It goes back to when I was twenty, jogging along a less traveled road in a Dallas suburb on a Saturday afternoon. I’d just bought a teal Calvin Klein tank top as part of my new running gear. It was a daring purchase. At the time, I was completely devoid of biceps. The only noticeable bump between shoulder and wrist was a dry, boney elbow. But I was pie-eyed optimistic. My arms would grow into it, I told myself.
Five minutes into the run, a car passed, windows down. I don’t recall the exact message the passengers yelled but, without a doubt, they were mocking me.
It could have been for a number of reasons—my awkward stride, my acne-riddled face, my chicken legs—but I surmised it was a tank top taunt. Confirmation that I had no business wearing the shirt. I cut short my jog and retreated for home. The tank top remained at the bottom of a drawer until I readied for my next move when I dropped it off at a clothing donation bin. Let a homeless guy rock it in his Calvins.
That incident has led to bicep envy. Over the years, I’ve watched men successfully carry off the tank top look, doing fewer reps with lighter weights. While I’ve made gains, I still have reluctant biceps.
My recent month long stay in West Hollywood immersed me in an all tank top gym. It was the unwritten dress code. On each visit, I was one of the half dozen sad-sacks that donned a regular t-shirt, mine hanging over my body like a poncho. I told myself I was being non-conformist, a muscle tease, a rebel. Not that anyone noticed. Not with all those bulging biceps.
My first weekend workout spawned culture/clothing shock. At my small town gym, no guy would ever lift weights in a lilac or peach tank top, but I spotted both. I’ll admit to spending the rest of the month on the lookout for a lilac tank in clothing stores. If I ever dared trying the tank again, why not do it in a festive color and wash it repeatedly with Febreze-scented Tide? Why not sniff the shoulder strap for a refreshing whiff to fend off the stench of man sweat?
|This is a modest version|
of what the guys wore.
Aside from the range of color, the design of the tanks caught my eye. These were not standard tanks. These were thong tanks, a dire scarcity of fabric. The straps dipped low, fully revealing men’s pecs. I don’t think a man’s nipples should be exposed in a shirt any more than a woman’s should. If you’ve got the body and you must flaunt it, just rip your shirt off and sun yourself as soon as you exit the gym. Go ahead, cause a traffic accident. Isn’t that the ultimate ego boost?
The sides were also fabric free, coming together only at the waistline. Between front and side profiles, nothing was left to the imagination. Call it the peek-a-boo shirtless look.
Admittedly, most of the men had bodies worth showing off, but it seemed too much. The twenty-somethings could get away with it, but it smelled of desperation for guys in their thirties, forties and fifties. Why didn’t someone put an expiration date on the thong tank label? Along with WARNING: Entire shirt may get lost in dryer lint basket, add Best before 30.
It reminds me of female pop stars. In their twenties, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Miley Cyrus try to push the envelope, exposing as much flesh as possible, making censors earn their pay. But when Madonna continues to flash audiences in her fifties, it seems a little tired, doesn’t it? She needn’t be wearing turtlenecks, but age is supposed to bring a modicum of restraint.
Just because you can wear a thong tank doesn’t mean you should. Still, these men were better attired than the frizzy haired man in the camouflage FLOSS OR DIE t-shirt. And I probably looked more ridiculous in my poncho tee, but as the car hecklers of yesteryear made clear, I am not the workout fashion god. I’d just like to think an athletic forty-five-year-old man would look so much sexier in a form fitting t-shirt that catches one’s eye without giving it all away.
What do you think? Am I too conservative/modest to be gay? Am I still scarred from an ancient tank top misfire? Has rural life nuked my appreciation of a little exhibitionism? I cling to the hope I still have some fashion sense.