadrille, the kilt, the overalls and the jogging pants. “I was fascinated to delve into the archives,” she says. Each image of a tank top found was like a pebble that Tom Thumb of history would have left to help us understand who we are. This garment has not changed a bit in 150 years, and it has encapsulated us a thousand times, a thousand times liberated. In its pure white the human is revealed.»

The tank top crosses times and fashions with its chin held high, with all the elegance of its historical baggage. In the current quest for authenticity, several houses offer old-fashioned manufacturing: the French Eminence, the Swiss Zimmerli, but also small trendy companies, which rely on local production, such as the company Etablissement Marcel, in Roanne, which intends to revive the legend of the region.