My girlfriend was wearing a tank top yesterday and I made a comment about how I usually didn’t see her wear wife beaters. Then I thought about it — it was kind of messed up how people usually refer to the white tank top as a wife beater. Of course, I’ve largely tried to not use the term anymore, especially in this day and age, but I still say it on occasion because that’s what I knew the shirt as, growing up. But then I got curious — why is it called a wife beater?
Well, it’s no secret that the term is associated with domestic violence. For a long time, the white undershirt has been associated with men’s fashion. The story behind why it’s so associated with spousal abuse can’t be told without completely telling the story of the white undershirt.
According to C. Brian Smith at MEL Magazine, The “wife beater” originated from a clothing company in downtown Chicago named Cooper’s Inc., a wool sock company. The company was founded by a businessman named Samuel T. Cooper, and was famous for introducing people to briefs in general. Before briefs, men usually wore long underwear like long johns or union suits. Briefs were called “jockeys,” since the only other form of underwear that performed similar support was jockstraps.