In the United States and Canada, a sleeveless shirt it is commonly
known as a
tank top or by its pejorative nickname, wife-beater
(sometimes just beater).
This is obviously an offensive name for a category of shirt.
Offensive Aspect of the term:
This particular style of shirt is a fairly common wardrobe item in
the demographic that many people associate with wife beating
(unfortunately spousal abuse occurs in "every" demographic). Very
often these are the kinds of shirts men will wear around the house when
they're trying to stay cool, but can't afford good air conditioning.
Generally poor, blue collar workers. It's a basic stereotype.
In his opening monologue, comedian Louis C.K. talks about the
difference between hungry and starving, raising his girls, the
unlikeliness of Heaven and the offensiveness of "wife beater" shirts.
[Season 39, 2014]
The actual shirt:
A sleeveless shirt is a shirt manufactured without sleeves,
or one whose sleeves have been cut off. Sleeveless shirts are worn by
either sex, depending on the style. They are often used as undershirts,
are often worn by athletes in sports such as track and field and
triathlon, and are regarded as acceptable public casual dress in most
warm weather locales.
According to Merriam Webster:
A Wifebeater is a man's white tank top.
What is the origin of the term "wife beater" in regard to
We do not have absolute certainty on this question. But here
In 1947 in Detroit, Michigan the police arrested a
local man (James Hartford, Jr.) for beating his wife to death. Local
news stations aired the arrest and elements of the case for months after
the arrest. The news reporting constantly showed a picture of Hartford,
Jr. when he was arrested. He was wearing a dirty tank top with
baked bean stains on it. The news reporting constantly referring
to him as “the" wife beater. This may have been the start of men
wearing dirty tank-topped undershirts being referred to as people who
were “wearing wife-beaters".
Another theory is that the term started in prison.
Is has been said that in the old days prisoners ripped the sleeves off
tee shirts belonging to those who were in jail for beating women (a
crime not looked upon with good light) this was done so all the other
prisoners knew that this man was in jail because he beat women hence
being known as a wife-beater.
Other stories indicate that the history of the “wife beater" goes
back to the Middle Ages. At that time in history,
knights who lost their armor in battles often had nothing but the
chain-mail undergarment to protect them. When a knight lost their
armor and continued to fight successfully, they were referred to as a
waif beater (waif, referring to an abandoned or lost individual).
Due to the fact that knights who had been abandoned and continued to
fight with only the chain mail on their backs, they were given the
noble title or waif beater. An abandoned fighter, beating
their way through battle. Over the years, it is possible that the
term waif beater morphed into the similar sounding "wife beater".
Tank Tops in the Movies:
In the 1950's actors such as Marlon Brando wore this type of shirt in
A Streetcar Named Desire.
In 1988, Bruce Willis wore one in Die Hard.
Women also wear the shirts terms wife beaters. For example,
Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider.
Nicholas Cage in Con Air.
Kevin Bacon in Footloose
Hugh Jackman Wolverine
The name wife beater is growing more and more popular, raising
the concerns of many victims' rights groups that naming a popular
article of clothing after an incident of domestic violence desensitizes
young people to violence against women. A wife beater refers to a
husband that treats their significant other in an inappropriate manner.
We at Apparel Search strongly suggest you use the term tank top
or sleeveless shirt instead.
People that wear shirts that are called a Wife Beater does
NOT mean that they beat their wives. It is only the
"name" associated with the shirt that is a problem; not all people
Domestic violence (also domestic abuse, spousal abuse, intimate
partner violence, battering or family violence) is a pattern of behavior
which involves violence or other abuse by one person against another in
a domestic setting, such as in marriage or cohabitation. This is a
serious problem in modern society. You can visit the National
Coalition Against Domestic Violence to learn more at