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Tank Top vs Muscle Shirt

Because I'm afraid of being classified as scrubby or douchey, I've always been wary of men's tank tops. However, at the end of the day, a decision must be made. Let's explore what this article has to offer and learn from it.

Collage photo of two man in tank top and muscle shirt.

Some questions in life are a bit difficult to answer. For instance, what came first, the chicken or the egg? And, of course, an even more difficult question: tank tops or muscle shirts? This is a tricky question. I have always been a bit skeptical about men’s tank tops due to the fear of being labeled scrubby or douchey. 

However, this is when I was a bit on the scrawny side. Now that I have the muscles to pull them off, I’m afraid of being deemed a beefy meathead. It seems you can’t just win with these things. However, a choice has to be made at the end of the day. 

What is a Tank Top?

Musuclar man wearing blank tank top in an open room.

Tank tops are sleeveless shirts that are either manufactured without sleeves or whose sleeves have been cut off. There are several ways to wear tank tops. Most people just rock them as casual wear. The majority of men consider tank tops basic wardrobe-essentials. It’s that one piece of clothing that you own because you consider them a wardrobe staple. 

However, one thing we have to mention is that tank tops are a poor choice for an undershirt. Therefore, you should avoid wearing them as an undershirt.

Related: 6 Different Types of Tank Tops for Men

What is a Muscle Shirt?

Handsome man wearing shades and muscle shirt.

As their name implies, muscle shirts probably got their start in the gym, where their lack of sleeves provides for flexible body movement. Basically, a muscle shirt is just a shirt without arms. Not a lot of people think of these shirts as fashion items, but rather something you put on at the gym or washing your car at home. 

On their own, these shirts lack bling, which makes them a less favorable fashion choice. However, if you have a muscle shirt made from special materials that can absorb moisture and wick it away from your body, you can use them as an undershirt option, unlike tank tops.

How are they Different?

There are several differences between men’s tank tops and muscle shirts. The main difference is the design. However, you can also find other differences when it comes to their uses, materials, and durability. 


Tank tops and muscle shirts are made using several types of materials. Since muscle shirts are basically t-shirts without sleeves, you can expect to find them in the same materials as t-shirts. However, tank tops come in specific materials with known benefits.

Tank Tops


Men’s tank tops are made using different types of materials. Some are made using cotton. Most people favor cotton because it’s natural and sturdy. Cotton also breathes well, and you won’t have to worry about it agitating your skin. You will also find that cotton is a very warm material, which enables you to keep a little heat close to the body.

However, cotton tank tops might be a problem if you are thinking of working out. Cotton acts like a sponge that soaks up and traps sweat. Even when you are done working out, the tank will need some time to dry.

Tank tops are also made using X-Static. This is a modern fabric that combines elemental silver and synthetic materials at a chemical level. X-Static is perfect for your workout tanks. One of the most significant advantages of this material is its built-in antimicrobial measure.

Since the material contains silver, you can be guaranteed that the heavy metal will make it impossible for bacteria to feed on your sweat and dead skin. Silver also helps to regulate heat due to its conductivity.

Another common material for tank tops is Polyester. This material is known as the workhorse of athletic wear. It’s strong, breathable, water-resistant, and stain-resistant. However, you may experience some problems because of the water-resistant nature of this material. It can become a bit sticky when wet.

Furthermore, bacteria love this material. The shortcomings of this material can be countered by blending it with cotton. If you are looking for tank tops that are light and breathable, you may want to check out the ones made from bamboo. This material is also popular for its moisture-wicking properties.

It can pull moisture from the skin, meaning sweat will dry up super fast. This is perfect for when you want to do some intense, sweaty workouts. Other materials can quickly turn you into a human swamp.

Muscle Shirts

Front and back view of gray muscle shirt streetwear fashion.

Muscle shirts are a perfect option for undershirts. You can also wear them in the gym, depending on what type of material is used to make them. These shirts come in the same materials that are used to make t-shirts. This means there are hundreds of material options. Your material choice will just depend on what you want to do with the muscle shirt. 

