But if it liberated the bodies of the working classes, the tank top also emancipated those of women, this time with a much more political and militant stance. « I’m thinking of Gabrielle Chanel, who stole her boyfriend’s tank top and put her underwear over it, » says Vincent Grégoire, creative director of the trend agency NellyRodi. The subversiveness of this garment rests on two aspects: the first one is its androgyny pushed to its paroxysm, with Jane Birkin in the 1970s in the video clip of « Je t’aime moi non plus »: a reference that will make the feminist and gender question about clothing evolve a little more. This change had already begun in the 1930s, when wearing a white tank top as a sign of feminist rebellion was then reserved for the bourgeois and artistic elite, especially women like Renée Perle, a model photographed by Jacques Henri Lartigue wearing a bra-less tank top. For Denis Bruna, « these women allowed the tank top to become the symbol of a liberated woman’s body, which of course opposes this symbol of machismo ». Just like the sportswomen of the time who enjoyed the privilege of wearing it in order to improve their movements in the water and therefore their performance. This is in fact how the term « tank top » came about, « tank » being the English slang term for basins. As you can see, it is precisely at this point, in tight-fitting wet-T-shirt-mode with visible nipples, that the marcel increased its subversive potential by giving off a different, much more erotic image in Western culture. « It can be a real sexualised statement. Indeed, not everyone is socially allowed to wear one.
“For example, in Asian culture you can show your legs, but you don’t show your shoulders, that’s hyper-erotic. You don’t show your neck in Japan either, because it’s a highly erogenous zone, says Vincent Grégoire. When you’re wearing a tank top, you are showing your tattoos, your breasts, your piercings, your body, your skin! It’s much more daring and provocative than a T-shirt. » This hardcore, kinky, and militant imagery particularly appealed to and suited the LGBTQIA+ scene, as Denis Bruna reminds us when he looks back at the history of the tank top in queer culture: « In the 1970s, in San Francisco, the tank top became a streetwear item , taken over by the homosexual community, where it was seen on the backs of the queer gay butch before being taken over by the lesbian scene later on. It was no longer the undergarment worn under the shirt, it became the piece of clothing that gay men used to distinguish themselves, also to show their very muscular bodies. At the time, the physical culture of body-building was fashionable in the gay community, and the tank top became a way of showing off the body.” For the historian, it was also a way of reconnecting with the roots of the tank top while subverting its codes: « On the Village People’s 1979 album covers, the working-class man is in a tank top. He wears his original outfit, which is also an emblematic garment for showing off his body.” Have we come full circle yet? Almost.