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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.
  • In the Alien franchise, Ellen Ripley, the Action Girl model that many try to emulate, wears a tank top in several films. Vasquez, the butch Action Girl in the second film, 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.
  • Juno from The Descent mainly wears a sleeveless outfit during most of the movie. 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 movie consist of a tank top. Zig-Zagged with the first movie where she wears a red sleeveless dress instead.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Jessie in Wrong Turn, which came out the same year as the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake.

    Films — Live-Action (Non-Horror) 

    Live-Action TV 
  • While Buffy Summers, the titular Vampire Hunter protagonist of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was an Action Girl who wore quite a few sleeveless shirts, she was otherwise a subversion, portrayed as a Valley Girl rather than a tomboy. Her fellow Slayer Faith Lehane, on the other hand, fit this trope perfectly. She was usually seen in a tank top (sometimes paired with a leather jacket), she was from South Boston, and her Hard-Drinking Party Girl demeanor was framed as the antithesis of Buffy.
  • Whenever she isn't wearing her usual straight jacket, Sam Puckett from iCarly and Sam & Cat is typically seen wearing either tank tops or sleeveless shirts, usually in black and somewhat filthy. It fits in her role of The Lad-ette.
  • The Lad-ette Dee Reynolds on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is often seen wearing those.
  • Jessica Jones (2015): The eponymous protagonist is a hard-drinking bruiser, and when Jessica is not wearing her everyday black jacket, she's often wearing Tank Tops.
  • On Lost, tank tops were popular attire for all of the female characters, not surprising given that they were stranded on a tropical island, though some of them fit this archetype better than the others. The fugitive Action Girl Kate, the Crazy Survivalist Danielle, the LAPD officer Ana (played by the aforementioned Michelle Rodriguez), and the bounty hunter Ilana all serve as prime examples. Nikki, the ineffectual con artist, is a subversion; while she looks the part, she's little more than a Manipulative Bitch who suffers Death by Materialism.
  • MythBusters: Kari Byron is not very tomboyish, but often wore a tank top on the show, and she's definitely a Wrench Wench, with great engineering prowess and a passion for geeky science.
  • Sydney Fox from Relic Hunter, would often wear tank tops during her adventures.
  • This is how Happy Quinn from Scorpion usually dresses. She's versed in mechanics, her clothing is utilitarian, and she's very forthright and outspoken.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. B'Elanna Torres strips down to give the audience some tank-top fanservice whenever she gets hot and sweaty fighting or fixing something. Captain Janeway has been known to do the same.
  • Unforgettable: Cowboy Cop Carrie Wells almost invariably turns up at crime scenes in a tank top and slacks, weather permitting. By contrast, the female detectives in the supporting cast (Nina in season one, Murray post-retool) wear pantsuits.

    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 

    Web Video 
  • A deleted scene from season 10 of Red vs. Blue 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.

    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 

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