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Proportion – the Foundation of Style (p.2): Proportion and Body types

( Dressing the Man: Mastering the Art of Permanent Fashion – Alan Flusser)

Whether short or tall, portly or slim, most men aspire to look like some idealized version of themselves. Although the model male fashion figure has changed over time, for the past eighty or so years the principal goal has been to affect a tall, broad-shouldered, slim-waisted appearance. Therefore, that archetypal physique will serve as a reference point for the principles that follow.

The rules for downplaying girth or maximizing height can be helpful, but they should always be viewed as a guide rather than as dogma. There are many well-turned-out men who consistently dress against type. I can recall one portly patron of New York’s famous “21” Club sitting down to lunch in a bulky three-piece Shetland wool suit tailored out of the most enormous estate plaid. While its scale violated every canon of anatomical logic, the man looked positively regal because of its impeccable cut and customized fit.

Back in the thirties, no group of swells was alleged to have exuded more collective swank than the Brazilian diplomatic corps. Contrary to conventional wisdom that swore short men off double-breasted jackets, these 5 feet, 7 inch plenipotentiaries not only preferred their lounge suits double-breasted but also finished them off with another sartorial no-no: leg-shortening cuffs. America’s own guru of gestural elegance, hoofer Fred Astaire, always sported cuffed trousers, and he stood barely 5 feet 9 inches.

Dressing for your body type is a subject peppered with misguided prescriptions and arcane rules. For example, heavy men are advised to avoid double breasted jackets, supposedly because they adđ bulk. However, in reality, if the jacket’s peaked lapels roll below the waist, their long diagonal slant will do more for a man’s avoirdupois than any line produced by the single-breasted model. Similarly, striped suits, which tend to elongate the figure, should not be automatically eliminated from centention just because a man is tall. The important thing is for the scale and strength of the stripes to harmonize with the particular body type: narrow-to medium-spaced stripes for the thin physique; slightly broader and less pronounced lines for the fuller figure.

Scaling the Heights: Tips for Short, Heavy Men

Without question, correctly cut clothes can definitely aid the short, stout man in appearing taller and thinner. When an ensemble’s north and south lines begin to replace those previously moving east and west, they stretch out and narrow the corpulent physique. To elongate the figure, the eye needs to be distracted from the waistline and led north to the shoulders and south below the knees.

Whether tall or short, the heavier man, much like the thin man, should always dress “large”. Jackets should be cut with straight-hanging or slightly shaped body lines so they appear to hang loose from the shoulder downward. Close-fitting clothes reveal more than they conceal. There is nothing like the look of a stuffed sausage to call attention to a man’s heft.

In general, short men are short, physiologically speaking, because their legs are proportionally short in relation to their torso. Therefore, for a jacket to endow such a physique with the illusion of greater height, it must create the impression that the leg line is actually longer than it really is. To accomplish this, the jacket’s length needs to be kept on the short side, which is tricky, because the coat’s length must remain as short as possible and yet cover the seat of his pants. If too short, the jacket will saw him in half; if too long, it will abbreviate the appearance of his legs.

Along with a shorter coat, the torso can be optically elevated by raising its shoulder line. The slightly higher shoulder gives the added illusion of elevating the torso while elongating the leg line. This is not to recommend squaring the shoulder, since you want to avoid the appearance of two right ankles bracketing the head. Ninety-degree angles punctuating the head of any height-challenged man only emphasize that which he wants to diminish – his physique’s lack of statuesque distance from the ground.

The single-breasted, two-button jacket with a medium “V” that opens down to the waist is more flattering to the short figure than the higher, closed fronts of the three-button coat. Squat figures should avoid jackets with stubby or short-rolled lapels, because they accentuate breadth. This includes the low-gorge designs of recent fashion. Lapel notches for the short-legged should rest high on the upper chest, for a longer lapel line. Peaked lapels with their upswept, pointed ends accentuate verticality more than the notched variety. Jacket sleeves should finish to show a half inch of shirt cuff: this helps balance off the sleeve and shorter jacket length. The coat’s sleeves should taper down to the wrist bone, so there is no excess material jangling about the hand, creating unnecessary bulk.

