Changing how we dress takes real effort, and with so many other concerns in life, at times we feel too exhausted to think about a wardrobe overhaul. Add to this, all the advice which includes ‘dos, and don’ts’ on the subject of how to dress well, which can drain our energy just thinking about sorting through all the gobbledygook.
I’ve heard overweight men say they don’t want to spend time and money on clothes because when they lose weight, their clothes will be useless or will need to be altered. But a man doesn’t have to “wait to lose weight” when he can look great right now !
If a heavier man looks better in his clothes, then it’s possible that he will feel motivated to eat better and get outside and participate in life more, simply based on his decision to be his best “sartorial self”.
Once you decide to change how you dress, heed this caveat: During the first few years following your decision to dress well, sometimes you will feel bad when you make errors and will be tempted to give up because you feel embarrassed. But mistakes and errors are part of the beauty of the process in this growing world of those who place a priority on pursuing elegance.
People who judge you for making mistakes still need to work on their own search for elegance, because behavior always trumps outward appearance in this field.
You know already for the substantial man, dark colors shrink body size perception, busy patterns exaggerate body size, turtlenecks make you look bigger, vertical lines (are said to) stretch the silhouette and wearing oversized clothes makes you look larger than you really are.
If you’re quite large, buying off-the-rack may not be possible for certain items you need. Quickly identify if trousers, shirts, or jackets must be custom-made for you or not. Then make an appointment with a tailor you can afford who has good references to get started on a few simple wardrobe pieces you need that are unavailable in your size in ready-to-wear.
Because this is our first article addressing the specific subject of the larger gentleman, we have included a lot of links to help expand and delve deeper into the topic.
Let’s get started with a dozen (hopefully inspiring) steps toward the pursuit of elegance:
Big guys seem to look better when they’re dressed up. So embrace your space and celebrate your fortitude by dressing up more than you dress down. Think ship-shape instead of barge. A good pair of shoes can make everything look better.
Pay what you can for quality shoes since beautiful shoes are an easy way to up your elegance factor. Begin with shoes that cost a couple of hundred dollars and work your way up as you are inspired (See Parisian Gentleman Shoe Selection, Part I). If you begin to fall in love with shoes, you can play with wingtip designs to make your foot appear larger or smaller as described here.
Quality braces, also known as suspenders or galluses, will not only keep trousers in place but can also make heavier men look distinguished and eliminate the need for a belt (which visually cuts the body in half).
Even with casual wear, braces with a good sports jacket can create a warm and wonderful vibe. Notice clip-ons are OK these days if you find buttoned braces to be uncomfortable. We especially love old-fashioned fish tail trousers with braces.
If you must use a belt instead of braces, make sure the belt is not noticeably thick and that the belt matches the color of your trousers, so as to blend and preserve the look of an elongated silhouette. Of course, never wear braces and a belt at the same time.
When choosing a jacket or suit coat for the heavier set gentleman, consider:
A. While not all of us can afford bespoke or custom-made clothing, we can learn from a Savile Row tailor in regard to how a suit coat or sports jacket should “hang” from the abdomen of a heavier person.
For the geeks out there, here’s a technical excerpt from Richard James of Savile Row on how the jacket should hang from the front:
“[Notice] an explanatorily named fish cut sketched on the pattern (above) and made in the canvas (below) of a nice two-piece navy twill suit. A good cutter will put a fish cut into the front, tummy region of a canvas (which helps structure and give overall definition to a suit) when he needs to create more shape and mould the cloth around the middle region of a portlier, more rotund gentleman. It works to ensure that the suit coat (jacket) really fits and doesn’t hang from the stomach like a skirt. One of the more advanced, rather tricky techniques of bespoke Savile Row tailoring.” (See text and illustrations here via Richard James).
The point is to pay attention to how your suit coat hangs beneath your abdomen. While ready-to-wear larger jackets aren’t held to the same standard as a handmade garment, the way the coat hangs from the mid-section can vary from brand to brand. Bottom line: you don’t want your sports jacket or suit coat to hang like a skirt beneath your belly, so a little attention to the matter can make a strong difference.
B. Notice the shoulder fit on your jacket. Normally, the jacket shoulder should not extend past your natural shoulder as a sign of good fit. However, for the larger man, he can usually handle a fractional extension of the jacket shoulders past his natural shoulders, to create the impression of a greater chest-to-waist drop.
C. Make sure the back of your collar (against the back of your neck) on your jacket is flush against the neck with no possibility of slipping a finger or two between the back of the collar and your neck, when you are in a neutral-standing position (see Zero Collar Gap Article). If this is a problem with collar gap on jackets you currently own, adjust yourself each time you stand by pulling the front of your jacket or suit coat down with a strong tug towards your feet.
D. If you have a large backside, then avoid double vents on your jacket, or else the suit coat will draw attention to your behind. In the case of a large backside, opt for a single vent or no vent at all for a more slimming look.
If you have a very large mid-section, then you already know that you need trousers with pleats, otherwise flat front trousers will display an exaggerated “half-moon” protruding from your belly. But at the same time, pleats that spread apart like an open accordion will look messy. Make sure pleats on trousers are happily relaxed.
Trouser pleats are typically paired with cuffs or turn-ups on the trousers at the ankles. Your own body morphology will answer the question as to whether to cuff or not, though most all men cuff with pleats, but if your legs are shorter, you may consider breaking the rule and refusing cuffs at the bottom of the trouser legs as a way to make your legs look longer.
