In Defence of the Tube Top
In this essay, I will—
You might call it basic, and you wouldn’t be the first. With its no-frills design and admittedly silly name, the humble tube top has been bad-mouthed for years. But I, for one, have had just about enough. To some, it’s just a stretchy piece of fabric. But to me, it’s a versatile summer staple. And it’s time for the tube top to get the respect it deserves! After all, the strapless shirt has had impressive staying power, especially considering it was invented by mistake.
Though it’s often associated with Y2K, the tube top was actually born in 1971. And like the best things in life (champagne; chocolate chip cookies), it was a happy accident. As the story goes, a manufacturing error resulted in a heap of sleeveless fabric bands, some of which made their way to a New York trading store. There, fashion designer Elie Tahari saw their potential, so he bought the stock and resold them at a profit. And so the tube top became a staple of ‘70s disco style.
During its rise to fame, the garment even found itself in feminist circles. Because the body-hugging tube top has a “naked” appearance, Tahari deemed it to be an emblem of the “modern hippie girl.” But this led the shirt to be unfairly characterized as being poor quality. In turn, Tahari distanced himself from his creation out of concern that it was too “cheap-looking” for his new wealthy clientele, and the shirt’s reputation never really recovered. But I will not stand for this character assassination. Just because a lot of people like something, doesn’t mean it’s no longer worthy. I mean, what other top can double as a skirt and a headband? Kidding. (Sort of.)
Through the ‘90s and early aughts, the midriff-baring piece was once again a fashion staple. It was seen on runways and was worn by decade-defining icons like Destiny’s Child, Britney Spears and Carrie Bradshaw. And as the modern Y2K revival ushers skin-baring styles back to the runway, the tube top has been spotted in recent designer collections, from Blumarine to Balenciaga. But to some of us, it’s never gone out of style.
Sure, the strapless garment has had its share of image problems. As a tight-fighting top that accentuates the breasts and torso, it’s often sexualized. (I mean, the British term for the piece is “boob tube.”) And its design suggests that it defies gravity (it does not).
Photos from past decades see it mostly being worn by thin women, perpetuating the notion that such revealing clothes are not meant for bigger sizes. But to that I say, blame the toxic diet culture of the early 2000s, not the top itself. Today, there’s a growing push to see Y2K styles on diverse body types, and tube tops are no different.
Love it or hate it, the shirt has transcended generations. As for me, I firmly believe you can never go wrong with a tube top. So I will always be here to defend it.