Our civilization has been wearing some form of clothes for 170,000 years. It wasn’t until the year 1868 that the invention of the tape measure made it possible to create a standard set of sizes used to create off the rack clothing. Before that society-changing invention, no one had to worry about buying clothes that fit their body, because clothes were made specifically for the person who would be wearing it. Today, understanding how to flatter your body type is one of the most difficult aspects of assembling a wardrobe.
Dressing to your body type is a combination of accentuating the features of your body that look good and drawing eyes away from the parts you’re least happy with. The first step is to identify your shape. In this guide, we will cover “mid-section” shapes, athletic shapes, and variations for extra tall and extra short men, both large and petite.
Before we get to specific body shapes, there’s one piece of advice universal to every body type. Find a talented tailor and become friends with him. Buying clothes off the rack means that no piece will ever completely fit your unique shape. When you wear clothes that are too big, you lose shape and look like a teenager wearing his father’s suit. When you wear clothes that are too small, you not only limit your range of motion but your clothes will bunch, wrinkle, and generally not lay flat.
The hardest part of buying off the rack clothing is that one piece of clothing can be both too big and too small. A good tailor will be able to make necessary changes to off the rack clothing it order to give you a more exact fit. A well-tailored suit will make any body shape more attractive.`
Going to the same tailor and developing a relationship is like putting someone in charge of making sure your clothes fit properly. Your tailor becomes an expert at dressing your body shape, and that’s just one less thing that a powerful and busy man like you needs to worry about. A good tailor is the single most important tool for a well-dressed man to have.
Body Type Shapes
When dressing according to your body type, paying attention to your shape is of critical importance, as the goal is to maximize perceived aesthetic strengths and minimize perceived aesthetic weaknesses. The following body type guide is what we will be roughly following in our assessment below.
Courtesy of www.realmenrealstyle.com
Mid-Section Shapes (Triangle and Oval)
The first two shapes we’ll cover here both involve a wider waist and hips proportionate to narrower shoulders. A triangle is formed when a man has narrower shoulders flaring out to wider hips. An oval shape is similar, but often with rounded or sloping shoulders and a round midsection. Oval shapes sometimes have thinner legs, creating a disproportionate shape.
A man with a triangle body shape will seek to balance our their form, adding definition to the shoulders and drawing attention away from the width of their hips. The goal is not to necessarily appear slimmer in the midsection but to make the rest of the body appear proportionate.
Emphasizing shoulders and maintaining a level of proportion can flatter a man with a midsection body type! Courtesy of www.soloartists.com
A man with an oval shape tends to have a more direct desire to appear slimmer in the middle, although he is also seeking to balance our their frame by adding bulk to the shoulder and legs. This means creating visual lines that move vertically and adding authority to shoulders.
Dressing A Midsection Shape
One important way to slim down your midsection is to avoid patterns and fabrics that create horizontal movement. This cuts the vertical line that you want to achieve and makes you appear even wider and rounder.
Instead, reach for vertically-aligned patterns like pinstripes or herringbone. Neither ovals or triangles should wear solid colors, which have a tendency to shine the light on exactly what shape your body is. Instead, choose simple patterns in darker, slimming, tones. Lightweight fabrics won’t add additional bulk and will help you retain freedom of movement.
A darker hue suit will allow a rounder shaped man to add perceived vertical lines to his aesthetic! Courtesy of www.gq.com
Balancing proportion by adding padding shoulders will naturally make your midsection look slimmer, an important consideration for triangle shaped men. Practice good posture to help keep your rounded shoulders from drooping lower than their actual position. Avoid flashy accessories like belts that draw attention to the width of your waist. Instead, put on a watch and choose a wider knot for your tie. These accessory hacks will help add more balance.
Avoid “skinny” cut pants. A straight flare from your hip to your shoe will bring balance to the bottom half of your body, while anything that hugs your frame will emphasis how slim your legs are in comparison your midsection.
You can make your shoulders appear wider by choosing a spread collar, wide lapels, or a wider tie. These slight visual cues create lines of movement that are flattering to your body shape.
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Fashion doesn’t end when you’ve finished getting dressed. For example, a bulky wallet or keys stuffed into a trouser pocket is another way that a person might perceive you to be wider than you are. Opt for a minimalist billfold or keep your necessities in your jacket pocket instead. Another tip to help you look your best throughout the day is to always unbutton a single breasted jacket before sitting down. Rebutton the jacket when you stand.
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Athletic Shapes (Trapezoid & Athletic)
The next two shapes are variations of the athletic body. If you form a trapezoid, your shoulders are slightly wider than your hips. This may not be the most common shape for a man, but it is the shape that most ready to wear clothing is made to. See, it’s not just women’s fashion that holds people to impossible standards.
A man with an inverted triangle body shape, on the other hand, is a more extreme version of an athletic body. To picture the inverted triangle, picture a bodybuilder or professional athlete. The shoulders form the flat “bottom” of the triangle while the much thinner waist and hips from the point.
