The tank top gets a contemporary upgrade

Retro-style tank tops look top-notch whether paired with sharp tailoring or cool casualwear, says Tom Stubbs

Brooks Brothers cashmere jumper vest, £460
Brooks Brothers cashmere jumper vest, £460

While writing not long ago about Bottega Veneta’s tuxedo styles, I came across an ensemble comprising a wool-silk twill evening jacket (£2,185), an oversized velvet bow tie (£115) and a bronze wool/Lurex V-neck tank top (£605) – or vest, as fashion people and Americans tend to call them – in lieu of a waistcoat (or, confusingly, vest, as British tailors refer to them). So are tank tops, particularly the button-up versions (often known as gilets), the new waistcoats? Three-piece suits can feel a little overdone these days; the benefit of a vest is that one still feels “dressed” once a jacket is removed (especially as many men now go tie-less). And within the confines of tailored smart-casual menswear, even subtle texture and colour go a long way towards changing the look of an outfit. 

From left: Joseph lambswool Fair Isle sleeveless jumper, £195. Corneliani virgin-wool vest, £183. APC wool-mix Sitka jumper, £190
From left: Joseph lambswool Fair Isle sleeveless jumper, £195. Corneliani virgin-wool vest, £183. APC wool-mix Sitka jumper, £190 | Image: George Ong

Corneliani’s virgin-wool V-neck vest (£183) in burgundy would slip inside a dark suit without a murmur. And although the button-up models (£306) in grey/black and brown/navy have contrasting plackets, they would still work under a soft jacket.  

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Brooks Brothers’ revamped Golden Fleece premium range uses fine-gauge merino wool for a button-up gilet (£270) in tan or azure blue, and cashmere for a full-on knitted jumper vest (£460) in rich, mottled denim blue or grey, complete with shawl collar and pocket – just like a tailored waistcoat. 

From left: Margaret Howell merino-cashmere Guernsey slipover, £325. Etro wool sweater vest, £305
From left: Margaret Howell merino-cashmere Guernsey slipover, £325. Etro wool sweater vest, £305 | Image: George Ong

While these vests/tanks are great de-formalising devices for tailored looks, they’re also excellent worn casually, particularly when textured such as Etro’s design (£305) with faded, distressed placket and seams, and Caruso’s mottled Gobigold tank (£510), made of Mongolian camel wool in a rich, rusty amber hue, and a cocoa-coloured version (£380) with a deep chocolate trim. All would look great over a simple white T-shirt. 

From left: Pringle merino-lambswool patchwork Argyle vest, £325. APC wool-mix Sitka jumper, £190. Bottega Veneta wool Lurex vest, £605. Dior Homme wool-mix sleeveless jumper, £400
From left: Pringle merino-lambswool patchwork Argyle vest, £325. APC wool-mix Sitka jumper, £190. Bottega Veneta wool Lurex vest, £605. Dior Homme wool-mix sleeveless jumper, £400 | Image: George Ong

But the charcoal-grey tank might be the most understated and sophisticated of the lot – it’s an excellent foil to a white T-shirt and blue denim. APC has a charcoal cashmere/wool tank (£250) that’s smashing with a pale-blue shirt and jeans; but it’s the Sitka design (£190) with its crafty contrast stitching and ribbed, plunging V-neck that channels classic tank chic. 

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Then there’s one of my favourite knitwear makers, Inis Meáin, whose alpaca/silk vest (€215) in a medley of tawny colours, with rich russet showing through in the collar ribbing, is “just that little bit extra-soft”, in the words of managing director Tarlach De Blacam. These woody colours suit the look of a tank: the dark-olive option from Margaret Howell (£325) is also a great choice with a looser fit, round neck and fisherman-style herringbone rib pattern. Equally good-looking, in muted olive and grey cashmere, are the ribbed versions (£295) at Joseph that have clever weave detailing, while its Shetland knit wool-mix tank (£165) has a lovely Donegal-like texture.

There are also some cracking patterned tanks, and this season the pattern to watch is intarsia where different colours appear woven one into another, to create intricate designs. Examples can be found in Pringle’s merino-wool tanks (£325), where sections of mismatched diagonal stripes in grey/white and white/navy produce a shard-like, graphic effect. Also at Pringle is an Argyle pattern merino-lambswool tank, in a white and grey mélange (£350), or darker anthracite/grey/black (£325). 

Gucci has also gone big on intarsia-patterned tanks, including a charcoal-grey intarsia-wool vest (£290) with a repeated bee design. Another pattern trend is 1970s-inspired Fair Isle tanks. Joseph’s versions (£195), which are festooned with folky patterns on a cream or mustard background, evoke the Northern Soul style of the late 1960s when they would have been worn tight and paired with voluminous trousers. Dior’s slimline vest (£400) has a similar Soul look with black and red stripes.

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