Wife beater, also wifebeater, and sometimes abbreviated as simply beater, is a slang term used in North America, Scotland, Australia, New Zealand and various other places to refer to an A-shirt, tank top, singlet, or 'muscle shirt' when worn as a sole, outer layer as opposed to being worn as an undershirt. This term is often seen as demeaning and is often associated with the similarly derogatory phrase "white trash".
"Guinea T" and "Dago T" are other terms for the same style of shirt; and arguably just as offensive, "guinea" and "dago" both being ethnic slurs against Italian Americans, among whom this style of shirt is stereotypically popular.
The origin of the term is from the stereotype that the shirts are worn predominantly by men who beat their wives; black tank tops were often worn by Ike Turner, a notorious abuser of his wife Tina. In the 1980 movie Raging Bull, the main character, a boxer, is commonly seen wearing tank tops around the house, including in one scene where he beats his wife. Another likely source for the association is the movie A Streetcar Named Desire, in which Marlon Brando's character, Stanley Kowalski, also frequently wearing tank tops, violently beats his wife (see below). The wifebeater is also seen in New Zealand movie Once Were Warriors, where Jake the Muss, a stereotypical Māori tough man is nearly always seen wearing his black wifebeater. This movie is well known for the scene where Jake violently beats his wife after a heavy drinking session with his mates.Some film roles have avoided the stereotypical image portrayed by wifebeaters such as Wolverine in the popular comic-book film series X-Men. Wolverine is a rough and ready character, but is loyal and protective to his friends. Whilst the debate can be argued as to whether Wolverine wears the shirt as underwear or just an extra item of clothing, the wifebeater is evident in several scenes.
Wifebeaters are also popular in the street gang culture of the United States. From there the wearing of wifebeaters spread to hip hop culture; wifebeaters are often worn by hip hop artists in public, on stage, or in the media.
Use of the term wifebeater to describe an article of clothing (as opposed to its literal use) is relatively new, perhaps originating as early as the 1970s. Some people find the term extremely offensive, as serving to legitimize spousal abuse; while others consider it harmless or even humorous. The term has been denounced by the National Organization for Women, who say it trivializes domestic violence. "The implication is that wife beating is not viewed as sufficiently serious to lift it above the level of something that's OK to joke about," says Kim Gandy, president of NOW.
In England, the term is used as slang for the Belgian beer Stella Artois. Although this is also used in Scotland by some, its main usage remains as a vest type sleeve-less shirt. In British culture, Stella Artois is associated with a drinking culture in which domestic abuse may follow a bout of drinking at the local pub.
A shirt of this type worn by women and often more fitted than the male version is sometimes referred to as a "boy beater."