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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.