This leads to another point. How high should the rise of the trouser waist be? If the waist is too low, you have to keep hitching your pants up and also risk showing your backside when you sit, not to mention the shirt tail may fall out. But if you raise the waistline too much, you end up feeling like your great-grandpa. Yet, if you place the trouser waist directly in the middle of your natural waist, trousers may slide up and down and feel uncomfortable (hence, braces can solve this issue).
All options considered, a waist rise that feels the most comfortable, stays put and pleases you the most visually will be your best guide. Body morphology varies with longer or shorter legs as well as with stretched or compressed torsos. You have to know your own body to decide where the best waist rise point is for your trousers.
It’s worth reiterating: baggy clothes make big people look bigger. Period. Fitted (not tight) clothes create a better silhouette, no matter what your size.
Decide where you want your belly button to be positioned through the use of your waist button on your jackets or suit coats. Find your body type above and use your computer cursor to experiment with waist button placements that can make torsos OR legs look longer or shorter. You are the king of your navel when deciding the positioning of your WAIST BUTTON on your jacket or suit coat (because unless you’re naked, no one knows where your actual navel is located).
Once you become familiar with how to present your body through clothing, it makes buying ready-to-wear clothes much easier. If you visit a tailor, use your words sparingly and let him do his job, but then again, don’t be shy about speaking up during the consultation. I’ve never met a tailor who isn’t interested in knowing more about the body morphology of his or her client.
The above is a fun exercise to discover the best silhouette for you by adjusting your button stance. Put on a sports jacket and decide where you prefer the waist button to be placed for your best overall look. Then, either have your jacket handmade with the waist button placed to your specifications or buy a ready-to-wear sports jacket or suit coat with the button placement positioned similar to your preference. (See “The Skinny on Button Stance” for more details on the subject).
Trousers that are too tight in the thighs can cause fabric to get stuck in certain positions and balloon out in the wrong places (not to mention causing the pant legs to ride-up). This scenario is annoying because it requires bending over and tugging at trousers to smooth them out. Trouser legs should to be wide enough at the top of the legs to avoid this trouble and allow you to feel comfortable and enjoy your newfound elegance.
What about tapering? If you wear trousers with large thighs and thin drain pipe lower legs, the lower body can look like an upside-down bowling pin. Yet, make you trouser legs too wide and your shoes appear to be swimming around beneath your feet. It is worth knowing your favorite trouser leg shape that looks best with your own body morphology, as a good trouser look and fit will spark a nice feeling of confidence.
Once you get your favorite look in mind, you can bring your trousers to a retail store to compare the design, or your tailor can either make you trousers using your favorite pair as a template or even adjust other trousers to the same specification.
Shirt aesthetics may be the most underestimated effect of making a rotund man appear elegant. For the larger gentleman, the ends of the shirt collar should stay securely tucked under jacket lapels as shown above and as discussed here. This small tip will do wonders for smoothing the silhouette of a wider face and thicker neck. And of course note your shirt should be long enough to stay tucked.
A. The cliché that vertical stripes elongate the body is likely true, but in reality you must experiment with chalk stripes and pin stripes to see for yourself if they create a nice look for you.
B. Bulky fabrics make you look thicker…gravitate towards “four-season weight cloths” to lighten up your look. (You can read more about the four season suit here).
C. Avoid “color blocking” yourself with extreme color differences between trousers, jackets, and vests. Instead try the same, similar or complimentary colors to keep the vertical silhouette flowing without interruptions. Not all heavier men agree with this principle, so try out different combinations and decide for yourself.
Do you like your shoulders and chest? Then put on a nice lapel pin or small fresh carnation in your lapel buttonhole. Or place a pocket square in your chest pocket to draw attention to that area (there is a fun article on the subject here).
Maybe you prefer to celebrate your hands with a nice timepiece (our contributing editor talks about buying his first watch here). Perhaps try a good bracelet, signet ring or antique cuff links? Or show off your shoes with an amazing polish, patina or a special buckle or laces?
Don’t forget the effect of a great bow tie which draws the eye up to your face and often looks particularly good on the larger gentleman (we talk about the bow-tied contrarian here). Enjoying small things like accessories can lift your attitude and raise your level of elegance.
Above you can see the greats Babe Ruth, Jackie Gleason, and Edward Arnold wearing each style listed above, respectively.
Rotund men, like men of any size, should experiment with all suit styles and find their own preference through practice and experience.
While a three-piece suit can be slimming with the advantage of slight constriction by the vest which narrows the waist, single and double-breasted coats can have a lower button stance and lengthen the torso–but can also shorten the appearance of the legs, so know your own body and have fun discovering your unique look.
Here is where you have the advantage to go big. Large lapels are a large man’s friend and give the chest the substance it deserves. Smaller guys have a hard time getting away with enjoying a lush lapel, so enjoy your advantage.
You’ve heard it before but did you listen? Many claim standing tall can remove five to ten “perceived pounds” from the body. Whenever you can remember to do so, and this includes when you are driving in your car, tighten your abdominal muscles (a practice recommended by the Pilates discipline, and a practice which can prevent back injuries) and imagine balancing a book on your head. After a while, you will feel and notice the difference.
Since writing about quality menswear for almost five years, I’ve learned that putting a little extra time into presenting yourself well can lead to the most pleasant and unexpected experiences and events in life.
I hope you will give it a try if you haven’t already.
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Sources and inspiration: