The Evolution Of The White Tank Reveals A Rich Style History

The humble top is here to stay.

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The white tank’s history is filled with major moments in pop culture. Initially designed as a men’s undergarment, the humble top has now become the main character on fashion week runways. Ahead, trace the evolution of the white tank.

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The first white tank was designed in the 1910s as a men’s undergarment and was intended to be worn underneath shirts or while swimming. At the time, the sleeveless tops were a staple in men’s swimwear. (Women wouldn’t start wearing sleeveless swimsuits until the 1920s.)Kirn Vintage Stock/Corbis Historical/Getty Images

1920s to 1940s

Between the 1920s and 1940s, the white tank top got a status upgrade from undergarment to outerwear. Still, men rarely wore the garment in public until 1934, when actor Clark Gable took off his shirt in a scandalous It Happened One Night scene.Columbia Pictures

1950s to 1960s

A decade or so later, the white tank became a fixture in men’s closets. This was also when the garment earned its controversial and downright offensive “wife-beater” moniker, as it was associated with classism and domestic violence in pop culture.Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images


During the ‘70s, a white tank officially became an everyday piece for both men and women. In accordance with the decade’s general sense of fashion, many people wore their form-fitting white tanks with loose-fitting jeans or pants, plus a leather or longline jacket on top.Anthony Barboza/Getty Images


The novel everyday garment increased in popularity and reach in the ‘80s — the arm-revealing top meshed well with the decade’s predominant fitness culture. Even Cher, who normally goes for more elaborate ensembles, adopted the white tank trend at the time!Robert Scott/Fotos International/Getty Images


During the ‘90s, the humble white tank reached an unparalleled level of popularity. The garment was further popularized by supermodel Kate Moss, who wore the garment nonstop and paired it with jeans and minimalist trousers for her off-duty looks.Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images


The white tank solidified its place in the pop culture lexicon in the early 2000s. The fashion staple even appeared on the red carpet and, in some instances, became more risqué, as evidenced by Jennifer Lopez’s 2000 MTV Video Music Awards look.Ke.Mazur/WireImage


In a time of uncertainty and widespread social unrest, young designers began to experiment with traditional wardrobe basics. Thus came forth the subversive white tank — with unconventional details like cutouts, open backs, asymmetrical straps, and curvy dangling hemlines.@k.ngsley


The white tank reappeared on the Fall/Winter 2022 runways and even on magazine covers. Esteemed fashion houses like Bottega Veneta, Prada, and Chloé all sent the unpretentious sleeveless top down their respective catwalks.Alessandro Lucioni/Imaxtree/Bottega Veneta


Today, celebrities and fashion girls alike have taken to white tanks as an en-vogue staple. The basic is currently championed by street style trendsetters like Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid.Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

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