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Item of the week: the basic white tank

By Rachel Douglass

15 Jun 2022


(From left) Image: Filippa K, Na-kd, Levi's

What it is:

The white tank top may be the most basic of wardrobe staples but its background is rooted in cultural movements and important developments in the sporting world. The name ‘tank top’ derives from the historical word for swimming pools, which were once known as ‘tanks’, and is linked to the costumes worn by the first women to compete in Olympic swimming competitions back in 1912. Additionally, while many men used the item as an undergarment, it also picked up a ‘macho’ reputation due to its use in popular films. In the modern day, however, the item has developed into a unisex piece, popular for summer days and layered outfits and defined as a sleeveless vest, often utilising a ribbed knit material.
Image: Calida

Why you’ll want it:

The basic white tank is currently having a cultural resurgence, taking it beyond its initial place in society, which has previously seen it tied to ‘toxic machismo’, and into a rejuvenated relevance among the new generation of shopper. Much of this appeal is down to its newly formed unisex charm, allowing for it to be used across genders and therefore provide a staple wardrobe piece for a wide audience. Additionally, its revival also stems from the use of underwear garments as outerwear, albeit a more modest version of the continuously recurring trend. Unlike bralettes, the tank top offers up an option for those who prefer to cover up a little more yet still participate in the outside-underwear movement.
Image: 7 for All Mankind

Where we’ve seen it:

The basic white tank was a popular item for the AW22 collections, spotted on the runways of some of the biggest international designers. Bottega Veneta, Chloé and Bevza paired the wardrobe staple with statement trousers, either contrasting the fitted, simple garment with oversized flowing silhouettes or presenting a more wearable look with baggy jeans or fitted leather-look trousers. Sacai’s iteration of the design involved the use of a more sheer knit for the main body of the vest and a satin-like hem to contrast it. For Italian house Prada, the basic tank was elevated with addition of the brand’s staple metal monogram, which was placed in a prominent position at the front of the neckline, present in both a long-line and cropped version of the style.
Image: Nudie Jeans

How to style it:

Despite being a simple garment, the white tank top works simply as a standalone item, holding a bit of an edge and perfect for warm days. Elevate the look with high-waisted statement trousers, such as tailored leather designs or oversized jeans, for an outfit perfect for the daytime. Alternatively, you can dress the tank top up with a form-fitting skirt and heeled boots, layered under a silk top to take it into an evening look. In fact, layering can play a big part in how the tank top is styled, providing the perfect underlayer, or overlayer, for baggy shirts and sheer blouses. For a casual outfit, layer the tank under an oversized button-down or place it over a blouse with exaggerated sleeves to mix it up a little.
Image: No Name
While just a basic garment, the white tank top is a wardrobe staple that holds cultural relevance and has now been thrust into the luxury fashion world through elevated design iterations. Both its unisex appeal and almost limitless styling options make it a good investment for the warmer months, connecting with a new generation of younger shoppers.
Image: Karl Lagerfeld

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Item of the Week