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ALT TXT IMG: The History of the Tank Top: Why Is It Called a Tank Top

The History of the Tank Top: Why Is It Called a Tank Top?

The History of the Tank Top: Why Is It Called a Tank Top?

From its military origins to the modern-day fashion statement, the tank top has a long and interesting history. From athletes to celebrities, the tank top is an iconic clothing item that is loved worldwide. So how did this simple garment become such a staple piece of our culture? This article will take you on a journey through time to explore the unique story of the tank top.

What is a Tank Top?

A tank top is a sleeveless shirt with thin straps and a low neckline. The tank top can be worn as either an outer garment with shorts, skirts, or jeans or as an undershirt beneath another piece of clothing such as a blazer or dress with a shirt underneath. It has been traditionally associated with warmer weather and swimming pools, but over the years its popularity has extended well beyond those contexts.

The tank top was first introduced in 1917 by the U.S. military, who used them as part of their uniforms during World War I. The tank suits were later adopted by athletes in Olympic swimming pools and later in music videos by celebrities like Bruce Willis and Bottega Veneta. Since then, the tank top has become one of the most popular pieces of clothing around the world due to its versatility and comfort in everyday life.

Early History of the Tank Top

During World War I, soldiers wore heavy woolen uniforms that were not ideal for the hot and humid climate in the trenches. To address this issue, the British Army introduced a new type of uniform called the "Aertex" shirt, which was made of a lightweight, breathable fabric and had short sleeves. This body type of shirt was also known as a "vest" or "singlet," and it was similar in style to the modern tank top.

After the war, the tank top became popular among civilians as a comfortable and practical garment for warm weather. The term "tank top" was coined in the 1920s, and it referred to the sleeveless undershirt that was worn underneath a suit jacket or vest.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the tank top evolved into a more casual garment, and it was worn as a standalone shirt instead of an undershirt. The tank top was also popular among athletes, particularly in sports like track and field, where the sleeveless design allowed the arms up for greater freedom of movement.

During this time, the tank top was also used as a garment for physical education classes and gym workouts. The tank top was seen as a practical and functional garment for exercise, allowing for a greater range of motion than traditional long-sleeved shirts.

The Tank Top in Fashion

In the 1960s, the tank top emerged as a fashion trend, particularly among the hippie and counterculture movements. The tank top's association with physical fitness and athleticism aligned with the emphasis on health and wellness during this time. The tank top was also seen as a symbol of freedom and rebellion against traditional fashion norms, as it was a departure from the traditional feminine silhouette.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the tank top continued to evolve in fashion. The rise of disco culture brought about a new era of glitter and glamour, and tank tops were often paired with sequins and other embellishments to create a more glamorous look. The tank top also became a popular garment for the emerging punk and grunge movements, where it was often paired with ripped jeans and leather jackets.

In the 1980s, the tank top became more widely accepted as a unisex garment, and it was no longer exclusively associated with masculinity or athleticism. It was a popular garment for both men and women, and it was often worn in bright colors and bold prints.

Today, the tank top remains a popular garment in fashion, and it is worn by people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds. It is a versatile piece of clothing that can be dressed up or down, and it can be worn in a variety of settings, from the beach or swimming pool to a night out on the town. Its evolution over the years has made it a staple in modern fashion, and it continues to inspire new styles and trends, such as an adorable tank dress by Undersummers. 

The Tank Top in Sports

ALT TXT IMG: The History of the Tank Top: Why Is It Called a Tank Top

The tank top's association with athleticism and physical fitness made it a popular garment in sports, particularly in the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, the tank top was introduced as a uniform for basketball players, and it soon became a popular garment for other sports as well.

In bodybuilding, the tank top became a popular garment for showing off muscular definition, and it was often paired with sweatpants or shorts. The tank top's sleeveless design allowed for greater freedom of movement and flexibility, making it ideal for weightlifting and other exercises.

The popularity of the tank top in sports extended beyond bodybuilding and basketball. Tennis players began wearing tank tops in the 1970s, and the tank top soon became a popular garment for other sports like running, cycling, and swimming. In these sports, the tank top was worn as a functional garment for exercise, as its sleeveless design allowed for a greater range of motion and breathability.

Contemporary Tank Tops

ALT TXT IMG: The History of the Tank Top: Why Is It Called a Tank Top

Contemporary tank tops come in a variety of styles and variations. Some popular styles include the v-neck tank, which is great for professional looks, racerback tank tops with a T-shaped back design that allows for comfort and support and cropped tank tops, which end above the waistline and are often paired with high-waisted pants or skirts. 

Tank tops are now a common garment for casual wear and summer clothing. They are often made from lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton, linen, or rayon, which make them ideal for warm weather and summer heat. Tank tops are also a popular garment for layering, as they can be worn under jackets or cardigans. 

Tank tops have also made appearances in popular culture and media. In music, performers like Madonna and Britney Spears have worn tank tops; in film and television, characters like James Dean and Wonder Woman have been known to wear them. Tank tops are also often featured in fashion magazines and on social media influencers, where they are worn and commonly styled in various ways.


In conclusion, the tank top is a classic piece of clothing that has been around for more than a century. It has evolved from military uniforms to become one of the most popular pieces of clothing in the world today. It is perfect for any occasion, from casual wear to office wear. The tank top is a timeless garment that never goes out of style, and its versatility and comfort make it a must-have item for everyone's wardrobe.

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Meet our founder: CarrieRae

Undersummers Shortlettes were created CarrieRae's personal need for comfortable thigh protection when she was working as a teacher. In 2011, her thick thighs rubbed and she needed a comfortable solution.  Pants are blazing hot in the Houston spring/summer months, shorts are not acceptable to wear to work, so she was left with capris and dresses.  Her thighs did not support wearing dresses, thigh chafing was too uncomfortable.  The idea of wearing a breezy dress sounded so comfortable to her, that she created the solution to her problem:  The Original Lace Shortlette®️. She wanted something to wear that was a single layer, the legs stayed put, comfy, and most importantly, pretty.

CarrieRae Munson