Tr“Wait, how do you put that on?”
I was in the Fire Island Pines last weekend wearing a Courrèges tank top with a built-in twisted front bodice. My head was poking through its armhole and its neck was exposing my shoulder, and a new friend was asking how it worked. The day before, I was at “tea time”—aka the Pines’ daily outdoor party—and someone was wearing the same Telfar “halter tank” as me. A week earlier, at the Paris men’s shows, I spotted a myriad of tank top reinventions: on models walking out of venues; on influencers attending the shows; on the runway at Rick Owens, Louis Gabriel Nouchi, and Kiko Kostadinov; and on the streets of the Marais and République as gay men flocked from bar to bar over Pride weekend.
It’s official, I thought. The “complicated tank tops” that entered the fashion sphere a few years ago courtesy of names like Telfar and Phlemuns have gone mainstream. Until recently, I saw the complicated tank as almost a code for queerness, a garment with the cheeky secrecy of an inside joke you like to tell but not explain.
A bit of background: the basic white tank was reborn on the fall 2022 ready-to-wear runways, opening the Bottega Veneta and Sacai shows and closing Prada’s. There was a distinct butchness to the tanks at the women’s shows. In my view, it stemmed from the way that the dollar-store item had been reclaimed from the back of underwear drawers by gay men and lesbian women in an effort to find yet another heteronormative, ordinary wardrobe staple to subvert (see also: jorts, trucker hats, and dress ties).
While all this was happening on the runways, in gay clubs, raves, and queer parties across New York City more complicated tanks began emerging. Sure, masc gays were flexing their biceps in normie black tanks, but us queer fashionphiles had moved on to more avant garde iterations from labels like K.nglsey and Dion Lee.
What’s the appeal? As one complicated tank-wearing friend tells me, “queer people just like things a little fucked up.” It’s true: Queer folk often gravitate to fashions that are atypical as signifiers of our own unconventionality. There’s also the gender-bending of it all: “Rather than seeing this profile as ‘complicated,’ I would say that it has evolved from the language of contrasting masculine and feminine codes,” Dion Lee told me via email. “The tank is seen as an archetype of masculinity,” he added, and “the contrast of an under-designed, bulk-purchased basic, versus [one with] a delicate strap or decorative detail—[it] subverts the profile with a feminine language.”
But it’s also not that deep: “Dancing makes you sweat, so the less you are wearing, the better” said Lee. The Australian designer has been selling diaphanous layered tanks and second-skin tops with biomorphic cutouts for years. At first, he said, he was simply trying to make what he couldn’t find on the market: sexy tops for men. Now, he sells many of his tanks as part of a unisex collection, which was a “natural progression to evolve the category and brand language, rather than intentionally targeting any certain demographic.”
The Nigerian-American designer Kingsley Gbadegesin who launched K.nglsey in 2020 with a run of genderless tank tops with artfully placed cutouts and asymmetric shoulder straps. The idea, he said, was to put Black, queer, femme, and trans people at the forefront of fashion—“the girls,” as he lovingly refers to our queer community.
“The tank has to serve three purposes: going to the office, wearing it on the dance floor, and wearing it to dinner,” Gbadegesin said. Their versatility has made them ripe for mainstream adoption. “Brands that don’t have the girls at their core or in mind have been trying to co-opt that fantasy, but it doesn’t work the same,” said Gbadegesin.
This spring 2024 menswear season, brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Acne Studios, Saint Laurent, and Fendi offered tank re-interpretations. Some cut into frilly and airy halter tops, and others tangled and draped like shirts. The intrinsic queerness of pieces like these—which traces back to ’90s Helmut Lang—has dissipated and been replaced by a less lusty and more buttoned-up gender ambiguity, a trend that has taken over much of menswear.
Now that it’s in the mainstream, K.nglsey, not surprisingly, has moved on. “This is why we’re pivoting away from [this style of] tank tops,” said Gbadegesin, “by the time that they do it, we’re onto something else. That’s just how it goes.”
This article was originally published on Vogue.com