SHEFFIELD — Fruit of the Loom refers to it as an “A-shirt.”
Hanes, Calvin Klein and other clothing manufacturers simply refer to it as a “tank top.”
But, this sleeveless undershirt with the narrow bands over the shoulders also goes by other names, too. “Wife beater” is one. Another term uses a word that is derogatory toward Italians.
Some 11th grade Mount Everett High School boys say that when they donned matching white tank tops for their yearbook photos this school year, they only were looking to display, in a silly, informal way, their camaraderie and that they meant no offense. But, when school officials saw the photos, they exercised their prerogative to determine that the photos “will not be usable.”
In an email sent to students and parents Nov. 12, the school said the decision was based on the “unfortunate connotations that the white tank tops have.” The school also emphasized that it did not believe that the boys had any ill intentions. That email and follow-up emails were shared with The Eagle by a parent.
The decision has left at least one student and two parents openly questioning whether the school has overanalyzed the significance of a common piece of clothing.
“I don’t feel, like, outraged or anything,” said Amy Cohen, one of the mothers. “I think it’s sort of like a funny sign of the times, right? Like, there’s much ado about nothing. … Everything can be construed as offensive these days. The political climate is such that you have to be super sensitive about everything. And maybe that’s good in some ways, but maybe it’s almost just too much.”
In this case, she said, it’s too much.
Principal Jesse Carpenter did not respond to requests from The Eagle for comment.
Charles Vion, one of the boys who wore a tank top, explained that a friend brought the matching shirts to school on picture day as “a group thing … a joke that we’d have to look back on when we’re out of school.”
“The photographer seemed to like it, so, we all get a picture taken,” he said. “And now a month or two later, she emails us saying that she can’t use the pictures because of the negative connotation. I think it’d be fine if they told us when we were getting our pictures taken what is OK and what’s not OK.”
Eight boys wore the tank top for their individual portraits. The boys also posed for a group photo while wearing the tank tops.
Some boys also had their portraits taken with a regular shirt. For those who didn’t, the school offered the option to have their photos retaken. One suggestion that the school offered to all the boys was to have a scarf digitally edited onto the original photos, presumably as a way to partially block the white tank top while also maintaining a uniform look.
Charles’ mother, Jen Brown, said some of the boys have indicated they will have their photos retaken. She said others might choose the scarf. Her son, Charles, hasn’t decided yet.
Brown said she was troubled by an email exchange she had with a school official who, in an effort to explain the negative connotations, used the term for the tank top that is derogatory to Italians.
“I had never heard that phrase,” said Brown, who noted that the boy who came up with the tank top idea is of Italian ancestry.
The Eagle obtained a copy of a group photo of the eight friends. The boys are of different races.
“This is not a bunch of, like, rich white kids poking fun at people in a poor socioeconomic situation,” she said. “That’s not it at all.”