The Debate: Can an Adult Man Wear a Tank Top?

By Andrew D. Luecke and Max Berlinger

Tank tops might be the most efficient of shirts, covering all the vitals with the least amount of material. And they're a summertime staple for thousands of men, a popularity that's recently got the attention of some high-fashion designers, who marched tank tops down spring/summer 2015 runways. But just because Dries Van Noten shows them, it doesn't mean tank tops are unquestionably stylish or, say, appropriate for anywhere other than the beach. To tease out the nuances of a most controversial top, we invited Esquire Digital's style editors Andrew D. Luecke and Max Berlinger to discuss the pros and cons of the tank top.

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MAX BERLINGER: So, here we are in the heat of summer discussing the most breathable of summertime shirts: the tank top.

ANDREW LUECKE: By which you mean the one shirt with no grace and no purpose. Max, is it really that much cooler than a tee or, even better, a nice aloha shirt? No, it is not. The only thing it provides air to is one's vanity.

MB: First off, your simultaneous recommendation of aloha shirts and disdain for vanity is astonishing. Second off, when it's hot and humid, or you're out in direct sunlight for an extended period of time, a tank top is definitely a cooler option-

AL: But it exposes your shoulders and chest to direct sunlight, whereas a white shirt will actually bounce sunlight away from your body.

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MB: Third off, tank tops are no longer just slacker gear peddled by skate and surf brands. Designers are picking up on them. Reputable labels have been using them on their, okay, admittedly not sunlit runways.

AL: An appearance in a runway show is no justification. Look at the Thom Browne show from a few weeks ago-it's unwearable. It may be "fashion" but it's not style.

MB: You can't fairly use that Thom Browne dystopia as your example. Dries Van Noten and Bottega Veneta showed them too, in a wearable way. I'm not saying I recommend that a grown man wear a tank with a punk-rock graphic on it, but one that's a solid color and made of good fabric is a fine substitute for a plain T-shirt. Sure, jocks and fraternity brothers are the de facto poster boys for tank tops, but that doesn't mean more respectable men can't take them back.

AL: Take them back to where, exactly? Look, not only are tank tops lacking in dignity but they're also a very hard shape for many men to pull off, unless you have a massive chest and shoulders and a narrow waist, or are very slim with no paunch whatsoever. And even that first meathead option doesn't look that great. A tank top is the opposite of a tailored blazer: It makes most men look worse. And God forbid you show a nipple in a public setting.

MB: No argument on that last bit. And yes, it's a style that looks best on men who work on their fitness and it probably should be avoided by portlier guys. But that's your reward for working out-to show off your body. And while it's definitely not a tailored jacket, if you showed up in a tank to a backyard barbecue on a sweltering summer day, I highly doubt anyone would bat an eye. If you were wearing a double-breasted jacket, however well tailored, you'd most likely look out of place.

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AL: What's out of place is spending three hundred dollars on a Dries tank.

MB: Again, I thought that those kinda loose, voluminous ones that were shown at the Paris and Milan fashion weeks had a certain insouciance.

AL: Insouciance? Closer to teenage mall-punk.

MB: Dries showed them with printed shorts, and it looked cool and youthful but still sophisticated. At Bottega they were worn under a bunch of things, which I thought looked the way adult men-outside of malls-dress in the summer, with several light layers that can be adjusted as they please. It's easygoing and not so self-serious or stuffy, which I appreciate. The price, well, there are a lot of things that could be said about spending copious amounts of money on fairly common items. But I'm sure that American Apparel, or J.Crew, or Urban Outfitters, or even H&M has nice, simple versions that many people could wear.

AL: Well, I guess we're at a stalemate.

MB: Yeah, I need to go cool off. Possibly slip into my tank.

AL: Max, we're still in the office.

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