What Are Wife Beater Shirts?

Lauren Romano

Wife beater shirts are unisex cotton tank tops that are worn as outerwear or under clothes. They're thin, sleeveless and ribbed and often sold in packs of multiples. Due to its name, some have taken offense and have stated there is nothing appropriate about the term. Once assumed to be worn by those who were considered lower class, the shirts have exploded in popularity and are worn by many stylish fashionistas.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

Due to wife beater shirts being white, form-fitting and plain, they go well with a variety of clothing types, including casual skirts and even dress pants. They come in a variety of lengths; while many end at waist level, others may be longer. Depending on the type of clothing and accessories paired with the shirt, the outfit can look fashionable whether it's worn with a skirt or a pair of comfortable lounge pants.

Wife beater shirts may be popular, but, for obvious reasons, that doesn't mean the name is. There have been many guesses about where the name originated, but it's often thought that it comes from images in movies of wife-beating or otherwise violent men who are shown wearing the particular style of shirt. Some used to consider those who wore wife beater shirts to be “low class” — obviously a stereotype and not always the case.

Once worn mostly by men as undershirts, they started to be worn openly without being under another shirt. Women also began to wear them. They are inexpensive, often sold in multiples and typically in packages of three or six. Due to the sleeveless style, some refer to wife beater shirts as muscle shirts. To coincide with this name, those who have well-defined and muscular arms may prefer to wear these shirts so the arms can stand out more.

Wife beater shirts are a good option to have in a wardrobe considering how versatile they are. One of the best items to wear with them, whether male or female, is a pair of neat, stylish jeans. They may be inexpensive, but they can go a long way when trying to put a fashionable outfit together.

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Discussion Comments


I've been wearing those kinds of t-shirts for years, but I try not to describe them as "wife beaters" myself. I just call them sleeveless t-shirts. I like them because I don't feel restricted around the armpits like I do with traditional t-shirts. If I'm wearing a short sleeved button-down shirt, I don't want the sleeves of my t-shirt showing, either.


I really wish they would find a better name than "wife beater t shirts", especially when domestic violence has become such a hot button issue in society. Personally, I don't wear any sort of t-shirt as an undergarment, and I sure wouldn't buy anything described as wife beater clothing if I did.

I've seen those movies where the tough guys are usually wearing sleeveless t-shirts at home. To me, it's not a good look in general, unless you're planning on covering it up with a decent shirt. If I'm lounging around my house, I prefer to wear traditional sleeved t-shirts with graphics on them.

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