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Style Tips for Short Men

Ground rules, where to shop, and how to go custom with confidence.

 

Many men settle for subpar style, not knowing that this affects every aspect of their lives – their career, their relationships and their well-being. Why do we settle for mediocre wardrobes? Because buying clothes can be confusing, overwhelming and expensive.

Short men have it particularly bad. There are Big & Tall stores everywhere. Women have plenty of petite options. But men under 5’8” have truly gotten the short end of the stick.

If you’re below average height, you probably have trouble finding clothes that fit. You’ve bought jeans that are too long, dress shirts that billow out at the waist and bunch up in the arms, and polo shirts that fit well in the chest but go several inches past your belt.

I feel your pain. At 5’6”, I’ve struggled my whole life to find clothes that actually fit. The problem is, clothing manufacturers make clothes for the average man, who happens to be 5’9” and slightly overweight. Even though some companies offer smaller sizes, they are usually out of proportion and hard to find.

Here is the good news! By following some basic guidelines, shopping at the right stores, and getting into custom clothing, you can dress sharp, regardless of your height. And when you do, your height won’t be the first thing people notice about you anymore. It will be your sense of style. And with that comes the job, the girl and the confidence that every man wants.

Let’s start with some ground rules.

Basic DOs and DON’Ts

There is some good information out there about style for short men, but most of it is crap. If you search for tips on the web, you’ll likely end up at some GQ article claiming a pinstripe suit will make you look taller.

Don’t buy into it.

The truth is, short men don’t need to dress taller (as if this is even possible). We need to dress to flatter our body types. Fit is more important than brand, price and color. And yes, there are certain things you can avoid in order to not look shorter.

What To Do

 

  • DO stick with vertical patterns.
  • DO go with small patterns. Whether it’s gingham, stripes, checks, or whatever, make sure it’s small.
    big vs small patterns for short men
  • DO wear clothes that fit close to the body. (Think slim, not skinny.)
  • DO pay attention to proportion. Accessories like ties, watches and belts should be narrow and small (unless you are on the heftier side, in which case a slim tie will only make you look wider). In general, keep things slim, understated and simple.
  • DO get your pants hemmed! This is very easy and cheap. Your dry cleaner can do it for less than $20.

What Not To Do

  • DON’T wear broad, horizontal patterns.
  • DON’T wear shoes with thick soles to look taller. NEVER buy “risers” (shoes that are created for the very purpose of adding inches).
  • DON’T buy baggy clothes. They won’t make you look bigger. In fact, they make you look smaller and younger.
  • DON’T wear double-breasted jackets. Stick with single-breasted, one or two button jackets.
  • DON’T shy away from tailoring. Basic alterations can go a long way. If you want to know what’s possible in terms of alterations, start here.

Short Men Style
Now that we understand the basic rules, let’s quickly review where to shop.

Best Places to Find Clothes for the Shorter Build

Unlike women’s stores, men’s clothing shops don’t have “petite” sections, but there are a handful of stores who carry clothes that flatter the short body type.

Here’s a quick list, along with some specific tips about what to buy and what to avoid:

Banana Republic (my personal favorite) – When it comes to off-the-rack clothing that fits short men correctly, I’ve had more success with BR then any other store. My favorite and most versatile pair of pants are their Emerson Chinos. Their Heritage Slim Fit jeans are great too, along with their Merino sweaters and wool dress pants. Try to avoid their button down shirts and polos, as they tend to be too long. BR can be expensive, but Primer has got you covered.

Gap - Good for some things but bad for others, Gap can be hit or miss. For example, stay away from their button downs and polo shirts. These tend to be too long for men under 5’8”. However, their 1969 straight fit pants are great for casual wear, and their zip up hoodies fit short men wonderfully.

Peter Manning - This is one of the only clothing manufacturers who focuses exclusively on men under 5’8”. PM clothes are classic staples (chinos, polos, button downs, jeans, etc.) made for shorter men. They use a proprietary sizing system based on height and weight, and they very well might be the best off-the-rack fit you will find. If you’re sick of bringing everything you buy to the tailor, give Peter Manning a shot.

American Apparel - For us shorter gents, even t-shirts are hard to find. A “small” tee is often too long and wide. The American Apparel small is the right length, and it’s nice and slim.

Levi’s - Solid, affordable and available everywhere, Levi’s 514 and 513 cuts flatter most guys. When trying them on, don’t worry about pant length. Hemming is cheap and easy. Make sure they feel good in the seat and thighs. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can give their Shrink-to-Fit jeans a try.

Lacoste - Sick of polo shirts that are too long and baggy? Try on a Lacoste polo or a slimmer Lacoste L!Ve collection polo. They use a European sizing system, and their size 3 might just fit you perfectly.