Slanting lines minimize rotundity. Take the double-breasted jacket: whatever extra thickness the double-breasted’s overlapping layer of cloth may add across the midsection, the slimming effect of its asymmetrical lapels more than compensates for it. The DB’s diagonally running lapels lead the eye away from the center of the torso, and their upcurving pointed ends elongate and narrow the frame. Additionally, the classic six-on-two double-breasted creates an additional “V” effect down the front of the jacket, which helps sculpt the torso and slim the waist.

When it comes to jacket detailing, less is more. Extra flaps, like the change pocket, tend to bulk up and shorten lines. Besom-style (unflapped) his pockets create less thickness and clutter than the flapped variety, although the hacking (slanted) flap pocket can chisel away breadth from the hip. Flap pockets are preferable to the patch design, whose extra layer of fabric adds heft.

Like its front, the back of this body type’s ideal coat should promote a straighter line by hanging from the shoulders with a minimum of contour at the waist. Viewed from the side, the nonvented back can lend the corpulent hip a trimmer line; however, from the back, its one-piece expanse does little to break up the heavy rear end, particularly if the jacket fits snugly. When tailored to lie flat, side vents escort the viewer’s eye up the coat’s sides, suggesting a longer leg line and overall impression of height.

As for the trouser, because the short man aspires to an illusion of height, he must wear the suit trouser on his natural waist, not below it. Pushing the trouser waist down below the belly is this body type’s most common and counterproductive tendency. Shortening the trousers’ front line and forcing the pleats to open destroy the suit’s potential vertical fluidity.

The man with a prominent middle needs full trousers that hang straight from the waist. By sitting higher on the waist rather than lower on the hips, the trousers’ elevated fullness also works to smooth the transition between jacket bottom and trouser. What is to be avoided is the impression of two legs pouring out of the jacket’s oversize bottom cavity like two straws in a jar, creating a visual break that divides the figure in half. Following the same logic, men with shorter legs should wear self-supporting or suspendered trousers since a belt’s horizontal line interrupt the suit’s vertical flow.

Pleated trousers offer the man with a prominent middle more fullness in front so the trouser can hang straight from the waist. If designed well, pleats also divide up the stomach expanse. The reverse-pleat style (facing the pocket) may be more flattering for this figure, because they tend to lie flatter than the forward-pleated model (facing the fly). Trouser legs should taper modestly from thigh to bottom and sit on top of the shoe with a slight break.

Although conventional guidance advises against cuffs due to their horizontal effect, if the trousers are pleated, the cuff’s weight knifes the front leg crease while better anchoring the pant’s bottom to the shoes. The cuff’s mass also helps forge a more balanced transition between the trousers’ smaller bottom and larger shoe, particularly important for the heavyset man, who needs larger footwear to counterpoint the volume above. The width of the shorter man’s cuffs should measure 1 5/8 inches. If uncuffed bottoms are preferred, they should break slightly on the shoe front while angling downward to the heel to prevent them flapping about.

In the matter of materials, to discourage the impression of bulk, solids and vertical patterning should predominate. Colors should remain in the medium- to dark register, because lighter colors tend make a stout physique appear larger. The mission is to stretch out and promote long, easy lines, and the less contrast between the two halves of the body, the lengthier the appearance. One color from top to bottom, the suit’s ultimate color lesson, should generally be the coordinating benchmark for this body type. Smooth fabrics such as fine worsteds minimize thickness, as do up-and-down patterns such as fine pinstripes, herringbones, and windowpanes longer in the warp than woof.

Tips for the Short, Slim Man

Like the heavyset frame, the thin physique should always dress “large”. Closely fitted clothes serve to accentuate the narrow frame. The major difference between the short, stout body and the short, thin one is that the latter’s leaner scaffold can entertain more definition to the torso, especially around the waist. In order to construct this slightly hourglass shaping, the short, slender physique needs more breadth across his shoulders and chest and fullness in the upper trouser.

The single-breasted, three-button jacket would be welcome here, as when worn unbuttoned, each side forms a panel down the front that creates an illusion of verticality. The double-breasted model with lapels rolled below the waist would also serve to elongate this body type. Flaps or patch pockets add weight to the jacket’s proportionally smaller hip, effecting a beter overall balance between the top and bottom halves of the jacket. The height-challenged man, whether wide or narrow, should avoid ensembles in which there is a pronounced contrast between upper and lower halves. However, the thin man can wear lighter colors to better advantage than his corpulent confrere. Fabrics with strong vertical lines, such as some plaids and windowpanes, as well as more textured flannels and tweeds, are very sympathetic to this body type.