If you form a trapezoid, congratulations. Whether or not you feel your body type is ideal, the fashion industry has decided it is the “normal” from which to draw standard sizing and create ready to wear clothing. You may have an easier time finding a good fit right from the rack, but don’t mistake this to mean that you need a tailor any less. One or two small corrections can have a huge impact on the way you look.
On a trapezoid, most colors, patterns, and textures will look great. Experiment with what colors work best with your skin tone, but your frame doesn’t require you to adjust the visual lines your clothing creates naturally.
A range of patterns will flatter a trapezoid frame! Courtesy of www.michaelandrews.com
A man with an inverted triangle body shape can show off the physique that he’s no doubt labored over. The challenge is mostly in finding clothing that fits correctly because each piece will need to be tailored. Jackets will be tight in the shoulders and loose in the waist. Trousers will feel tight on thighs but loose at waist and butt.
Athletic Cut Suits
Some suits are athletic cut, which means they are made to be more appropriate for a trapezoid or inverted-triangle body. Even so, it’s important to think of your off the rack suit as the source material from which your suit will be made. You will need to purchase items large enough to completely cover your body and fit the biggest areas. Allow your tailor to bring the rest in and make it look like it was designed for you.
If you plan on changing your body in the future, for example, if you plan to continue increasing the size of your bicep, talk to your tailor about your goals. A skilled tailor may be able to help you get more mileage from your suits by tucking extra fabric into seams that can be let out later.
Dressing Athletic Shapes
Looking great in a suit with an athletic body shape is easy. A wide range of colors, patterns, and textures are available to you. But the real star of your outfit is your body! There’s no need to distract from your shape. Classic pieces in dark or neutral colors will make your silhouette the star of the show.
Despite the fact that a range of colors, patterns and textures will suit the athletic man, suits with darker colors and muted patterns will go a long way. A solid color focuses attention on the shape of your body. Many men would rather avoid this, but an athletic man can be proud to show it off. Suit fabrics should be light to medium weight to avoid adding extra bulk with a heavier fabric.
Darker, solid or subtle patterned suits serve to flatter the athletic man! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
While allowing your natural shape to come through is a privilege for an athletically built man, opting for suits that don’t make your shoulders far too oversized relative to your waist is important. Pants that are slightly loose around the waist will help to alleviate this disproportion.
Accessories such as a watch or pocket square add a polished elegance. An athletic man has a great frame to rock suspenders as well.
Small details in the construction of your suit will have a big impact. Emphasize the line of your leg with contrast stitching on your pants. Choose a ventless or one vent suit to get an ultra-tailored fit.
A man who stands over six feet tall would often prefer a less imposing look. Dressing to a tall body means giving the visual cues that you are not towering over everyone else. Men who are tall can have an entire range of body types in their torso, so it’s important to consider height with other factors. In this guide, we’ll cover tips for the tall and big and the tall and thin.
Big and Tall
A tall man with broad shoulders or a barrel chest has a frame that can feel intimidating to others. His challenge is to soften that image while still accentuating those enviable features of broad shoulders. Likely, off the rack clothing will be too short in the arms and legs and need to have the hem taken down by your tailor.
Taller men are well served wearing patterns encompassing horizontal elements, such as plaid, so as not to accentuate height discrepancies even further!
Tall and Thin
A tall and thin man stands above the crowd but can have an unbalanced look. A tall and thin man is challenged to visually manage his height while balancing out the slimness of the rest of his body. Off the rack clothing is often difficult to purchase because arms and legs are very short when you get down to a size that fits your width.
Dressing A Taller Body
Tall men have a tendency to look squeezed into their clothes. This seems to be a phenomenon that affects both lean and wide men. If you run towards the athletic, you may be tempted to reach for a more tailored silhouette. This can leave you looking pinched in the middle. One way to avoid this is to choose a suit with two vents. This provides a little extra space for movement, which keeps your look natural. Being tall generally means that you have longer limbs, so your tailor will need to add length. Your tailor can also help you adjust the torso of your jacket, lengthening it where needed.
When it comes to choosing color, pattern, and texture, your best choice also depends on whether you're thin or large. Tall men should avoid solid colors, which don’t do anything to break up your body line. A thin man can add bulk to his frame with heavier fabrics like tweed, while a larger man will want to stick to lightweight fabrics.
Likewise, a double-breasted suit creates more broadness across the chest and shoulders. This is a great choice for a tall and thin man, while a larger man will want to remove emphasis from those same areas. A tall and large man would do better with a single-breast suit. Faint patterns are the most attractive, although never vertical pinstripes or other patterns that move the eyes up and down.
A taller, thin man can add perceived width to his frame with a double breasted suit! Courtesy of www.pinterest.com
For the same reason, suspenders are always a poor choice for a taller man. They emphasize height and make a tall man look taller. Some men choose a bowtie instead of a tie that draws a line down their torso. If you do stick to a traditional tie, it’s important to make sure that it’s long enough to just reach your belt bucket.
