If you’re a man 5 feet 8 inches or shorter, you know how frustrating it is to wear a suit that feels like a hand-me-down, or a shirt that makes you look like a flying squirrel, or a pair of pants that makes you look like a clown with the crotch down to your knees. You don’t have to settle for oversized clothes! Short men’s style expert Alan Au of Jimmy Au’s For Men 5’8” and Under in Beverly Hills shares fashion tips for short and/or small men.
The most important tip is to plan on having your clothes tailored. Get it in your mind that it will have to be done. Often shorter men don’t want to acknowledge their height and choose not to get their clothes altered to fit. Guess what, taller guys need to do it, too. Looking taller comes down to the fine tuning of a garment. Don’t believe it’s a price issue, I’ve seen it not done with $300 suits and $3,000 suits. Get it in your mind to get it done!
The second most important tip is to buy the fit, not the size. Designers and manufacturers have different opinions on how a size 40 short should fit. If you are 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 9 inches, try both short and regular size coats to see what fits best. If you are 5 feet 4 inches 5 feet 5 inches, try both short and extra short size coats to see what fits best. When it comes to dress pants, wear the shortest rise you can comfortably wear. The rise is the distance from the top of the waistband to the bottom of the crotch. Many men think wearing a longer rise increases their mobility, it actually limits it.
Sizes change with the style of clothing, too. Ten years ago a size 32-waist casual pant measured 34 inches at the waist. Now with trimmer fits in style, a size 32 waist may actually be … 32 inches! Don’t get caught up with the numbers, get the right fit.
Fashion favors the shorter man; especially for the next year or so. Shrunken coats and trimmer fits make finding alternatives possible. The most favorable trend is the pinstripe suit in all its types and colors. Try a light grey pinstripe suit (Calvin Klein, $595) in a three-button, single-breasted model. If you are more concerned about looking taller, choose a three-button model, if you would like to look bigger, choose a two-button model. Lighter colors help emphasis more size, while darker colors make you look slimmer. The width of the stripes should balance with your frame. Stripes should be no wider than 3/4 inches. Avoid loud plaids and windowpane patterns. If you like these patterns, choose more subtle tonal varieties in smaller patterns.
Choose a slimmer and shorter necktie (Jimmy Au, $105) to better balance your body. If the necktie is too long or wide, shorten it from the wider end. Keep patterns small enough to repeat several times. Find a trim fitted dress shirt with the pocket and collar in the right size (Jimmy Au, $140) so that it doesn’t make you look like a flying squirrel. Shorten sleeves to fit about 1/2 inch below the wrist, and shorten the shirt hem enough so you can tuck it in your pants without having it bunch at the crotch. If the pocket is set too low or the collar of the neck too high, pass on it. You can’t move the pocket, and the only way a high collar style will fit is by going to the next size up. I recommend a shorter collar like 1-1/4 inches for more comfort and to elongate your neck.
Choose dress shoes of a clean and simple design and thinner soles. Plain toe oxfords (Alden Shoes, $360) are sleek and take attention away from your feet. Avoid chunky soles, it makes you look like a teen who’s never worn a suit before. Leather soles of most American and English style shoes are appropriate for both plain and cuffed hems. Italian and Spanish style shoes usually have thinner soles and are best with a plain hem. To add height, a dress boot can be appropriate. Classic shoes like wing tips are appropriate with suits and tasseled moccasins are best with a suit and sportcoat. Socks should match your pants or be a shade darker. Don’t wear shoe lifts with tall dress shoes. Nothing says I’m trying too hard than suddenly appearing to have had a growth spurt.
Be a good sport
Sweaters are becoming more popular and more styles will be offered this fall. Don’t get drawn into wearing a bulky sweater. Stick to wearing thinner styles in trimmer fits with a V-neck collar (Lenor Romano, $125). Heavy gauge knits and chunky cable knits will swallow you up like a blanket. Sweater patterns need to be small or subtle. A V-neck brings attention to your head and shoulders. Choose sport shirts with a trimmer fit like you would a dress shirt. Rules are the same as above. Choose stripes in narrow to medium widths (Jimmy Au, $130). You’ll know when it’s too wide. You’ll only see the stripe and not the shirt. When it comes to checks, houndstooths and herringbones, choose patterns where the size of the pattern will have a more solid effect from a distance and can be appreciated closer from a social distance. If people notice your shirt pattern from across the room, that’s all they are noticing.
Casual pants need to be in a short rise and trimmer cut (Jimmy Au, $69). Flat front pants are great for most short men, those with a belly who wear their pants low and those who are thin or trim look best in these. But they aren’t for everybody. If you are wider in the hip, have an athletic build or thick thighs, a pleated front may be better. If you prefer a pleated front, go after pants with shallow pleats.
