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A Shirt vs Tank Top: What Is the Difference?

When you button up your dress shirt to go to work, do you wonder if you should wear a shirt beneath? If so, you have probably considered the merits of sleeveless undergarments. For example, when you compare an A-shirt vs. a tank top, what is the difference?

The main difference between A-shirts and tank tops is that A-shirts work best as undergarments and tank tops work well as stand-alone tops. A-shirts often feature solid colors, while tank tops can style in various colors and patterns. Traditionally, only men wear A-shirts, while both men and women can wear tank tops.

In this article, you will learn the key characteristics of both types of tops. You will find out how to wear an A-shirt vs a tank top. Finally, you will find tips on when you should wear an undershirt beneath your shirt.

A Shirt vs Tank Top: Key Points

If you need a quick guide to the differences between an A-shirt and a tank top, take a look at this chart!

A ShirtTank Top
StyleSimple color and cut, wide armhole and neck-hole.Varies a lot but is always sleeveless with shoulder straps
FabricRibbed cottonCotton, polyester, or a blend. Usually a knit fabric.
CollarNo collar, wide and/or deep double stitched necklineMay feature a deep neckline or a crewneck collar
ColorMost commonly solid white, sometimes solid colors such as grey or blackFeatures a wide range of colors and prints
ArmholeDeep armholes to easily fit inside a shirtUsually smaller armholes to avoid showing much skin when worn alone
Best ForWearing underneath a button-down shirtWearing as a stand-alone top or with an unbuttoned shirt

What is an A Shirt?

What is A Shirt

An A-shirt is a sleeveless undershirt with a rounded neckline and deep armholes, designed to wear beneath a dress shirt without showing from the outside. It is one of the older styles of undershirt still in use today, and it has a long and sometimes problematic history.

Men started wearing the earliest version of this style of a sleeveless, collarless undershirt with its deep armholes back in the 1800s, as it fit nicely beneath the closer-fitting style of white dress shirt that came into vogue in that era. Most likely, the popularity of this style stems from the Industrial Revolution and the invention of cloth factories that could make knitted cotton fabric.

This was around the same time when t-shirts first became popular as part of the naval uniform in the late 1800s. But tees typically featured a soft knitted cotton fabric and A-shirts styled a soft ribbed cotton fabric. Of course, t-shirts also had short sleeves, while an A-shirt is sleeveless, meant to go unnoticed beneath a button-down.

This style of undershirt goes by many different names around the world. The American term “A-shirt” originally meant an athletic shirt. In the UK, this style usually goes by the term vest, while in India, it is more commonly called a banyan. You can also find an A-shirt simply called a “sleeveless undershirt” anywhere in the world.

It also goes by the slang name of “wifebeater” due to a tragic instance in the 1940s when a murderer killed his wife while wearing nothing but an undershirt. The press snapped a photo of him in the bloody undergarment and it caused a huge sensation. This term is still used today despite its insensitive and politically incorrect nature.

Because of this tragic instance, wearing an undershirt by itself became a very lower-class thing to do. Even today, you can wear a t-shirt or tank top with nothing over it, but wearing an obvious undershirt instead of a shirt will raise some eyebrows.

In an odd twist of fate, it is mostly upper class and businessmen who continue to wear A-shirts today, though! This is because the main reason people wear undershirts in this day and age is to have a layer between their skin and a professional dress shirt. Most working-class people today just wear t-shirts.

As another fun fact, A-shirts have always served as menswear, and women have traditionally worn a camisole or a slip instead.

What is a Tank Top?

What is Tank Top

A tank top is a sleeveless top available in many styles for both men and women. This style of the top can feature many different shapes of necklines but often has smaller armholes than a standard undershirt. One of the key characteristics of a tank top is that it is usually meant to wear by itself, without another garment over the top.

Tank tops originated from swimwear rather than regular clothing. In the early 1900s, the idea of swimming pools–originally called swimming tanks–began to gain popularity. Because of the standards of modesty at the time, swimsuits for men and women featured full-body but sleeveless garments. Swimwear manufacturers called these suits “tank suits” to market them based on the popularity of the new swimming pools!

One of the first times these new suits reached mass popularity was in the Olympic Games held in the early 1900s when both male and female athletes wore sleeveless bathing suits or “tank suits.”

In the 1950s and 60s, film stars made the concept of wearing a tank top by itself extremely sexy, as the idea of walking around without a shirt on top of sleeveless “undergarments” remained quite shocking at the time. For a long while, the fashion world did not support a “tank top” as a stand-alone top, though many people wore an A-shirt in a similar sleeveless style as an undershirt during this interim.

But by the late 60s and into the 70s, fashion and modesty standards started to change dramatically. In the 1970s, the tank top as we know it today emerged with the idea of a close-fitting, sleeveless top as stand-alone clothing. While not everyone embraced this new, arm-baring style, most people loved it so much that the tank top remains a staple of warm-weather clothing today!

A tank top today usually features ribbed cotton and has a defined neckline, though it may or may not have a collar. It often features wide shoulder straps and always has no sleeves. It can come in any color or print imaginable and may also feature a graphic design or print, just like a t-shirt.

What is the Difference Between A Shirt and Tank Top?

Difference Between A Shirt and Tank Top

The main difference between an A-shirt and a tank top is that an A-shirt is worn as an undershirt, while a tank top comes in many colors and styles meant to wear on its own. Both of these sleeveless tops also have their own unique cut and style characteristics.


One of the key distinctions in style between an A-shirt and a tank top is that A-shirts usually fit closely to the torso, while tank tops can have a clingy style or a loose shape. Another key difference is that tank tops come in many styles, while A-shirts have one distinctive style.

For example, a tank top for women might have a crop top or a full-length style. It could feature wide shoulder straps or spaghetti straps. For men, a tank top can have a form-fitting ribbed cotton style or a loose, baggy basketball style. And, of course, a tank top can also have a plain style that makes it suitable to wear as an undershirt.


The main difference in the type of fabric used for A-shirts vs tank tops is that A-shirts almost always contain lightweight ribbed cotton, while tank tops can feature ribbed cotton, jersey-knit cotton, or a variety of synthetic blends.

Tank tops also often use a midweight fabric that feels thicker to the touch. This makes it easier to wear tank tops as stand-alone shirts because lightweight ribbed cotton can look too transparent to comfortably wear as a stand-alone top in some cases.


A-shirts do not feature a collar, but some tank tops do.

One of the reasons A-shirts work so well as the best type of undershirt beneath a button-down is that they do not feature a collar. Unlike an A-shirt, a t-shirt has a rounded crewneck collar that fits closer to the throat and will show if you unbutton the top button of a dress shirt.

An A-shirt’s deeper, double-stitched neckline typically lies lower on the chest, just above the clavicles. This neckline will not show if you remove your tie and unbutton one or two buttons on your dress shirt.

Some A-shirts have a V-shaped neckline instead of the standard rounded U-shaped neckline, but both styles reach low enough that they will not show beneath the button-down.

Tank tops can feature many different neckline styles, though a simple scoop neckline is the most common. In this case, the tank top does not have a collar, and it usually features two lines of stitching to hold the folded-under edge of the neckline in place instead.

That said, some types of tank tops do have a collar. You see this in dressier styles of tank tops for women or some sleeveless t-shirt style tank tops for men and women.


One of the biggest differences between A-shirts and tank tops is that A-shirts almost always feature a plain, solid color, but tank tops can come in any color or print.

This difference has a simple reason. You would want to wear a plain white A-shirt under a white or light-colored dress shirt or a black or navy A-shirt beneath a darker-colored button-down. The whole point of an undershirt is that you do not want the undergarment to show on the outside.

A tank top, in contrast, often serves as a stand-alone top. For this reason, it can have a much more decorative style. You can find plenty of tank tops in solid colors, but these colors come in any shade of the rainbow, from mauve to neon green to solid black. Plus, many tank tops–especially for women–use printed fabric featuring anything from fun florals to superheroes or unicorns.

Another popular style for tank top decoration is to have a print or graphic applied to the tank, just like you often see on t-shirts. You can find printed or embroidered logos, full-color photos, or funny memes printed on tank tops.


Sometimes, A-shirts and tank tops can also have differently shaped armholes. An A-shirt typically has low, fairly deeply cut armholes, though they do not drop as far down the sides as you might see in a sleeveless t-shirt. This provides easy movement when you button another shirt with a sleeve on top of the undergarment.

In fact, the deep armholes and sleeveless style are one of the reasons A-shirts remain popular as an undergarment, even though t-shirts can more easily block sweat from staining your dress shirt. T-shirt sleeves often feel bulky and constraining when worn beneath another set of shirt sleeves, and A-shirts avoid this problem by having a sleeveless style.

A tank top can have many different styles of armholes, but most commonly, they have a smaller, closer-fitting opening to look appropriate when worn alone. That said, you can find tank tops with gaping armholes made by slitting the side seam of the shirt open or tank tops with a more narrow armhole because the top has very wide shoulder straps.


Most of the time, tank tops cost more than A-shirts, but this can vary depending on the style of an individual shirt, the brand, and the types of material used.

You often buy A-shirts in a pack of 2, 5, or 6 shirts. Because undershirts use solid colors and lightweight material, making these simple undergarments usually costs less than making a stylized tank top. This means you can often get an A-shirt for as little as three to five dollars!

Tank tops range in price a lot more because they come in a wide range of styles. Women’s decorative tank tops meant to wear alone in place of a shirt often cost anywhere from $10 to $20. Men’s casual tank tops, like the kind you might wear to the gym or for a game of basketball at the neighborhood park, often cost between $10 and $25.

You can also find tank tops priced lower, though, especially if you look for simple, solid-colored tanks made out of midweight ribbed cotton.

Best For

A-shirts and tank tops often serve quite different purposes, as A-shirts work best for wearing beneath another shirt, and tank tops can often replace a shirt if you want to wear them as a sleeveless top.

This is not to say that you can’t wear a tank top beneath a shirt. You can find plenty of simple, solid-colored tanks that can also work in place of an undershirt. The difference is that you would not often want to wear an A-shirt as a stand-alone top as you can with many tank tops.

Are Tank Tops Better Than T-Shirts?

Whether or not tank tops are better than t-shirts depends on your preference and the occasion. Both types of tops offer pros and cons.

T-shirts and tank tops can feel comfortable in warm weather, but a tank top has no sleeves and can feel even more cooling than a tee. On the other hand, if you sweat a lot in warm weather, you may want to wear a t-shirt under a button-down rather than a tank top because the armpits of the tee can catch your sweat and prevent it from soaking through your button-down.

T-shirts look slightly more formal than most tank tops. This does depend on the style of the tank, as some women’s tank tops, in particular, made out of silky material or decorated with lace and ribbons, can look quite professional! But in general, a t-shirt looks more formal than a tank top. For example, you would typically wear a t-shirt to a neighborhood BBQ rather than a tank top.

Tank tops offer a better range of movement for physical activities. If you want to play basketball on a hot summer day, you will feel more comfortable in a tank top than a tee. But then again, t-shirts will protect your shoulders from sunburn as you engage in outdoor sports.

Tank Tops vs A Shirts vs Muscle Shirts

Tank Tops vs A Shirts vs Muscle Shirts

The biggest difference between tank tops, A-shirts, and muscle shirts is in the size of the armhole and the intended purpose of the shirt.

When you look at these three styles of sleeveless tops, you will notice that the shape of the armhole often differs.

  • Tank tops can have the most variation in armhole style. Some tanks have small, round armholes that close around the edge of your shoulder, while others have wider and lower armholes to provide more range of movement.
  • An A-shirt has large armholes that reach farther down the side seam of the undershirt. This is one of the things that sets apart an A-shirt from a t-shirt-style undershirt which often has a slim fit and close-fitting armholes so that the sleeves of the tee can fit inside the sleeves of a dress shirt.
  • A muscle shirt is a fitted, sleeveless t-shirt mat to stretch tightly across the torso to display your muscles. Muscle shirts often have round, not-too-deep armholes, just as a t-shirt would.

Of course, the other big difference between these three styles of sleeveless tops is when it is appropriate to wear each one.

Muscle shirts look quite informal because they deliberately display your body. You should save these tops for the gym or your morning jog.

A-shirts look extremely informal, and you should wear them under a button-down. The exception here is that some urban-style outfits do use an A-shirt in place of a tank top to make a fashion statement.

Tank tops have a flexible style that can make themes suitable for various occasions, depending on the fabric used in the tank and what you pair with it. For example, you could wear a blazer with a silky tank top to work, but a loose tank with wide armholes will look better for outdoor activities.

A Shirt vs T-Shirt

The main difference between A-shirts and T-shirts is that T-shirts have sleeves, and A-shirts do not. Plus, T-shirts have mass appeal as a wear-alone garment, and A-shirts do not.

When you compare the overall shape of an A-shirt and a T-shirt, a tee looks like a letter “t” because its short sleeves stick out from the sides of the shirt. An A-shirt looks more like a capital letter A with its lack of sleeves and sloping sides due to its deep armholes.

Besides the absence of sleeves, an A-shirt also does not have a collar. T-shirts have a round crewneck collar, which is one of the reasons they look more like stand-alone garments.

And, of course, t-shirts have gained worldwide popularity as the most worn type of shirt in the world. This is partly due to stylistic elements like the tee having sleeves and a collar, but it is also largely due to the popularity of printing designs or graphics onto t-shirts. This makes them one of the best ways to promote your favorite band or sports team.

Do You Need to Wear a Tank Top Under a Shirt?

Whether or not you need to wear a tank top under a shirt depends often on the occasion and the level of formality required.

  • You will want to wear a tank top, undershirt, or A-shirt beneath a dress shirt. This makes it hard to see specific details of your body through the button-down, including chest hair, nipples, or the outline of your abs.
  • For a casual event in warm weather, you may want to layer a Hawaiian or plaid button-down over your tank top to look a little less informal, and so you can easily remove the shirt if you get too warm.
  • If your shirt has a transparent fabric, such as some blouses made from sheer rayon or tulle, you should wear a tank top or camisole under the blouse. This is an easy way to make a dressy but see-through top appropriate for the workplace!
  • Generally speaking, you do not need to wear a tank top under your shirt for casual occasions. If you can wear a t-shirt, denim shirt, or flannel shirt to the event, you probably do not need an undershirt unless you want one for added warmth and comfort.


Both A-shirts and tank tops have a sleeveless style, but A-shirts work best as undergarments and tank tops can often serve as wear-alone tops. Tank tops can come in many colors and patterns and A-shirts typically come in solid white, black, or navy blue shades. Tank tops can also have varying cuts with a tighter or looser fit, while A-shirts have a loose undershirt style with wide armholes.

You can wear some tank tops beneath another shirt to create a layered outfit or simply in place of an undershirt. But you should always use an A-shirt as an undershirt, especially when paired with a button-down.

Do you often wear a sleeveless undershirt with your outfits? What kind of undershirt do you like best? Leave a comment below to let us know!