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A tough (or wanna-be tough) character habitually wears a shirt without sleeves to show off his upper arms. And tattoos.
You might even say he has a Right To Bare Arms.
One classic variant is when the character has cut the sleeves off of a regular shirt, leaving visibly jagged edges. This was common in The Seventies and The Eighties. Consequently, an easy way to evoke The Eighties with costume design. Tends to go well with mullets, if you can fit your mind around a definition of "well" that allows it to appear in the same sentence as "mullets" without negations or brain implosion. Sometime before 1990, this trope made you look like a Badass. Any time after that, it makes you look like a redneck.
This is mostly an Always Male trope, since the reasons for putting a woman in a tank top are usually somewhat different, but it's far from unheard of for Action Girl characters to dress like this as well.
Anime & Manga
- Quattro in Zeta Gundam (although he doesn't look as big as most of the other examples here)
- Revy and Dutch from Black Lagoon.
- All of Zafira's clothes in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha are like this, from the black wife-beater he wore on his first meeting with Hayate to the barrier jacket that he uses now.
- In the anime version of Ranma ½, Ranma's "trademark" Chinese shirt has no sleeves and he's usually shown wearing arm bracers. In the manga, the closest equivalent shirt had short sleeves -- in fact, there was also a manga version that had long sleeves (particularly when Ranma was in female form), but the anime, most likely due to budget reasons, suffered from something of a Limited Wardrobe. Though that didn't prevent both of the aforementioned manga shirts popping up on occasion. Ryoga Hibiki also occasionally wore a tattered, sleeveless shirt, which looked as though the sleeves were ripped off, but he's somewhat better known for a long sleeved shirt
- The long sleeves version shows up in the first movie and OAVs at the very least
- Pantyhose Taro always wears a vest with a snakeskin pattern, with no shirt underneath.
- Bleach has several variants. The most straight-forward is Hisagi who wears a sleeveless version of the standard uniform top. Shinigami captains also wear a white coat over their uniforms and Gin, Byakuya and Kenpachi all wear sleeveless versions. Kenpachi's has the jagged look to emphasise his Badass nature since it supposedly belonged to the previous Captain of the 11th Division that he beat in a duel to the death to gain his position. Tousen after betraying Soul Society also wears a sleeveless long jacket. Finally Kensei of the Vizard favours a tank-top and favoured the sleeveless version of the coat back when he was Captain of the 9th Division
- Soi Fon, and all previous 2nd division captains, also wear uniforms that are both sleeveless and have a low-cut back, because the most powerful flash step techniques would destroy those parts of the uniform, destroying a conventional uniform.
- It should be noted that the sleeves on the captains' haoris usually denote how long they've been with the Soul Society -- those with no sleeves typically haven't held their position as long as those with sleeves.
- Apparently it has nothing to to with seniority, but with the divisions themselves, or perhaps personal taste. Ukitake had a long-sleeved version from the day he became a captain, and Aizen and Mayuri had them as well, even though they had only been captain for a relatively short time. The Pendulum arc shows that every former captain has used the same haori as their sucessor, with two exceptions: Tosen had sleeves but Kensei didn't (although Kensei's uniform looked very different anyway), and Yoruichi had and Soifon didn't.
- Kenshiro of Fist of the North Star wore outfits without sleeves. When he went into Hokuto Shinken asskicking mode, oftentimes the shirt would disintegrate with the power of his Battle Aura and leave him shirtless.
- Coincidentally, the only time he wore a sleeved leather jacket was the time when he got his ass kicked by Shin.
- Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple gives us Berserker, along with Kenichi's new custom-made dōgi in a "sleeves-torn-off" style, debuted in the chapter 145.
- Fate/stay night's Archer, whenever he takes his skirt-coat off. He never does this in the original game, but it's almost his default outfit in Hollow Ataraxia.
- Although not quite as all-encompassing as many of the other examples, Kaidou Kaoru from Prince of Tennis wears sleeveless shirts whenever he's not in school uniform.
- Ryoma has the cut-off variant in New Getter Robo
- Phoenix Ikki, Cygnus Hyoga, Unicorn Jabu, and Pegasus Seiya from Saint Seiya's civilian clothing include sleeveless shirts. In Hyoga's case, it looks like they were torn off.
- Well, Yuuki does seem pretty badass, and he seems to avoid sleeves whenever possible.
- Fullmetal Alchemist Edward Elric typically wears a black jacket, a long, red coat, and white gloves, but frequently invokes this trope either via Adrenaline Makeover, or to lecture someone on why human alchemy is bad. His automail arm increases this trope's intended effect exponentially.
- Heero Yuy from Gundam Wing. Yes, even in the middle of Antarctica!
- Wolverine. Several of his costumes have involved a full-body spandex suit, which leaves bare only the lower half of his face...and his arms.