If you are planning to use a muscle shirt as an undershirt, the perfect material would be 100% super soft sueded cotton. This is the perfect material if you are obsessed with quality. This heavy-weight material achieves unparalleled softness and comfort.

On the other hand, if you are planning to use your muscle shirt for working out, you need to look for a material that is breathable, moisture-wicking and, durable, non-agitating.

Design Features

Muscle Shirts

The main aim of the muscle shirt is to show off the male physique. However, these shirts can also be used as undershirts. Therefore, the design depends on the shirt’s purpose. Design-wise, muscle shirts are just t-shirts without sleeves. Some designs are perfect when you are just wearing them with nothing else.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a muscle shirt to use as an undershirt, you need to find one that is long enough to be tucked into your pants. If you are looking for a muscle shirt that you can wear as a stand-alone, you may want to find one that comes down only to the waistline. 

Another thing you need to think about when it comes to muscle shirt design is the area of the armholes. This is one of the crucial areas if you want a shirt that fits correctly. You must choose a shirt with low-cut arm reliefs instead of the higher-cut versions.

Apart from the arm area, you should also consider the neck area. The majority of people prefer V-neck-style muscle shirts. Ideally, you should get the lowest neckline possible if you want comfort.

Tank Tops

A man in the grey tank top shirt looking at the camera hands on pocket.

Tank top design is a bit controversial. You will find that in some areas, any sleeveless top ends up being called a tank top. As a result, you can get different types of tank tops. The most common include muscle tank tops, halter tank tops, backless, sheer tank tops, and racerback tank tops. This means you are likely to find more designs for tank tops than muscle shirts. 


When it comes to durability, it can be a bit difficult to try and compare tank tops and muscle shirts. This is because there are several designs for each. Apart from that, you can find tank tops and muscle shirts that are made using the same exact materials. Therefore, durability mainly depends on the type of material used.

For example, a tank top made using 100% cotton will just be as durable as a muscle shirt made using 100% cotton. However, some tank top designs are significantly more durable than muscle shirts. For example, if you find a tank top that has reinforced arm and neck holes, it will likely be more durable than muscle shirts.

Cost Differences

A handsome man sitting in the sand.

Tank tops are generally more expensive than muscle shirts. This is because muscle shirts are more common. You will find that more people wear muscle shirts than tank tops. Therefore, the price difference is probably to do with economies of scale.

The more of an item is made in manufacturing, the cheaper it becomes. Men’s tank tops range from $100 to $200, while muscle shirts start from as low as $7.

Benefits of Tank Tops vs. Muscle Shirts

One of the most significant benefits of tank tops is that they help you better manage sweating and body temperature. They are also perfect if you are working out since your body can work out longer if it is cool. Tank tops also help in workouts that require significant body movement.

It’s crucial to go for a tank top that is made with soft, sweat-wicking fabric. That way, you won’t end up feeling the sweat on your body. Tank tops and muscle shirts have almost the same exact benefits. Since they are both sleeveless, you can also use muscle shirts to work out, provided they are made with the right material.

Brief History of Tank Tops and Muscle Shirts

A portrait of a healthy bearded man.

Tank tops have a rather interesting history. They get their name from the 1920′s one-piece bathing suit trend. Back then, women were required to dress more conservatively when entering the ‘swimming tank.’ This is how the phrase tank suit was coined, which later led to tank tops.

On the other hand, muscle shirts became popular in the 1980s. These shirts were usually associated with bodybuilders and surfers, which led to them being named muscle shirts. 


If you are looking for something more versatile, the muscle shirt is probably a good choice. Selecting an undershirt style can be a bit tricky. However, the main focus should be on comfort and image.

One of the downsides of tank tops is that they can not be used as undershirts. Unless you want to end up with a lot of clothing items, you can easily use your muscle shirt for working out and as an undershirt as well.