H&M - While their clothing isn’t the highest quality stuff, they tend to carry smaller sizes than most brands. Even in the store, you will always find S, XS and even XXS on the racks. H&M is particularly good for sweaters and cardigans. If you want to make their stuff last, check out this guide for taking care of cheap clothes.

Lucky Brand - For high quality jeans at reasonable prices, Lucky Brand is a great option. Go with the 121 Heritage Slim fit if you’re short and thin. If you need a little more room in the legs, try a pair of the 221 Original Straight jeans.

Pacific Sunwear - I can’t vouch for PacSun shirts, but their Bullhead Slim denim pants are the best fitting casual pants I own.

PacSun Bullhead pants for shorter guys

Last but not least, when all else fails, you can go custom. It’s not as difficult or expensive as you might think.

Here’s what you need to know.

Getting Into Custom Clothing

Custom men’s clothing is huge these days. It seems like more online custom clothiers are popping up everyday. This is great for a few reasons:

  • You can limit time spent in department stores (yay!).
  • You can get clothes that fit well without an extra trip to the tailor.
  • You can customize every aspect of your clothing (color, fit, details).

It also presents a few problems…

  • The clothes might not fit properly.
  • You have to wait for items to ship, often from another country.
  • You have to deal with returns and customer service.
  • Made-to-measure clothes can be expensive.

That said, if you do your research and are willing to go through a little trial and error, custom clothing is totally worth it. I promise, the first time you try on a shirt that fits your body perfectly, you will be hooked.

Here are some tips to help ease into the world of custom:

Do your research - There are a ton of companies. Some of them make everything from suits to chinos. Others just stick to shirts. Decide what you want (a dress shirt is a great starting point), narrow it down to two or three companies, and read some reviews before you buy.

Stick with one company - Don’t expect your first order to turn out perfectly. You very well may have to send it back for alterations or work with customer service to find the best solution. Even if your garment does fit well, you might want to to adjust one or two measurements slightly. For this reason, I recommend sticking with one company at first. You will learn their measurement system, develop a relationship with their support team and be confident in future orders.

Don’t measure yourself - While it is possible to measure yourself, it is not the best way to do it. Go to a local tailor and get your measurements, or have a friend/wife/mom measure you. You can get free tailor tape right here or buy it for a few bucks on Amazon. Alternatively, many custom clothing companies allow you to send in your best-fitting shirt for them to measure.

Be patient - It might take 4-8 weeks to get your first custom shirt, depending on if it needs alterations. I promise, it’s worth it. Be patient and remember, it only gets easier.

Summing Up

Let’s be realistic – men’s clothing stores aren’t going to start making products for specific body types anytime soon. But if we stick to some basic style principles, learn where to shop and make full use of custom clothing, we short gents can dress sharp – regardless of our height.

About

Brock runs The Modest Man, a site dedicated to helping shorter gents dress better by finding clothes that fit. For more tips, sign up to his list and check out the Short Man Style ebook.

 
  • Julian

    Brock, I have been looking for a website like yours for a while. Was actually just searching for swim trunks and shorts for shorter guys yesterday. Perfect timing for this post! I’m 5’6″ with an athletic build: good for fitting in the cockpit of fast, pointy jets but bad for finding clothes that fit. Just subscribed to your site and look forward to checking it out. Not sure if you have checked out ForTheFit.com but they market to shorter guys as well; bought one pair of jeans from them which are a little tight with almost unusable pockets but do look good. I’m trying some shorts from Bonobo’s and Original Penguin when they get here in the mail.

    • themodestman

      Hey Julian! Thanks for the comments, and glad to hear you like the site. We have a similar build… maybe I should have been a fighter pilot!

      I haven’t bought anything from forthefit.com, but I know of it. Would you buy from them again?

      I’ve ordered Bonobos pants in the past, which were too baggy for my liking. I think they have newer, slimmer cuts, but I can’t vouch for them.

      Peter Manning NYC is a great company catering toward men under 5’8″. Check them out sometime!

      -B

  • Tr.

    Not a great article. Best places for short guys to shop: Top man, Uniclo, express men, Ben Sherman, diesel. I’m 5’6 and shop almost exclusively at these stores.

    • Tr

      Should also add Armani exchange, Benetton, and American eagle for younger guys.

      • themodestman

        I’d agree with some of these, like Topman and Uniqlo. It’s also about personal style and budget. Lots of guys (I’d say most) won’t or can’t buy designer clothes. Also, many American men won’t buy from UK companies, as you can’t try the clothes on before buying.

        About American Eagle… they have some good fits, but I felt too old for their clothes after my early-twenties.

        Thanks for the comment!

        -B

    • RMRStyle

      You’re right – not a great article……..an AWESOME ARTICLE. Thanks Brock for being a leader and giving away so much value for free!

      • themodestman

        Thanks, Antonio!

