This '90s Wardrobe Staple Is Ruling Summer 2019

The tank top is back, folks, enjoying a resurgence just in time for a steamy summer. Resort 2020 saw the likes of New York cool kid Collina Strada pair a classic white number with disco-ready sequin trousers, while Alexander Wang had Pete Davidson modelling one on his SS19 catwalk. Helmut Lang's scoop-neck take won over editors in AW19, but we can thank a move back towards cleaner lines and classic dressing for the piece's renaissance. "We are seeing a move away from logo-heavy clothing and towards '90s minimalism, which is why the '90s-style tank top has made a return," Heather Gramston, buying manager at Browns, tells Refinery29.
Whether you dub it the singlet, the muscle shirt, the vest or the sleeveless tee, the wardrobe staple – while universally loved by men and women alike – has always had a slightly bad rap, thanks to the 'wife beater' moniker. People debate where this association came from, but the image of Marlon Brando in an oil-stained white vest in A Streetcar Named Desire is perhaps the most famous (his character, Stanley Kowalski, beats his wife and rapes his sister-in-law). From the 1920s onwards, Hollywood churned out this derogatory stereotype of a working class and brutish man, and the name stuck – just think of Warren Beatty in his white tank in 1967's Bonnie and Clyde.
Problematic nicknames aside, the tank top has endured as a wardrobe staple and as we grow fatigued with in-your-face logomania, we're seeing a return to the simplicity of the '90s. Look to Bottega Veneta's aesthetic under creative director Daniel Lee – Phoebe Philo fans are turning to the brand since her departure from Celine – which champions simple, well-cut pieces in neutral hues, tank tops included. Cast your mind back to the '90s, and you'll remember that a black or white vest was worn by every actress and off-duty model worth their salt: Drew Barrymore, with brown lip liner and a kicky bob; Angelina Jolie, leather trousers tight, Billy Bob Thornton tattoo exposed; Kate Moss and Mark Wahlberg in that Calvin Klein campaign. There's no denying it: tank tops are sexy as hell, and it's all down to their simplicity. Throw one on and go, no fuss needed.
The tank top has had plenty of pop culture moments since the '90s, of course: Tony Soprano with his sharklike smile; Eminem in 8 Mile; a braless Jennifer Aniston, abs of steel just visible; Miley Cyrus being extra as hell, swinging on a literal wrecking ball; Michelle Obama's glorious arm flexes...the list goes on. So how are fashion's coolest styling the tank today? Alyssa Coscarelli, fresh from getting the cut of 2019 – the curly bob – kept things easy with a chain necklace, but went for a racer-style neckline. "It's a classic. Throwing on a white tank in the summer just feels timeless, and always looks cool without trying too hard. Also – it's so dang hot! On days that brush 100 degrees Fahrenheit, everything else just feels too fussy. Plus, with the no-bra movement I've embraced for years now, there's no better match than a ribbed tank top."
Photo: Matthew Sperzel
Photo: Edward Berthelot
Photo: Matthew Sperzel
Meanwhile women on the streets of Paris and New York fashion weeks in February went for a variety of styles: high-neck and tight-cropped, square-neck in black, V-neck with a looser fit. Heather recommends a "ribbed, slightly sheer tank style, layered under a silk or cotton shirt, or simply paired with jeans as a nod to that '90s supermodel style." As for us, we're buying them in bulk from Weekday and Arket, the two brands offering the best styles on the high street for under £20.
Suzanne Pendlebury, buying manager at Matches Fashion is championing brands like The Row, Bottega, Re/Done Originals, Nili Lotan, Frances de Lourdes and Wardrobe NYC for your tank top needs. "The tank is a very versatile piece and talks to that clean minimal aesthetic, which can easily be pared back to a pair of jeans or shorts, as well as layered under a great suit. They also look great styled with chunky minimal jewellery. It can be dressed up or down," she explains. "It’s a piece that works hard for your money and goes with most things in your wardrobe, a perfect building block."
Herein lies the draw of the tank top: it's universally appealing thanks to its pure simplicity. Whether you don it with a city-slicking short suit, adidas track pants or Levi's 501s, it'll be the least basic basic in your wardrobe.

More from Trends

R29 Original Series