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I have a theory: a girl must be wearing a tank top in order to survive in a horror movie.
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A girl who wears a tank top may or may not be an Action Girl, but she will often be considered a Tomboy, a Lad-ette, or someone cut from a rougher cloth.

The Tank Top is a very standard garment for a typical Hollywood Action Hero. Tank tops, especially utilitarian versions, are typically associated with laborious activities — and thus often used to make women seem more "butch", "tough", or "masculine". Even the sexier variations are not exempt from this association.

For example, both First Blood and the original Die Hard featured their protagonists in one for most of the movie. However, at some point between their peak in The '80s and The Turn of the Millennium, tank tops have lost their appeal with action protagonists.

At least, they did for men. For women, the tank top still remains a reliable tool for both costuming and characterization. It's both practical and can show off impressive amounts of skin, the exact amount depending on exactly how much sex appeal the creators are going for. In drawn mediums such as animation or comic books, what looks like a functional and sporty tank top/sports bra in an action scene can look like a sexy camisole in a more relaxed one.

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This trope has also become common in Western horror movies, for similar reasons as the above. During The '90s, the traditional Final Girl as an avatar of conservative sexual morality became a Discredited Trope thanks to Scream and the resulting boom in self-aware "meta" horror in the latter half of the decade, but the basic concept of the female Sole Survivor didn't die. Instead, the Final Girl adapted with the times, with more focus placed on her being a credible match for whatever bad guys or monsters the film throws her way as opposed to surviving on the strength of her moral virtue. Unsurprisingly, the tank top became popular attire for female survivors in horror movies. It helps that, while a tank top can easily be made sexy, it doesn't scream "sexually active", meaning that the woman in the tank top can still be credible in the more traditional Final Girl role, even if it's not the focus.

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A Zig Zagged Sub-Trope of Gendered Outfit and Stripperific, depending on the type of tank top. Common substitutes include a sports bra, a tube top, or (in Japanese media) Sarashi. Not to be confused with Shorttank, which despite the name is about a tomboyish Deuteragonist in shonen-oriented works, though she often does wear one of these.

Sub-Trope of Sleeves Are for Wimps.

See also Amazonian Beauty, who also tends to dress this way and display the habits.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Blue Is the Warmest Color: Emma is often seen wearing tanktops, along with other slightly masculine clothing.
  • Tank Girl refers to the fact that she drives a tank, but she also wears a tank top in the comic and The Film of the Book.
  • Wonder Girl
    • The original Wonder Girl (who was either Diana Prince or Donna Troy, depending on the continuity) wore a sleeveless shirt. It was depicted as either a sleeveless t-shirt or a tank top Depending on the Artist.
    • Cassandra Sandsmark (pictured above) wore a tank top and jeans following Infinite Crisis. While Cassie is indeed a tomboy, as well as a Flying Brick, the real reason she chose to wear the outfit was in honor of her dead love, Superboy, who himself wore Civvie Spandex in the forms of jeans and a t-shirt. As shown in the picture, she also wore a tank top as an undergarment.
  • Phoebe in Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse is a scruffy, hard-drinking, chain-smoking assassin and stripper who, when offstage, always wears a white tank top.
  • X-Wing Rogue Squadron: Plourr's standard outfit is a tank top when out of uniform, while also being a consummate action girl, a boisterous bruiser, Lad-ette and tomboy. After assuming her throne, she dresses more formally, but still in a pretty masculine way.

