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Tank tops for men: The weird origin of the name & other odd facts

Historically, tank tops have been a little divisive. They show more bare skin than your average tee. They can make you look a little rough-and-tumble. They’re not by any stretch of the imagination a shirt for meeting your girlfriend’s mom. 


Of course, depending on your outlook, these can all be major advantages. When it comes to ultra-casual and athletic situations, you just can’t beat the cooling factor, breezy arms, and minimal coverage a tank top provides. It’s the next-best thing to going topless - and it’s an undeniably sexy look for men and women alike.


Obviously, you should pick up a men’s tank top if you don’t have one already. (Or better yet, make it a three-pack.) Tommy John’s premium materials and modern design are worlds ahead of the classic baggy tank design. They fit you like a second skin, and flatter almost any body type. But first, let’s address the elephant in the room: Why on earth are they called tank tops?

Tank tops: The Swedish origin Story

Back in 1912, the Olympic Games were held in Stockholm, Sweden. This was well before the days of high-tech, skin-tight sportswear materials, so swimmers were generally used to competing in thick organic clothing. 


But in the ongoing battle for sports supremacy, this was the year many female athletes donned a new type of swimsuit - a familiar-looking garment that covered the torso but stayed up via straps, leaving the arms and shoulders free to move. Spectators were scandalized by the “immodest” dress, but there was no denying the performance advantages of swimming in smaller, thinner, lighter clothing. 


So how did this cutting-edge (at the time) swimwear come to be known as a “tank top”? Swimming pools, in that era, weren’t pools at all. They were swimming “tanks.” The athletes’ garb came to be known as the “tank” top, and the rest was history.

Brando and the tough-guy look

Tank tops floated around in our collective fashion consciousness for a few decades - but it was thanks to modern cinema that they really took off. In the early 20th century, men’s clothing was - by today’s standards - extremely formal. For a middle-class man to be seen in public without a hat and jacket would be a striking faux pas. 


That’s why golden-age cinema frequently found villains wearing tank tops. (Only a brute would be seen in his undershirt!) Perhaps it was these nefarious connotations that earned tank tops a place in the tough-guy wardrobe. Certainly, by the time Marlon Brando sported one in A Streetcar Named Desire, tank-style tees were a clear indicator of the wearer’s not-to-be-messed-with status.

The tank top’s modern turn

So how did tank-style tees become acceptable outerwear for the non-ruffian crowd? Chalk it up to the great chilling-out of the latter half of the 20th century. 


With their fringe and tie-dye, the hippies in the 1960s stripped away much of the older generation’s conservative fashion sense. The sexual revolution and body positivity movement in the 1970s made it much more acceptable for women and men alike to bare some (or lots, or all) of their skin. And by the time the glam and flamboyance of the 1980s rolled around, showing skin and dressing casually wasn’t even edgy anymore - it was just normal. 


Again, witnessing this transformation is as easy as grabbing some popcorn and popping in a good flick. Think about Bruce Willis in Die Hard or Sarah Connor in Terminator 2: Judgment Day - famously-sexy badasses who rocked the tank top in all its glory.

Why Tommy John tanks are different

So just because movie stars wear tank tops, does that mean you should, too? No. You should wear tank tops because they’re awesome - and with Tommy John’s innovative new design, tank-style tees are better than ever. 


Our Second Skin undershirt, for instance, is made of premium-quality, non-pilling micromodal - a breathable fabric naturally derived from beech trees. Their streamlined fit hugs the body without restricting your movement, and the extra-long cut means they never come untucked. We also developed a proprietary, tapered style that eliminates “excess fabric gut” (“No EFG®”!). Oh, and every tank-style tee comes with our “Best Pair Guarantee.” If you don’t love your new shirt, you can keep it or exchange it. Either way, it’s on us.