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Tank Top vs Racerback

While tank tops and racerbacks share a few basic features, there are still differences where each has positives and negatives. Check out our detailed comparison between these two and see which one will suit you best.

Two women wearing racerback tank tops.

I have a confession to make. I love tank tops. In the winter, I layer them under long sleeve shirts, secretly longing to show them off. When the temperatures heat up, I know it’s time to truly indulge in tank tops. 

They are great for so many situations. They are flattering, and above all, comfortable. I have fancy tank tops for effortless grace, and sporty tank tops for fun in the sun. I even have a few tank top dresses that I essentially live in during the summer. 

There’s some debate when it comes to tank tops vs. racerbacks. Technically, a racerback is a type of tank top, which makes any comparison interesting. How does it compare to other tank tops? Which one should you be wearing right now?

What are Tank Tops?

Woman wearing white tank top and jeans.

There are at least 10 different types of tank tops, with some sources listing as many as 16. However, all tank tops will share a few basic features. 

A tank top is a shirt without sleeves. However, not all sleeveless shirts are tank tops. A tank top will have straps for sleeves, and a low neck line. This is what sets it apart from  a sleeveless shirt. 

Most tank tops have larger neck and arm holes than other types of shirts. Muscle shirts typically have very large arm holes. These are generally worn by men, since it provides a side view of the chest.

However, some bold females pull off the look as well. 

History of the Tank Top

Black and white photo of woman lying on the beach.

Tank tops originated in the early 1900s during women’s swim competitions. Bathing suits were designed for modesty. The arms were covered, and extra layers of fabric prevented the suit from being body hugging. 

Men were already wearing sleeveless suits, but the controversy generated by the women’s attire brought attention to the trend. Swimming pools were often referred to as tanks, so the tank top was born. 

Men also began to wear what we know now as tank tops during the summer. Working-class men couldn’t afford to ruin their good shirts with sweat stains, so they would wear a tank top underneath their shirt. 

Soon, men were sporting these under shirts without an over shirt. This was seen as a low or working class style, and movies in the 30s and 40s often portrayed villains wearing tank tops. 

In the 1970s, tank tops began to rise to the popularity they enjoy today. Men and women began wearing them as everyday pieces of clothing.  

What is a Racerback? 

Woman wearing black racerback.

A racerback tank top has a t shaped strap. The two tank top straps meet in the back, at the shoulders, becoming one piece rather than two. The racerback style is also used for swim suits and some bras. 

Just like the tank top, there are different styles of racerback. Some are designed for freedom of movement, and are great for working out. Others are a fashion statement, providing an attractive silhouette. 

Some bare the back as well as the shoulders. This type has the t fabric covering the center of the back, leaving the sides of the back exposed. This can add a bit more sexiness to the standard tank top. 

Tank Top vs Racerback 

Two women with bikes wearing white tank tops.

At first glance, there’s not a lot of difference between a tank top and a racerback. After all, they are both sleeveless garments worn in the summer months by both men and women. 

However, if you look closely, you’ll see that they each have their positives and negatives. 

Which is More Flattering? 

Woman wearing black tank top.

We’ll start our comparison by looking at which is more flattering. Does a standard tank top look better, or should you choose a racerback for aesthetic reasons? 

The truth is, it depends on your body type and the style of tank. If you have a slim athletic body, you can’t go wrong with a racerback tank. 

It will show off the arms and shoulders, and the form fitting style will flatter your slim figure. 

If you are full figured, a racerback can still work. However, avoid the form fitting style. Instead, choose a looser fit. These are often popular workout attire, but they can also be worn casually. 

A flowing racerback adds interest and allows you to stand out, while hiding belly fat. If you have beautiful shoulder blades and a nice back but a bit of a pudge, this is the perfect way to wear a tank. 

A standard tank top works well for several body types. Just like the racerback, you’ll want to choose a form fitting style if you have a slim figure. 

If you are full figured, choose a flowing style. 

A standard tank top does have an advantage for women who want to highlight their bustline. Choosing a tank with a low neckline will draw the eye to your bust, allowing you to maximize your assets. 

Which is Better as an Undershirt? 

Woman wearing black tank top and leather jacket.

The standard tank has a long history of being worn underneath other items of clothing. It can be worn under a blouse, jacket, or t-shirt. A racerback can also be worn underneath another item of clothing, but it’s not as common. 

Generally, a standard tank top is the best choice for an undergarment. They are available in more styles and designs, making it easy to find the perfect undershirt for your needs. 

There’s no rule saying that you can’t wear a racerback underneath another garment, but you may have a harder time finding one that works for this purpose. 

Which is Better for Being Active? 

Back profile of a woman jogging in the park.

The racerback wins this category hands down. As much as I love my tanks, I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time adjusting the straps and hoping they don’t fall down. 

A tank top is fine for going out to dinner or lounging at the beach. However, if you want to play a round of volleyball in the sand, a racerback is a better choice. 

It’s designed to allow your arms to move freely, and the straps will not fall down at the worst possible moment. 

Racerbacks also take the win when it comes to working out. The design won’t get in your way when you are working out, and allows for easier movement than a standard tank. 

Which is Classier? 

Woman wearing tank top blouse.

Both types of tank top can be very casual or classy. Most tank tops are made from cotton, which is a casual material. However, they can also be found in other materials, including silk. 

Racerbacks are typically made from cotton, or a blend of cotton and spandex. However, you can find a classy racerback in silk or satin. 

When it comes to refined style, it’s the cut and material of the tank that matters, instead of whether it’s a standard tank or a racerback. 

Which Type of Tank Top is the Best? 

Woman wearing gray tank top.

Both tank tops and racerbacks have their place in your wardrobe. Personally, I prefer a standard tank top for everyday casual wear. When I plan to be active, I love my racerback tanks. 

If you want to show a generous bustline, a standard tank top is the best choice. If you prefer a bit more modesty while still feeling sexy, a racerback is the way to go.