    Fan Works 
  • Lampshaded in ALIEN!!! when Captain Kaneway says they're going to have to strip down into sweaty tanktops and hunt down the eponymous lesbian alien.
  • While the hoodie is traditionally long sleeve, in Supernannya/Pokémon AU, Jade Tanner wears a tank top jacket, with nothing other than matching garments.
  • Rhythmic Pretty Cure:
    • Tsumugi Nikaido, being the most tomboyish main character in addition to one of the tougher girls in her rhythmic gymnastics class (not to mention a karateka), wears a tank top and jean shorts with her RG clothes.
    • Another sporty girl in the same class, minor character Masako Yukihiro (a wingback for her school's association football squad), wears a tank biketard.
    • Subverted with cheerleader Chiyo Natsuki and swimmer Akiko Kitamura, both also minor characters and in the same RG class. They do wear tank clothes (an actual tank top in Chiyo's case), but they're both more feminine types.
  • Like her Canon counterpart, the Tokimeki PokéLive! and TwinBee version of Hilda wears a white tank top under a black vest as part of her Pokémon Trainer outfit.
  • Captain Kanril Eleya usually wears a Starfleet uniform, but when she gets a few days' shore leave in The Wrong Reflection so she can attend her sister's wedding, she changes into a tank top afterward. Eleya is a former Bajoran Militia NCO with a Lad-ette tendencies and advanced hand-to-hand combat training.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action (Horror) 
As noted above, a common trope in several horror films is for one of the female characters (especially the Final Girl) to wear a tank top as she fights her way to survive the film.
  • Michelle in 10 Cloverfield Lane. Once her broken leg is healed up, she turns into an Action Survivor who spends the later part of the film dressed like this.
  • In the Alien franchise, Ellen Ripley, the Action Girl model that many try to emulate, wears a tank top in several films. It's subverted in the first film, where her stripping down to a tank top and underwear during the climax is meant to show her as vulnerable, and averted entirely in Aliens where she spends the film in overalls and a T-shirt, but it's played completely straight in Alien³, where she gets a buzzcut on top of it in order to blend in with a bunch of macho male prisoners, and Alien: Resurrection, where it's paired with a sleeveless vest. Vasquez, the butch Action Girl in Aliens, also wears one when we're first introduced to her.
  • Anya in Annihilation (2018) is a muscular, tattooed Butch Lesbian and Lad-ette with the foulest mouth out of the party.
  • Beth in The Banana Splits Movie spends the second half of the film in a red tank top. Lampshaded in Dead Meat's Kill Count video on the film, with James referring to the point where Beth takes off her sweater before running off to save her son Austin from the Hostile Animatronics threatening him and the other kids as the point where she "turns into Hot Action Star Mom".
  • At the end of the mockumentary slasher parody Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, when Taylor realizes that she, not Kelly, was Leslie's intended final girl, she takes off her sweater and fights Leslie in a tank top.
  • Lieutenant Karly Brant from Big Ass Spider! wears a black tank top around the end of the movie.
  • Katy in Cockneys vs. Zombies. She's easily the most competent of the otherwise Stupid Crooks who make up the non-elder part of the cast, and has a tank top on under her jacket, which is shown when rescuing the pensioners.
  • Subverted in Dawn of the Dead (2004), where Ana starts the movie in a tank top and sweatpants... because those were her night clothes and she Slept Through the Apocalypse. She swaps them for a normal T-shirt and jeans at around the point where she goes from Action Survivor to Action Girl. Even during the climax when she's wearing a blue tank top, she throws on a denim jacket over it before jumping into the action. Nicole also wears a lot of outfits like this, but she's presented as The Load and fairly useless throughout the film.
  • Juno from The Descent spends the movie in a low-cut tank top with a red sleeveless vest over it, and while the protagonists are Action Girls to varying degrees, she is portrayed as one above and beyond most of her friends, a Hot-Blooded adrenaline junkie whose impulsiveness caused her to lead her friends to a dangerous uncharted cave rather than the safer one they thought they were going to. The Final Girl Sarah also strips down to one after discarding layers of clothing during the movie.
  • Amanda Harper in Escape Room, an Iraq War veteran who is the clear Action Girl of the film's two female characters, wears one paired with a leather jacket.
  • Lampshaded in Feast with the character credited only as "Heroine", whose character bio lists her occupation as "wear tanktops, tote shotgun, save day". When she gets killed, Tuffy, who also fits this trope, becomes Heroine #2.