  • Ken C

    Zara and Massimo Dutti are popular in Asia where the average build is smaller than the US. Their styles are usually slim, and shirts are cut shorter lengthwise. The two companies are under the Inditex, and have similar sizing. Uniqlo, mentioned below, is another store which is gaining in popularity and has origins from Japan.

    • themodestman

      Hey Ken,

      You’re right that the Asian companies tend to fit us smaller guys better. I took a trip to Southeast Asia and did a little shopping in Hanoi. Everything fit so much better!

      -B

  • Woodys

    Check out .wwww.woodysboyswear.co.uk.we have spent 21 years fitting out smaller men

    • themodestman

      I haven’t heard of you guys, buy it looks like clothing for boys (ages 2 to 16) not adult men.

  • Aaron

    Banana Republic and JCrew are terrible for short men. I wear a 16.5/32 shirt and nothing from those places fit. Arms are super long on their larges (I have broad shoulders, average arms). I stay away from those stores exclusively because they don’t cater to the shorter side

    • themodestman

      Aaron – About BR, as I mentioned in the article, “Try to avoid their button down shirts and polos, as they tend to be too long.” Their pants, however, are great for shorter guys. I don’t shop at J. Crew for the reasons you mentioned, although their new 484 fit pants are nice if you want slim fit pants that aren’t too tight.

      -Brock

  • Dan K

    Short men aren’t the only ones who have it bad, or even the worst! Its easy to get clothing that may be a little big and get it tailored to fit, but if you are tall and skinny/athletic, you struggle to find clothing that comes close to being big enough. I know you mentioned BIg and Tall stoes, but those are geared only towards men who are just that big AND tall. Being 6’7″ with an athletic frame, I have given up shopping in stores, and only go online, where there isn’t too much either. I have just started to do custom online tailoring, but you are right about all the cons listed. Do you have any recommendations for guys like me?

    • themodestman

      Hey Dan,

      I hear ya. We’re not the only ones that have it tough. Really any guy that doesn’t fit the average build – 5’9″ and average/slightly overweight – is going to struggle to find clothes that fit well off the rack.

      I recommend checking out a blog called There Are Giants. It’s all about style for the big dudes out there. Check it out!

      -B

      • Henning

        Thank you for that webpage, it seems to be quite interesting!

    • deb

      Hey Dan – J. Hilburn can accomodate up to 6’7″ and there are style advisors all over the US – what city are you in?

      • Dan K

        Seattle. I haven’t heard of them before, i’ll have to check both that site and blog out, thanks!

  • http://www.mytakeradio.com Rich

    Tons of great tip there Brock. While I am 5’6 I fall into the big and short category. Being a weightlifter most of my life is a blessing and a curse and shopping for clothes can at times be frustrating. I have found that suit purchases need to be done as separates since my size fluctuates between 50-52 while pants are 38. I have had great success with Cut & Sew Jeans altered with the original hem. Also staples like Express are a must. A majority of my wardrobe comes from these two retailers. I was a huge fan of Levi’s Red Line Slim Boot Cut jeans but the have been discontinued so if you can find them online or in a thrift store I recommend you pick them up.

    Thanks for showcasing styles for short guys since shopping can at times be cumbersome.

    • themodestman

      Thanks for the tips, Rich! Good points about keeping the original hem and buying suits as separates!

  • http://www.johnphung.com John Phung

    5’4″, 200 lb manlet checking in.

    “DON’T buy baggy clothes. They won’t make you look bigger. In fact, they make you look smaller and younger.”

    I need to buy baggy clothes so that they’ll fit. They might be a little long though :/

    For jeans, I find that I can order a 30″ length and it will be long (or short) enough for my legs. The challenge is finding something with enough leg room.

    • themodestman

      Hey John – thanks for the comment. You probably know this, but it’s important to make sure that when you are trying pants on, they fit in the seat and thighs. They might be way too long, but hemming is easy and cheap. Fixing the seat is difficult and expensive.

      -B

  • Carlos M

    This is rad. Well done!

  • ventivent

    I’m 5’6″, 140 lb. Flat front pants, slim cut pants with no cuff work best for me. I like Brooks Brothers Milano non-iron chinos for standard work wear. They actually make a 29″ inseam, which gives just a hint of break at the shoe on me.

    • themodestman

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Slim, flat front, no cuff.

      -B

  • Matt

    I am 5’6″ as well. I agree with all recomendations, they have worked for me for years. With the exception of True Religion jeans. “Reasonably priced is not $90-$165 for jeans that look like they should be on a woman or on a guy that wears a bedazzled Affliction tee with white sunglasses on, at night (inside!). I’ll stick with my straight cut Levi’s. hah

    • Matt

      Sorry, I meant Lucky not True Religion. Equally expensive though. Still love the site man.

      • themodestman

        Fair enough. Glad you like the site!