Proportion for Taller Men
Whether tall or thin, several of the choices you make regarding your outfit deal directly with your body size. Proportion is the idea that everything ought to seem the same size. If you can picture a large man wearing a delicate, tiny silk knot tie or a very thin man with a wide double-windsor knot, you can picture disproportion. In these instances, the man ends up looking clownish with an item that seems strange on his body.
Proportion is important in many different areas of your fashion, but it is particularly obvious in accessories. Anything dainty and slight will seem out of place on a tall and broad-shouldered man. Anything oversized and clunky will make a tall and thin man look like a caricature. Check for proportion in the width of your tie, the knot you choose, pocket square fold, watch size, belt buckle size, and the size and design of smaller accessories like cufflinks and tie clips.
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Short men often want to appear taller, particularly if he is on the larger side. Petite men who are short and thin often seek balance and build, of which height is an important factor. Much like the discussion for taller men the in the section above, dressing to a shorter body type depends a bit on the rest of your overall body shape. A man who is short and thin has a different goal than a man who is short and wide. Therefore, each needs to take a different fashion strategy.
Short and Wide
If you are short, you stand at a disadvantage when it comes to the perceived size of your stomach. A taller man can hide a little extra belly without drawing too much attention to it. The same extra weight on a shorter man looks a lot different. Your goal is to choose pieces that elongate your form and create the illusion of height, which naturally balances your width.
Short and Petite
A short and petite man has the challenge of elongating his form as well. But if this is done without balance in mind, he can end up looking like a gangly teenager. Balance and proportion are key for a petite man, as well as a good relationship with a tailor. If you want to avoid shopping in the boy’s department, the tailor will help you adjust off the rack sizing to your frame.
A solid colored suit without any visible breaks between shirt and pant will flatter a man with a shorter, slimmer profile! Courtesy of www.themodestman.com
Dressing A Shorter Body
Shorter men need to select pieces that elongate them. One way to do this is with vertically oriented patterns like pinstripe or herringbone, although solid colors are also flattering for short men. If you are short and wide, skip the solid colors and opt for light patterns in a monochromatic palette. Monochromatic gives you the same effect as solid color without emphasizing width. If you opt for monochromatic, keep the darkest tones in the bottom half of your ensemble and bring the lighter tones up.
Short men want to avoid segmenting their body. Chunky accessories such as a large watch create horizontal visual lines. Keep accessories simple and elegant. Another line-creating item to avoid is anything with short sleeves. A blazer creates nice long lines on the arm and brings emphasis up from the base of the torso. Contrast stitching on trouser pant legs is another way to draw the eye vertically down your body.
As we discussed above in the section for taller men, proportion is a critical component of dressing a short body. In fact much of the advice in that section can be reversed for a short man. Your tie, for example, needs to just reach your belt. While for a taller man this means a longer tie, a shorter man requires a tie proportional to his body. Proportion also involves matching accessories to the size of your body, such as large watches for men with big arms and something smaller for a petite man.
Although it can be difficult to find off the rack clothing that fits your body type, a good tailor can help you alter the clothes you buy for the best look possible. There are different tricks every body type can use to look their best.
- Mid-section shapes can increase the width of their shoulders with jacket pads and spread collars. Minimizing width in your stomach means choosing items that create vertical movement in small patterns like herringbone. Never choose skinny fit pants and avoid clunky accessories that break up the illusion of height. Keep your pockets empty and wear lightweight fabrics to avoid adding bulk.
- Athletic men can choose more form-fitting pieces like ventless or single vent suits. A man with a trapezoid body will find lots of options on the rack that only need minimal tailoring. A man with an inverted triangle frame should discuss body building goals with his tailor, who may be able to help you keep a good fit as you change. Athletic bodies look great in classic looks in neutral and dark colors, letting your natural silhouette be the star of the show.
- Taller men work on minimizing their height by breaking up the vertical line of their body. This can be accomplished with accessories like a watch or a belt. If tall men are also very thin, they will want to add bulk with heavier fabrics and double breasted suit jackets. Taller men who are also larger will want to choose lightweight, single breasted suit jackets with two vents for the maximum range of motion.
- Shorter men have the opposite desire and need to create a vertical line without any horizontal breaks. This means no chunky watches and streamlined, minimalist accessories. Light patterns and fabrics are a great way to do this, while a short and thin man has the best build for solid colors. A short and wide man should not wear a solid color, but instead a micro pattern like checks.
Finding the right clothing for your body type is something that is worth putting a little effort into. If you take the time to fill your closet with items that flatter your body and work together, choosing ensembles will be as easy as mixing and matching.
And that's a wrap for this one! I hope that you have enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it.
For Style Tips pertaining to Shorter Men, feel free to check out comprehensive blog The Modest Man!