  • Spoofed in The Final Girls with Paula, the tomboyish final girl of Camp Bloodbath who shows up in a tank top, leather jacket, and black Camaro... only for her to turn out to be a Faux Action Girl thanks to Max and her friends' presence in the movie, dying in a fiery car wreck without ever confronting the killer when she and Kurt try to escape. Played straight at the end when Max realizes that, as the only virgin among the surviving characters, she's now the final girl, which bestows upon her the superhuman ability to defeat the killer — and of course, she's wearing one of these underneath her flannel shirt.
  • Laurie Strode in Halloween (2018) is a great example of how the Final Girl trope evolved over the years and became associated with this. In the original film, she wore a long-sleeved button-up shirt and served as the Trope Codifier for the "classic" final girl, but in the 2018 film, she's wearing a tank top and has taken several levels in badass to the point of becoming a Crazy Survivalist.
  • Elissa in House at the End of the Street. One would be forgiven if they were to watch the trailer and think that Jennifer Lawrence had it in her contract that she not wear a shirt with sleeves.
  • In It (2017), Beverly Marsh's choice of attire highlights how she is considered One of the Boys.
  • In Mama, Annabel is a fairly normal Haunted Heroine when it comes to her role in the story, but aesthetically, it's an entirely different story. Instead of the "good girl" often associated with the character type, she's a tattooed bassist in a Punk Rock band, and her wardrobe naturally includes a lot of low-cut sleeveless shirts designed to show off Jessica Chastain's figure.
  • Special Agent Hutchinson from Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus, who spends most of the movie in a tank top.
  • Night of the Living Dead (1990) had Barbara in one during the third act. Again, much like Laurie Strode in Halloween (2018), this marks a big change from the original 1968 film, where Barbara wore a more demure sleeveless dress and was a far more passive character.
  • Anna Gonsalves, a guerrilla fighter in Predator, wears a white tank top for most of the movie. Justified since most of the film is set in the jungles of South America.
  • Angela Vidal from the [REC] franchise, who spends the first, second, and fourth movie in a white tank top. Even if she ends up wearing something else, she will strip to her white tank top later on. Also her counterpart in the film American remake; Quarantine ends up stripping to her white tank top after her shirt got covered in blood.
  • Alice from the from the Resident Evil franchise, whose main outfit in the second and sixth movies consists of a tank top. Zig-Zagged with the first movie where she wears a red sleeveless dress instead.
  • A not-uncommon fixture of female characters in the Saw movies.
  • Denise from Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, who has her Action Girl moments as she fights off against the zombies, wears a white tank top during the movie.
  • Marci Eyre from Spiders, who during the movie loses layers of her clothing and is left in just her tank top for the reminder of the film, by which point she Took a Level in Badass.
  • Alexandra from Spiders II: Breeding Ground, who ditches her black shirt for her grey tank top underneath as she fights off the spiders, frees Jason, messes up with the lab and fights off Grbac.
  • Park Ranger Alex from Tasmanian Devils wears a white tank top around the end of the movie after removing her uniform.
  • Julie Moore from Getting Schooled; she starts off the film in a black long sleeved shirt, but after surviving her encounter with Mr. Roker she strips down to her purple tank top, which she keeps wearing for the remainder of the film.
  • Erin in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) is another example of this kind of evolution. While Sally, the final girl of the original film, did wear a tank top, she was more of a hippie than a tomboy. Erin, however, is portrayed as someone who's had run-ins with the law and knows how to pick locks and hotwire cars, and her shirt is noticeably lower-cut than Sally's and tied off at the bottom.
  • Norah Price in Underwater, as played by a very butch Kristen Stewart in full "Ripley in Alien³" mode, spends most of the film in a sports bra.
  • Jessie in Wrong Turn, which came out the same year as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.
  • Abbi Whitecloud in Raptor Ranch, who spends the last act of the film in a white tank top after losing her jacket to one of the dinosaurs and she also ends being the final girl.
  • Hilary from AVH Alien Vs Hunter who initially spends the first half of the movie in a blue t-shirt, but after her blue shirt is covered in her sweats, she discards her shirt and spends the last act of the film in a black tank top.
  • Jess from Film/420 Massacre who wears a black tanktop and later strips down to a sports bra by the end of the film.
  • Lizzy Hogan from Film/Zoombies who spends most of the film in a grey tanktop.