- Badass bad guy version (Gender Blender Name notwithstanding): Jody from Preacher (Comic Book)
- Both used and averted by Ben Reilly from Spider-Man. His Scarlet Spider costume consisted of a red spandex suit covering his entire body - including his arms - and a blue hooded top with the arms ripped off.
- A number of Gary Frank's redesigns for the Legion of Super-Heroes lack sleeves. This has been pointed out by the fans.
- The original costume worn by The Mighty Thor invoked this trope, as did the alternate costumes he wore in the 90's while he was mortal. His current costume covers his arms with chainmail.
- Hawkeye from The Avengers and Thunderbolts, usually had sleeveless costumes, as did his alternate reality counterpart in The Ultimates.
- Namor the Sub-Mariner and Thing from Fantastic Four often only wear speedos but when they do wear costumes with shirts, their arms will be bare.
- Also from the Fantastic Four, both Susan Richards and Johnny Storm have had periods in which they wore sleeveless costumes.
- Savage Dragon often wears tank tops and has even worn trench coats and police uniforms with the sleeves ripped off. Sometimes, it is the result of Clothing Damage but sometimes, it's because he's too big for normal-sized clothes.
- She Hulk often goes sleeveless as well.
- Typecasting for Michelle Rodriguez: Virtually every role she's done has her wearing a tank top or otherwise going sleeveless.
- All of the Cobras in The Karate Kid have black sleeveless outfits. Popular imagination particularly associates it with their sensei Kreese.
- Joe Dirt
- Leonard Smalls in Raising Arizona (although without re-watching the movie, I'd be surprised if he was the only one)
- He was. Hi preferred the classic "garish Hawaiian shirt over white henley" ensemble.
- In Can't Buy Me Love, Cindy rips the sleeves off of Ronald (Patrick Dempsey)'s shirt as part of his extreme makeover as a cool kid.
- Nigel Tufnel is wearing one during the "these go to eleven" scene, among others.
- Coming this summer, Bruce Willis plays an angry man in a dirty tank top.
- It's so much his trademark that in The Fifth Element, Willis is at the opera wearing a tux which get severely damaged in the ensuing battle, resulting in a sleeveless tux!
- Gina Gershon as Corky in Bound consistently wears tank tops.
- Rambo - one of the archetypal examples of the tank top version
- In X Men First Class during the training scenes, everyone gets matching grey tracksuits. Alex's inexplicably doesn't have sleeves.
- Also, much like his comic counterpart, the film version of Wolverine often went sleeveless when he wasn't wearing his battle suit.
- Charlie Sheen's character in Major League has to be reminded that "we wear sleeves in the majors." Later, when the team does an American Express ad, he's wearing a Tux, with the sleeves ripped off.
- When his catcher takes Vaughn out to dinner, he chooses a place which requires ties. He shows up with his regular outfit...plus a tie. His first line? "I feel like a banker."
- Captain Picard busts out the guns near the end of Star Trek: First Contact. As if he wasn't enough of a Badass Grandpa already.
- Cameron Poe from Con Air is recognizable from his wifebeater and bandaged arm. Even for female cosplayers.
- The Marvel Cinematic Universe has a few examples of sleeveless badasses. Thor and Hawkeye both usually go without sleeves. There are several scenes in Iron Man, showing Tony Stark working in his lab without sleeves.
- During his training with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, Luke wore a tank top to show off his physique.
- Snake Plissken whenever he loses his Badass Longcoat.
- In Allegiance, Mara Jade's black combat jumpsuit has removable sleeves. She takes them off in this book because the freighter where she is is overwarm.
- Indeed, her signature costume is a sleeveless Spy Catsuit.
- Doroga in the Codex Alera series habitually goes around in a legionaire's jacket with the front ripped open and the sleeves ripped off. This is because it was a gift, and by Marat custom it would be a deadly insult not to wear it, but he's so buff he couldn't fit his arms in the sleeves.
- In Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn, Ham (a physically-enhanced Thug) almost always wears a vest without a shirt. At one point he's forced to wear a uniform -- shortly after he's no longer required to, he's found wearing it anyway... with the sleeves ripped off.
- Chocolate Harry, supply sergeant of Phules Company customizes his uniform by taking off the sleeves.
- Ash from Supernatural wears this all the time, and has a mullet to go along with it. Though Ash doesn't do any actual ass-kicking in the show, he gets Badassery by pure brains and Memetic Mutation; and for bonus points there's a sign on his door which says "Dr. Badass is... IN/OUT".
- B.A. on The A-Team (and Mr. T in anything else he was in as well)
- Cooter on The Dukes of Hazzard is one of the prototypes of the "good old boy" use of this look now.
