Sif it was a blank page, it would be the back. An undergarment that has taken center stage over the years, taking on a host of meanings, the tank top was originally intended for handlers. Freeing the arms for greater freedom of movement, this piece of wool or cotton jersey was also supposed to absorb perspiration. Symbol of virility, for better or for worse, he was nicknamed in the United States wife beater (“wife beater”), betraying a form of class contempt that assimilates the proletariat to violence – as if it had its prerogative. In France, where it is also called Marcel, from the name of the first company to have marketed this tank top in series (the Marcel de Roanne hosiery), it is also available for men from the outset.
From the 1930s, however, women appropriated it. Among them, Renée Perle, a model of Romanian origin whom the photographer Jacques Henri Lartigue (1894-1986) met in Paris. From their two years of passion, lived in an infinite summer between Biarritz and Juan-les-Pins, there remain many pictures of her, sublime, wearing the white tank top with panache and without a bra. From the constrained body of the worker to the liberation of that of the idlers, the white tank top carries a strong erotic charge.
It’s model Cindy Crawford in mini-shorts and ecstatic in front of a can dispenser in a 1992 Pepsi ad or, in the first Alien (1979), the American actress Sigourney Weaver in the skin of Lieutenant First Class Ripley who takes off her spacesuit to reveal an androgynous physique, in white panties and tank top. A sequence criticized by filmmaker James Cameron, who will direct the next episode of the saga, taking pride in being able to film a fascinating female character without making her a sexual object.
If the white tank top subjects the body to the gaze more than any other, it also expresses the refusal to associate femininity with vulnerability, and the necessary recourse to constraint and artifice to seduce. In the 1990s, he invited himself into the collections, freeing himself from gender norms, Calvin Klein in mind. Drawing heavily on the queer wardrobe, the luxury industry has recently made it an essential: a ribbed dry cotton version at Bottega Veneta – its artistic director, Matthieu Blazy, having chosen it to open the show for its first collection (fall-winter 2022-2023) for the Italian house –, or merino cashmere at Chloé. On the catwalks, it is worn without a bra by skinny girls. In the street, he also espouses different bodies, those who do not necessarily fit into the canons and claim it. On the page where other narratives are written today, the margin takes up a little more space.