  • deb

    Well written article. While short men do have a disadvantage when shopping so do tall and slim as Dan K pointed out – or any height person that does not fall into the “norm”. J. Hilburn Men’s clothiers is a good choice for great quality and amazing prices.

  • MythReindeer

    Being around 5’8.5″, I am not sure that American designers have my size in mind (then again, I am not overweight). I am a size Small in many, many clothes, and even then some can be baggy/too large. If I am in fact around average, designers should make that a Medium. In fact, I bought Mediums for quite a while simply because I figured that an average size person should wear that. I have shorter arms, too, which is a pain when buying shirts. Even if a Small fits, the sleeves are likely too long.

    I get that it can be a fraught issue, but I bought a couple of shirts from the boys’ sections recently. It was slightly demoralizing in a way, but the shirts fit me (boys’ shirts often have shorter arms, which works for me). I am right at the outside of the largest boys size, so maybe some men smaller than me can try it. The clothes are generally less expensive, so one may be able to spring for high-end items. It is not perfect, but it may work for you.

    • themodestman

      You are right on, man! The sizes are not correct at most major retailers, and the arms are almost always too long. Nothing wrong with hitting the young men’s or juniors department!

      -B

  • Derek

    Can you guys do an article like this but tailored towards husky, bigger guys? My best friend is newly single and trying to redefine his image but has no sense of style or direction. He’s stuck in his high school fashion and needs something more appropriate to his age, mind you he is 26. I hope an article is in the works in the future. Thanks!

  • short-ass dude.

    LOL you want to know pain? I’m 5’1″.

  • Pingback: A Style Guide for Men Lacking in Height | The Boardroom

  • Connor

    Hey whats your advice for a guy who is maybe just a few pound over the average? Don’t have a completely flat stomach, and afraid layering up with things like a blazer would just extenuate that. (also college student)

    • http://www.themodestman.com/ Brock

      Connor,

      Don’t be afraid of layering up. I’d say avoid bold patterns that would accentuate the belly, but coats and jackets will look great on you. Read this article from RMRS – http://www.realmenrealstyle.com/short-broad-stout-clothing-men/ – just wear stuff that fits (nothing too tight or baggy). Get everything tailored.

      -Brock

  • Rhys

    I’m dating a guy that’s 5″6, and have some styles I’d like for him to explore. First off, how does a girl even start that conversation with anyone? Specifically though, I’d like to see him in something casual chic like a business/sports jacket with a sharp pair of slacks or jeans. He was in the Marine Corps, so all I’ve ever seen him in were his uniform or jeans and a graphic tee. He’s built a bit like Scott Caan whose style I like.

    Btw, do shorter men feel hung up on height? Would love to hear your two cents.

    • http://www.themodestman.com/ Brock

      Hi Rhys,

      Thanks for your question. A marine built like Scott Caan? Sounds like you’ve done pretty well! It’s a tough topic to bring up. You don’t want to insult him, and buying him something for him might be a little too forceful.

      You may want to direct him to the site RealMenRealStyle.com. Antonio, who runs that site, is a former Marine. His style is pretty basic, but he really understands fit, and you’ll never catch him in a graphic tee. He likes to dress for the occasion, and there is almost never a good occasion for a graphic tee (except maybe high school or a UFC fight…). RMRS is a great site for anyone looking to get inspired and step up their style in very easy, basic ways.

      Also, next time you go to the mall or shopping, you could nudge him to try something on (like a blazer or pea coat) and make a big deal about how good it looks. Really turn on the charm… a little positive reinforcement never hurt anyone!

      Finally, you could buy him something, but make sure it’s a safe bet – a v-neck sweater, or some desert boots. Something he’ll definitely like.

      And if he loves jeans, make sure he’s wearing dark, slim jeans (if he isn’t already). For his build, the J. Crew 484 fit, Express Rocco or Lucky Brand 121 would all be great options.

      Hope that helps!

      -Brock

      • http://www.themodestman.com/ Brock

        Oh, and to answer your last question. Height is definitely a source of insecurity for many men (and women). Some shorter guys aren’t bothered at all by it, but I think most of them are to some degree. Even if it doesn’t play into your self-image, it still makes things like buying clothes a pain. So yes, men do get hung up on height, but some more than others.

        The key is to own it and not let it own you. After all, we can’t change it.

        -B

  • https://luke1977.com/ Aaron Field

    Brilliant post Brock! More men need to read this and realise fashion isn’t a road block to looking good!

  • Pingback: The Dos and Don’ts of Fashion for Short Men | The Boardroom

  • AJ

    I really appreciate the article. You’re right, I googled this topic and other than your article, all I got were tips to look taller. It’s a little more difficult for me, since I’m pretty broke since I got laid off and I’m now in a lower paying job. I’ll try and stick to stores like Levis and H & M or look for the sale racks at the others.

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