    Films — Live-Action (Non-Horror) 

    Live-Action TV 

    Music 

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Naturally for an action-heavy spectacle built around fighting, this is extremely common among female wrestlers. Nine times out of ten, their in-ring attire is either a sports bra or a tank top.

    Video Games 
  • Rayne in BloodRayne wears one made of black and red leather. In her case, very much played for fanservice.
  • Alexandra Roivas in Eternal Darkness, who is based heavily on Buffy Summers minus her girliness.
  • Tomboyish Wrench Wench Ann from Harvest Moon and Harvest Moon: Magical Melody wears a jacket over her tank top.
  • Chloe Price in Life Is Strange, the heroine Max Caulfield's punkish, rebellious, blue-haired best friend who has frequently run afoul of the law, is usually seen in a white tank top.
  • Faith Connors in Mirror's Edge wears one that nicely shows off the tattoos on her right arm. She gets a sleeveless vest to go with it in Mirror's Edge: Catalyst. Justified in that she spends the games doing a lot of climbing.
  • Sonya Blade has worn one in pretty much every appearance in the Mortal Kombat series, in keeping with her military background. If it's not her default outfit, then it's probably one of her alternate outfits. Amounts of midriff and cleavage showing, of course, vary from game to game or movie to movie.
  • Hilda from Pokémon Black and White wears a white tank top under a black vest. Leaf from Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen sports one too, with a teal tank top over a black shirt.
  • Resident Evil is a series stuffed to the brim with Action Girls, so this trope was to be expected.
    • Subverted with Ashley Graham in Resident Evil 4, who wears a sleeveless turtleneck shirt yet is both a Girly Girl and The Load.
    • Sheva Alomar in Resident Evil 5 is dressed for the African heat in a sporty purple tank top.
    • Both of the major female characters in Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Mia Winters and Zoe Baker, are dressed like this. While Mia spends most of the game as a Damsel in Distress, once she's freed (and in a flashback) she proves more than capable of fighting monsters, while Zoe was the only person in her family who escaped infection by the Mold.
    • The respective remakes of the second and third games both update their female protagonists' outfits in this manner, in an illustration of how well-embedded this trope had become by the late 2010s. In the second, the black shirt underneath Claire Redfield's vest/jacket is switched from a short-sleeve tee to a tank top, while the third swapped out Jill Valentine's tube top and miniskirt combo from the original game for a more practical yet still flattering tank top and jeans.
  • In Saints Row IV, Kinzie Kensington starts out as a nerdy, agoraphobic hacker as in the previous game, but after completing her loyalty mission, her new superpowers in the virtual world come with a sleeveless, hooded superhero outfit to replace her FBI uniform. In Gat Out of Hell, she gets promoted to co-protagonist alongside Johnny Gat, and spends the game in a white tank top. Notably, Johnny gaining demonic powers and a Red Right Hand merely destroyed just one of the sleeves on his jacket, while it led Kinzie to ditch hers entirely.
  • Heather in Silent Hill 3, the series' lone female protagonist, wears a sleeveless outfit, pairing a puffy vest with an orange turtleneck underneath, while her unlockable bonus outfits, save for the Magical Girl outfit, all consist of variations on a tank top and jeans. The Memory of Alessa, Heather's Evil Doppelgänger, is also dressed like this as a Dark Action Girl version.
  • Princess Daisy from Super Mario Bros. is always wearing a tank top in the Mario Sports spin-off games.
  • Lara Croft of Tomb Raider, one of gaming's most iconic Action Girls, is most frequently seen in this type of outfit. Tomb Raider: Underworld heavily turned up the sex appeal, with ample cleavage and a bare midriff, while the 2013 reboot scaled it back, including ditching the booty shorts for cargo pants. Many examples on this page, when they aren't homaging Ellen Ripley, are probably homaging her.
  • Undyne from Undertale, the Hot-Blooded Royal Guard Captain, wears a black tank top when she isn't wearing her armor.

    Web Video 
  • Red vs. Blue
    • A deleted scene from season 10 depicts the Freelancer Saga's primary Action Girl, Agent Carolina as the third character from this show to be seen without their 24 Hour Armor. She's seen wearing a white tank top, walking into Club Errera the night she met fellow Freelancer, Love Interest, and curiously another one of the three Red vs Blue characters to be seen out of armor, Agent York.
    • Before the revelation that Tex was really the Beta AI in a robotic body, based on the memory of the director's deceased wife, fan art existed that depicted her out of armor, wearing a black tank top.
  • The horror parody short film Handjob Cabin has the final girl dressed like this, with the focus aimed squarely at her cleavage.

    Web Comics 
  • Tomboyish Lad-ette Zii of Ménage à 3 has a fairly varied wardrobe, but mostly tends to T-shirts — although some of them are short and sleeveless, verging on the tank top look. Still, the stage costume created for her when she gets her band up and running incorporates a fancy embellished tank top, allowing her to look glitzy without sacrificing her tomboy style.

    Western Animation 
  • Marceline in Adventure Time is a tough rock chick who loves fighting, and often wears tank tops and jeans in various colors.
  • Hayley in American Dad! is rebellious and often wears a black tank top along with jeans.
  • Marie in Ed, Edd n Eddy wears a black tank top and is by far the most tomboyish of all the girls.
  • Futurama: Leela's Limited Wardrobe is a white tank top and black pants. Leela is the strongest member of the cast, physically, and is quite the Action Girl.
  • Wendy in Gravity Falls sometimes wears a white tank top if she's not wearing her green, flannel shirt.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • Lin Beifong has one when outside of her Metalbending armor.
    • Korra herself wears a "muscle" shirt; that is, a sleeveless shirt that fully covers the shoulders. And naturally, as the Avatar and protagonist, she is a tough Action Girl.
  • Alix Kubdel in Miraculous Ladybug, a punkish skater girl who wears a dark brown tank top over a snake-patterned long-sleeve shirt.
  • C.J. (Cloudy Jay) in Regular Show sports a striped tank top along with short shorts and boots, while being a tomboy who likes playing video games and having fun.
  • Steven Universe: Amethyst wears two tank tops and is characterized as a Lad-ette.

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