- One episode of Wishbone had Joe, in an attempt to fit in with some teenage basketball players, take scissors to his T-shirts while Wishbone commented, "Okay, why don't we like sleeves anymore?"
- Cole from Power Rangers Wild Force. He even ripped a sleeve from the team uniform.
- Long before Cole was ever conceived as a character, Jason Scott from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was rarely seen with sleeves when not in Ranger form.
- Here's a female example: In the new Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, number Six always dresses appropriately for whatever she's doing. When she's being a badass she wears a tank-top.
- Scrubs gives us The Todd.
- Mac, the wanna-be tough guy in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia often wears sleeveless shirts. One of the other castmembers calls him on it.
- In later seasons of Stargate SG-1, Teal'c tended to wear these a lot. Occasionally Daniel and even Sam got in on the sleeveless action, such as the workout scene in "Orpheus."
- Mike a bully on the show Community.
- Percival from Merlin has sleeveless armour.
- When Stephen Colbert is about to rock out on the guitar, he knows that the first thing you do is rip the sleeves off your suit.
- The Walking Dead has Daryl Dixon, resident redneck/hunter/tracker/zombie killer extraordinaire. The first time we see him wearing sleeves (about half way through the second season), he ends up ripping them off by the halfway point of the episode. It seems like this is changing, though, with the adoption of a blue jean jacket (with sleeves) as the timeline of the series moves into winter.
- Way too many eighties music videos to name here feature sleeveless shirts, vests worn without shirts, and similar things. Its one of the things that defines the period, along with Eighties Hair.
- Country Music singer Kenny Chesney is known for removing his sleeves.
- Too many wrestlers to name, including Hulk Hogan. Face it, you're lucky if they wear a shirt at all, let alone sleeves.
- Larry the Cable Guy. He even named one album The Right to Bare Arms.
- Discussed by Demetri Martin. He compares the typical reaction to leather jackets (good) to leather vests (bad) and concludes that the appeal lies in leather sleeves. Apparently, he owns a pair of leather sleeves.
- CJ from Grand Theft Auto San Andreas starts out wearing a white tanktop.
- The Bad Dudes
- Left 4 Dead: Francis doesn't hate vests.
- Ryu, Dan, Sean, Akuma, and Ken, all from Street Fighter have these. Incidentally, Ken is the only one of these who actually has a sleeveless gi, rather than one with the sleeves torn off.
- Balrog has a double whammy, with a tank top over a shirt with the sleeves torn off. In one of his Victory Poses in Street Fighter II (and his win portrait in Street Fighter Alpha 3), he tears both off at once.
- And of course, Guile and his tank top.
- Also Abel, Guy, Cammy, Ibuki, Birdie, Cammy, Charlie, T. Hawk, Yun, Yang . . . tons of them, really.
- Over in SNK's territory, Ryo and Yuri Sakazaki (Robert varies between this and long sleeves) and Terry and Andy Bogard appear to have shared the same paper cutter when it comes to their fashion sense. One of them then lent it to Shen Woo.
- Oni girl Suika Ibuki from Touhou. That despite looking like a 10 year old.
- Most Final Fantasy female characters. Expect some of them to bare their midriff.
- Cloud Strife too.
- Oddly enough, in Final Fantasy XII, Ashe, Penelo and Fran all have some sort of sleeves, while the sleeveless ones are Vaan and Basch. Ashe doesn't have anything covering her shoulders, but she does wear sleeves covering the top of her arms. Many NPC wear sleeveless tops.
- Crisis Core has fun with this since the standard SOLDIER uniform has a sleeveless turtleneck as the top. Zack certainly made it work.
- Riku from Kingdom Hearts never wear sleeves. Not at 6, not at 15, not at 16. Never.
- Except once, when he had to wear the Organization coat, and even then it's a wonder he didn't cut off the sleeves to look more badass (if only because it would have jeopardized the whole 'impostor' plan).
- Lewis, lead singer in an electric punk band in Primal wears a white tank top, even when he's a demon.
- Purge in Space Channel 5 Part 2 is found to have a Sleeveless Purple Disco Suit underneath his Cloak.
- The protagonist of Cave Story wears a tank top. Humorously enough, he appears a bit on the scrawny side, but he's much stronger than he looks seeing as he's a robot.
- Torn and Sig in Jak X: Combat Racing both wear sleeveless shirts. Jak himself had his sleeves removed in the beginning of Jak 3.
- Carver in Dragon Age 2 and Hawke (if played as a mage) adhere to this in the opening act.
- Billy and Jimmy Lee from the Double Dragon beat-em-ups both wore sleeveless vests and shirts. Curiously, in the Double Dragon movie, where they wore t-shirts, they spent most of the movie screaming and running away from the bad guys.
- Being a ninja, Ninja Gaiden main character Ryu Hayabusa almost completely covers his body, but still leaves his well-toned arms on display.