Tips for the Tall

The higher the tree, the broader its branches; ergo, the six-footer and above needs full-proportioned clothing for both naturalness and style. As this guy has plenty of vertical lines, he needs to produce more horizontal ones. His suit jacket should affect an easy-fitting demeanor, particularly around the torso and waist, with ample breadth across the shoulders and sufficient length for symmetry and balance. The rule of thumb on jacket length: short jackets on short men, long ones on tall men.

Since this body type’s shoulders already tower high above the floor, his jacket’s shoulders should slope gently downward. The only reason for any extra padding or thickness would be to build them out a little. Although slightly augmented in scale, the tall man’s jacket shoulders should pitch forward ever so slightly, contributing to the suppleness and softness encircling his upper strata.

As for jacket model, this man can wear them all. Double-breasteds are helpful to the cause, because the horizontal thrust of their lapels can build out a man, especially if fastened on the natural waistline, not below it. Another option would be the single-breasted, three-button jacket with generous width notch lapels that sit a fraction low on the chest, such as those of Mr. Cooper’s illustrated earlier.

Details like the patch and flap pocket, an extra ticket pocket, or turn-back sleeve cuffs inject a sense of stylish clutter that impedes the eye from making long, vertical sweeps. Here’s one case where a belt’s horizontal personality could come in handy, interrupting the occupant’s vertical roulade.

Trousers should be long in the rise and tailored with deep, forward-facing pleats to bring a comfortable fullness to the front. Naturally, trousers positioned any lower than on the natural waistline would spell sartorial disaster for the long of leg. Generously cut thighs need to taper gently down to 1 3/4-inch cuffs, which are to rest on the shoe with a generous break. And should this high-rise gent be able to afford the custom route, his prominence would profit handsomely from the double-breasted, shawl-collar waistcoat’s straight-fronted design.

Small-patterned clothes only serve to exaggerate a tall man’s length. To achieve a more natural proportion, long-limbed lads need larger-scaled patterns, preferably those having some weight and texture to them, like flannels, cheviots, and surface-interest woolens. If stripes are favored, they’ll need some width for symmetry and softness for refinement. The horizontal formation of checks, overplaids, and boxlike designs has always been of benefit in the beam department. High-profile Gary Cooper enlists the patterned sport coat and contrast trouser to chip away at his elongated plumb line.

Tips for the Athletic Build

An athletic physique is defined by the clothing industry as a man whose chest measures eight inches or more than his waist. With such an exaggerated V-shaped torso, the goal would be to forge a more architecturally harmonious relationship between the highly upholstered upper half of the body and the disproportionately smaller lower half, without sacrificing the overall athletic image.

Beginning at the top, expansive shoulders and chest mean that the jacket’s shoulders must be as soft and natural-looking as possible. The jacket’s length is critical and should, if anything, err slightly on the long side. While its dimensions need to balance the shoulder’s bulk, its extra length must not shorten the leg’s line.

The single-breasted, two-button model with generous lapels positioned on the upper chest will help play down the shoulders’ breadth. So as not to play up the already top-heavy look, one should avoid any unnecessary waist suppression in the jacket. Just as the jacket should be gently shaped through the waistline, the sleeve should likewise taper gently downward to the wrist. Jacket detailing should be kept at a minimum to accentuate the vertical line, although flap or patch pockets can add weight to the hip for a better balance with the shoulder.

The suit trouser for the athletic build should be cut as full around the hip and thigh as possible, fitting as high on the waist as comfortable. Its fullness works to fill up the jacket bottom’s large cavity, and its high-waisted placement translates to a longer leg line. Trousers should taper down to a cuffed bottom that rests on the shoe with some break, pulling the eye all the way down to the floor. Fuller-scale footwear plus the cuff’s mass aid in countering the upsidedown pyramid effect of the upper body.

Trying to emphasize the up-and-down while playing down breadth, smooth-faced fabrics, such as worsted stripes, herringbones, and even windowpanes longer in length than width, will do very nicely here. Assuming a broad face and thick neck, vertical-pointing dress shirt collars, such as tabs or straight points, are the ticket to ride here.

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