Welcome to the Tank Top Renaissance

The tank top is a simple garment: it’s made from sometimes-ribbed fabric, cut with a U-shaped neckline, and terminating in two shoulder straps (that may vary in width). It’s close to flawless, as design goes, and deeply practical in warmer months. And for a while, that’s exactly what the tank was: simple, practical, a little sensual but nothing crazy. There’s a reason it so often serves as the sober counterpoint to a pair of statement pants, or as a layering tool under an unbuttoned button-down. But thanks to a new band of bold designers, the humble tank is now taking its long-awaited—and seriously decorative—place at center stage.

It’s hard to say exactly when the tank top began to stretch past its historical limits, but Australian brand Dion Lee’s Spring/Summer ‘20, featuring both sheer and second-skin tank tops, marked a sea change. At Madonna’s recent Pride Week party at the Boom Boom Room, it seemed that every partygoer donned one of the designer’s signature tanks (or a knock-off). In Lee’s world, tank tops are architecturally warped, sensual, and exciting. “I have fun with how I dress and I love dressing up, feeling sexy and provocative,” Lee says. “The human body and skin are beautiful, so I find ways to highlight the beauty of our anatomy.”

That might be an understatement. Lee’s versions of the tank show off the body such that every sit-up is visible. Some renditions reject the classic two strap setup, instead swooping a single strap around the neck to lend a cheeky emphasis on the wearer’s pectorals. Others are equipped with hardware to add a bit of edge. At the designer’s most recent show, shearling-collared tanks secured to a strip of leather gave off a fabulous BDSM vibe. “The brand subverts masculine and feminine codes,” Lee explains. “We celebrate body confidence.” And the tank is perhaps the strongest tool in his arsenal.

Other designers have been riding a similar wave. Y-Project recently sent their own updated version of the tank top down the runway. Though less sexy than Lee’s, the tank offers a bit of a whimsical touch with its asymmetrical, flappy neckline. K.ingsley, a small New York-based brand, reimagines the tank by adding even more straps (some totaling four) that geometrically wrap around the shoulders and neck like a kaleidoscope. Some of designer Kingsley Gbadegesin’s designs show off, even more, featuring a cheeky open back and a nice show of a wearer’s midriff.

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