Just like the great legging debate I brought up earlier in the week, tank tops vs camisoles will ultimately come down to personal standards, taste and etiquette, but for those of you caught in the middle of said debate, like I am, allow me to break it down and lay out the details as best I can. So, without further ado, let’s get this thing started.
Camis Are Not Tank Tops!
For those who don’t know and would probably never even bother to ask, camisoles didn’t start out as a kind of shirt, top or any kind of garment meant to see the light of day. In reality, the camisole evolved from another former powerhouse of women’s fashion: the corset and, more specifically, the corset cover. Back in the Sixteenth Century when the steel boned torture devices were at the hight of fashion, proper ladies used the bulky corset covers, which were made of varying fabrics, not only to cover their corsets but to add an extra layer of protection beneath their oversized dresses. Unlike the typical daily drudgery common in the 16th Century, the corset cover and all its evolutions thereafter has actually withstood the test of time and, as of today, hails as one of women’s favorite undergarments aside from actual underwear.
Tank Tops Were Once Men’s Underwear?!
Yes, you read it correctly. The first tank tops, ironically just like the first high heels, were originally worn by men. Popularized in the early 1930’s by American cinema, the iconic tank tp we know today as a “wife beater” or racerback tank, was once a cinematic device for screenwriters and directors to portray the young man, often Italian-American, in an intimate way. In the post War years especially, working class men owned maybe one or two good shirts, which they saved for work or special occasions, therefore a man appearing in a scene wearing a tank top was a man with his guard down, at ease in his private life. It was often a time for the negative aspects of their character to come to the fore, think Robert De Niro in Raging Bull or Marlon Brando in A Street Car Named Desire. Men, especially Italian men existed in a dichotomy of the persona they presented to the public and that which they kept behind closed doors (via. swide.com). To put this in perspective, a man walking about in his tank top was equal to a woman strutting around in a terry cloth robe, ripped sweats and slippers, not at all how any respectable person would want to be portrayed in public at that time. Across the water in Italy and it was seen in a different way, free of the emasculating problems that affect an immigrant community, the tank top was seen simply as a symbol of masculine sex appeal. Dino Risi’s ‘Poveri ma belli’ (1957) saw Renato Salvatori sport the look as a Roman lifeguard, out in the public, bearing shoulders to the sun. The tank top’s evolution from hidden undergarment, through symbol of male brutishness, cinematic device, to iconic look and eventually to the catwalk mirrors the evolution of fashion itself: what we view as a trend often eventually evolves into the mainstream. Whether that’s good or bad is solely up to you, the consumer.
Ah, But Where Do The Differences Come Into Play?
Right…about…now. Ideal by themselves in hot weather or layered under warmer tops in cooler temps, camisoles and tank tops serve many of the same purposes — but they’re not quite the same thing. Tank tops come in a variety of styles and with different size straps, while camisoles have a more uniform look with skinny, usually adjustable, bra-style straps and even bra-like inserts that most women like to pretend don’t exist. Seriously, those things provide zero support and just as little coverage, why do camisole makers like to pretend they help anything at all…ever?
1: Camisole Characteristics
Because the camisole evolved from corset covers, the camisole tends to look a bit like lingerie; and, in many cases, it’s meant only to be worn as an undergarment. You can layer a cami under a cardigan, dress, top, sweater or just about anything you require extra coverage or control in. Camis are usually fitted and made from a cotton blend or from stretchy material, such as rayon or spandex. Some camis have lace trim, making them perfect to add modesty to low-cut dresses and tops.
2: Tank Top Types
With styles ranging from satin-crushed to casual, ribbed, A-line cuts, tank tops are more loosely defined. All tank tops are sleeveless and expose the shoulders. The straps vary as well — racerbacks crisscross in the back, halter tops tie behind the neck and spaghetti straps are thin and may or may not adjust like bra straps. You find tank tops with collars, deep V-necks or simple scoop necklines. Tanks tops may be fitted or flow loosely (via. synonym.com).
The bottom Line.
As I say with pretty much any fashion post, at the end of the day, the choice is yours. Whether you like going balls to the wall with leggings and camisoles and not much else, that’s perfectly fine. The point is comfort and how you feel about yourself at the end of it all. Never let anyone talk you into–or out of!–wearing what makes you happy with yourself. Who do you have to please other than yourself?