Get your motor running
Leather jackets are a hot fashion item and leading the way are motorcross styles. Leather motorcross jackets usually come in shorter cuts and many are sleek will minimal treatment to keep a clean look. Choose lighter-weight leather like lambskin (Jimmy Au, $650) instead of calfskin. It drapes better on a shorter man and isn’t as stiff. Go for trimmer bodies and trim sleeve styles to help lengthen your body. Trim cut hipsters and bombers are also a great look. Stay away from blousy bombers, and boxy 3/4-length jackets, you’ll be engulfed by skin.
As for jeans, Avoid full-cut baggy styles. Choose trimmer models like a straight leg or boot cut. The best model would be a short rise boot cut (Agave Denimsmith “Jockey” model, $195). When given the choice, choose a short rise if you want to wear it at the waist, and a low rise if you want to wear it close to the hip. Avoid stovepipe legs, bell bottoms and baggy fitting styles. They bring all your attention down and to the floor. The deal breaker in all jeans is how your butt looks in them. Comfort and attractiveness are inversely related. In most cases, the less comfortable it is, the better your butt probably looks in them. Find a pair that gives you both comfort and sex appeal, buy all you can and horde them. Ask any woman.
Dream date on the beach
A white linen jacket can be dressed up or down (Michael Kors, $395). Either way you will look like you just walked off a yacht. Wearing linen says I’m casual and confident enough to know wrinkles are part of its character and relaxed allure. Wearing white says purity, openness and sanctuary. Combine the two, and what date wouldn’t want to be seen with you? Wear it with white, tan or beige pants in a lightweight fabric like silk, cotton or linen for a great dress casual look. For a wedding on the beach or a captain’s dinner on a cruise, try a black and grey pinstriped seersucker dress pant (Jimmy Au, $195) that’s perfect for a white linen jacket. The look is spectacularly continental and elegant. This is reserved for only the most confident man, because the first rule of sportcoats and pants for the shorter man is to minimize the contrast between pant and coat. If you can’t pull it off, we recommend wearing pants closer in color for a taller effect.
When wearing blue, tan or beige linen jackets, choose pants of a slightly darker shade to bring attention up to your chest. It’s best to choose a plain hem on your pants to give you a longer leg line. Pleated pants are OK if the pleats are shallow and in a short rise. Avoid regular rise pleated pants. The pleats are too deep and make you look stubby. Wear dress pants at the waist where most are designed to be worn. To look taller, keep contrasts to a minimum with your sportcoats. Go with more tonal combinations. Avoid large patterned pants, especially in plaids and windowpanes. Solids and marled shades are best, followed by thin stripes, small herringbones, and small checks. If you prefer a cuff, make sure your tailor makes it no more than 1-1/4-inch wide. If you are bigger or stocky, try 1-1/4-inch, if you are thin or small it may look more balanced with a 1-inch wide cuff. You should not wear a regular 1-1/2-inch cuff.
From your backyard to the Bahamas
It’s a huge misconception that clothing has to be loose to be comfortable, especially casual wear. Tight isn’t good either, but clothing that is too loose will make you perspire and chafe more. Short sleeve casuals like camp shirts (Jimmy Au, $85), polos and T-shirts need to be trimmer in order to look great and feel great. Solids are great, but for a more lengthening effect choose vertical patterns or prints. If you like horizontal stripes, choose stripe combinations that are thinner and/or more subtle in color contrasts. Be aware of shirts that are too long and have the shirt hem shortened. When wearing shorts, choose styles that are above the knee. Man style “short shorts” are an acquired taste. We recommend shorts just at or above the knee. Avoid shorts with too many cargo style pockets. It just looks like you have a bunch of material wrapped around your waist. Cleaner styles like short rise walk shorts (Jimmy Au, $55) or tennis shorts are good. Board shorts and swim trunks are so big it’s like drowning in a parachute in the water. Many boys’ styles are simple and may end up being the right fit for a shorter man. Another option is buying lifeguard trunks. They are shorter and trimmer for less drag. Removing the lifeguard emblem is optional.
Men under 5 feet 8 inches want the same thing that men over 6 feet want … to have good looking clothes that fit and make us look normal. We don’t want to look like junior high kids in hand-me-downs and we don’t want to look like giant freaks draped in a tent. Wearing clothes in the right proportions will make men of all heights look normal. Appropriate choices in fabrics, patterns and styles will always help shorter men look taller and really tall men just look tall. Looking good doesn’t mean having to look tall. A great fit is always in style.