- Rick exhibited this trope in the original Splatterhouse trilogy. In the 2010 game, he's instead a Walking Shirtless Scene.
- More or less justified about half-way through Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Due to Clothing Damage, the prince's full shirt eventually degrades to a sleeveless shirt, then nonexistent. It's shown that he is using the scraps of cloth as bandages, so kinda justified.
- In Sengoku Basara we have Kuroda Kanbe and his ragged, sleeveless jacket. While he may not be the most badass character in the series, but needs no excuse to showcase those arms of his.
- In Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, specifically Emerald Version, the female player character does not wear sleeves. Seeing as she has just recently gone through puberty and saved her country from being destroyed by a Yin-Yang Clash, she definitely qualifies. Her Pokémon Special counterpart also qualifies.
- The female player character of Pokemon Black and Pokemon White wears the tank-top plus vest variant, and takes down legendary and pseudo-legendary alike with little difficulty.
- Neku Sakuraba.
- Wario qualifies, showing his muscles while he gathers treasure and defeats enemies with next to no problems.
- The Fire Clan from the Golden Sun games tend to go sleeveless. It's justified by the fact that they have scales and spikes on their shoulders, which would make clothing in those areas difficult. Karst also plays up the Fan Service aspect with a pair of Opera Gloves.
- Played straight by Eoleo in Dark Dawn, to the delight of fangirls everywhere.
- When discarding his greatcoat, Adam Jensen from Deus Ex Human Revolution wears an armored vest that leaves his biomechanical arms exposed.
- Ulysses from Fallout: New Vegas manages to combine this with Badass Longcoat and Badass Bandolier when he finally shows up in Lonesome Road. After the DLC, you get your own version of his coat with a symbol based on your chosen faction.
- Strider Hiryu's ninja getup puts his nicely toned arms on display.
- Bearclaw from ~The Adventures of Dr. McNinja~.
- Equius from Homestuck wears a tank top.
- As does Dinosaur Soldier from Axe Cop. But only in that form, otherwise he's wearing a shirt or tie or essentially naked.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: "Look at you, sleeveless guy! Been working out?" Although to be fair, Sokka's arms are normal sized, even though he is quite the Badass on occasion.
- Also, Zuko goes sleeveless on occasion in the first season, when wearing his training/lounging outfit. Cue massive squees whenever this outfit appears.
- When Katara adopts a more combat appropriate version of her usual outfit, it also lacks sleeves.
- The Legend of Korra shows off Korra's well-toned arms with a sleeveless outfit. She even tries to roll up the sleeves and cape on her airbending training uniform.
- Todd on Beavis and Butthead.
- Though he doesn't act like a tough guy, Ding-A-Ling Wolf from Hokey Wolf wears a vest AND a sleeveless shirt under it.
- Matrix in Re Boot only goes sleeveless. When he his forced to do a tux for his sister's wedding, he immediately proceeds to rip the sleeves off.
- In The Simpsons episode "Loan-A-Lisa", Principal Skinner decides to start working for Nelson to earn more money. Upon remembering that Nelson likes the sleeveless look he rips off the sleeves of his shirt and jacket, but makes no other changes. Superintendent Chalmers in a case of Strange Minds Think Alike shows up with the exact same look.
- For some reason, a gray hooded sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off has become the signature wardrobe item of football coach Bill Belichick, lampshaded in an ESPN ad.
- More generally, wearing no shirtsleeves in blisteringly cold temperatures is a mark of pride amongst NFL players.
- You're rather likely to find gangsters or secret society members wearing these in Asia.
- Almost a uniform for anybody at a gym with good arms, especially if they use free weights. Seriously, check it out sometime.
- On a related note, in many high school gym classes you're likely to find a few athletes who have cut off the sleeves of all of their T-shirts to show off their bodies during the class.
- This female bodybuilder explains her preference towards tanktops over regular t-shirts during workouts - the sleeves would end up with very ugly stains in the armpit areas due to sweat. Not to meantion the heat especially in summer.
- Modern ballistic armor (like the classic kevlar "bulletproof vest") doesn't include sleeves.
- At the end of the medieval era, the invention of muskets and pistols made full plate armor (which was thin to conserve weight but angled to deflect swords and arrows but could not stop bullets) completely obsolete. Soldiers eventually eschewed such protection in favour of a single thick breastplate that could absorb the impact of the primitive musket balls but left the arms and head more vulnerable. This was an acceptable tradeoff due to primitive muskets and pistols being woefully inaccurate.
- The majority of Australian Rules Football players wear sleeeveless guernseys, although sleeved versions do exist, and some players regarded as being among the greatest ever (such as Essendon's James Hird and Hawthorn's Michael Tuck) almost always wore sleeved jumpers.