Tank top vs T-shirt, for the summer

Tank top vs T-shirt, for the summer

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, there’s a good chance that you’re tingling with excitement. The vernal equinox has just passed. Daylight savings time has been activated. You notice the sun more. The birds. The bees. Summer is coming.

Thinking about looking your best, it’s natural that thoughts turn to your wardrobe. The winter coat that is soon to be banished. Along with heavy-duty sweaters and thermal underwear. To be replaced by all of the fun stuff. 

You may even be thinking about varying your style to adopt a new type of garment. Like a tank top, maybe? Or perhaps, just sticking with what you know, like a t-shirt. If you’re adding to your wardrobe and need to decide between a tank top or a t-shirt, you might want to consider factors such as:

  • Comfort and breathability
  • Style and versatility
  • Fit

Let’s go through each of those, one by one:

Comfort and breathability

Tank Tops

With their sleeveless design, tank tops offer great breathability. They allow the arms and shoulders the benefit of complete air circulation, making them the ideal choice for the hottest days of summer. This is especially the case if you expect to be undertaking some high-intensity activities where you expect to sweat and will need to cool down quickly.

Comfort is also about more than just staying cool. Another factor might be how much skin you expose, whether to the sun or admiring glances. After all, you may not want to risk getting sunburned or feeling uncomfortable in your clothes due to other people’s reactions (even though we should not care too much about others’ reactions).

Fortunately, there is greater variety than before and tank tops can come in flavours with great shoulder coverage.


T-shirts, with their short sleeves, provide a balanced blend of breathability and coverage. They hit the sweet spot where they manage to keep you cool on a warm day while also offering protection from the sun's rays on your shoulders and upper arms. 

The added fabric can be beneficial for those who will feel more comfortable in clothes that provide a bit more coverage or need to adhere to a dress code that requires sleeves.

Style and versatility

Tank Tops

Tank tops really stand out when you’re going for a casual, laid-back look. They're perfect for beach days, strolls in the park, barbecues in the garden, or any casual setting where comfort is key. 

Traditionally, their casual nature has meant that they have not been viewed as being suitable for all settings. It has to be said that in recent years, more people have been experimenting with wearing tank tops in formal settings.

A slightly risk-averse way would be to wear it under a blazer or suit jacket. This way, it would be indistinguishable from a short or long-sleeved t-shirt. This is largely due to the neckline of tank tops having fewer variations than t-shirts. Tank tops tend to have either a crew neck, scoop neck, square neck, or the less common v-neck design. 

A more confident take would be to wear a tank top as a statement piece: either an embellished version of a tank top (like a waistcoat) or in its simplest form.


T-shirts reign supreme when it comes to versatility. They can be dressed up or down, making them suitable for a wider range of occasions beyond casual outings. Whether it's a plain, solid-coloured tee or one designed with an eye-catching print, a t-shirt can be paired with almost anything in your wardrobe, from shorts and jeans to skirts and blazers.

While a lot of these points also apply to tank tops, there is arguably greater history associated with t-shirts and their signalling abilities. From the slogan tees of Katharine Hamnett, to sharing your passions with a logo on your t-shirt of your favourite football team or band. There is even a segment of the market that signals without an obvious signal, e.g. the quiet luxury of a polo from the likes of Brunello Cuccinelli, Loro Piana, etc.

One added consideration is that t-shirt necklines vary significantly, in terms of shape as well as depth. This adds to their versatility as you can find t-shirts with the right shape for you that can work across multiple settings. The right neckline might just give you that extra flexibility to get through a summer's day without worrying about how your arms look if they’re not ready for prime time.


Tank Tops

Tank tops can be loosely or tightly fitted. Baggy tank tops are a relatively rare phenomenon. You might need/want to wear a t-shirt underneath if the bagginess leads to more skin exposure than you’re comfortable with. Which defeats the point of choosing between the two! So, the point remains, tank tops are generally figure-hugging. This means that while you go sleeveless and more of your arms can breathe, other parts of your body that are covered up have to contend with some fabric.


T-shirts come in a range of fits, from slim fit, regular fit, relaxed fit to the more baggy versions. Overall, they offer a more comfortable and relaxed fit compared to tank tops. This means that even though your shoulders and arms are covered, one way to improve air circulation under the t-shirt is to go for a looser fit.

Tank Top vs. T-Shirt: What it comes down to

In the recent past, deciding between a tank top and a t-shirt for your summer outfit may have just boiled down to the type of occasion you were going to: tank tops for the more casual events and t-shirts for the more formal events. However, recent trends suggest that the tank top (or at least variations of it) is moving upmarket and is no longer considered eccentric in formal settings. 

If you can pull this off, your decision between a tank top and a t-shirt is likely to be more about getting the right level of breathability for the temperature and/or the right level of coverage for sun exposure you will be experiencing.

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