Dressing well as a shorter man is a huge challenge. I should know.
Waaaaait…Kyle, aren’t you 6’ 5”?
True, I am tall. But it’s the same problem at either extreme: if you’re taller or shorter than average, most clothing brands don’t consider you to be in their “bullseye.”
Still, it’s odd to think of short men as rare, considering there are 30 million men in the US who are 5’ 8” or under (and tons more around the world).
Big thanks to Peter Manning for making this post possible! Peter Manning makes classic American clothing for men 5′ 8″ and under. Use offer code DISTILLED to save 20% off.
Short Man Style Challenges
As a shorter man shopping for clothes, it’s hard not to feel a little discouraged.
You try on a shirt that looks about your size, and your hands disappear into the sleeves like you’ve got elephant trunks for arms.
Or you slip on a pair of chinos, and you realize you’d have to remove a third of the pant leg in order to see your shoes again.
Then just as you talk yourself into venturing into the boy’s section—because, yes, that is an option—you get bowled over by a mom and her snotty nosed 12-year-old son, deep into a back-to-school shopping bender.
“Ugh, what am I doing here?” you think.
That’s when you end up settling. If you don’t leave empty-handed, you grab the smallest size you can and hope it works.
Gradually, you give up on finding that perfect fit. So what if it’s a little long or a little baggy around the mid-section?
But even when you find something close to your size, something seems off. Often you appear shorter or heavier than you actually are. What gives!!!?
Let’s face it, we’re all trying to dress the best for our body types. If you’re a shorter man, you just have to work a little harder at it.
Below are 5 style secrets every shorter man should know so you can dress your best…and take the pain out of shopping.
1. Proportion is Just as Important as Fit
As a shorter man, having clothes that fit well can do wonders. They can make you:
- Look taller
- Look slimmer or more fit
- Look more “put-together” overall
But just because you find a size that fits doesn’t mean it’s going to look good. Proportion is just as important.
You see, most brands have a “one-size-fits-all” mentality when it comes to sizing. Yes, they may modify the pattern to reduce the size of the sleeves, inseams, neck size, body, etc. But often that means a larger garment has just been “hacked” to fit your size.
So, details like pattern size, pockets, button distance…they’re all still designed for larger sizes.
Rather than just focusing on size, you need to look for items where overall proportions have been taken into account.
Wait, so now you’re telling me I have one more thing to stress about when I’m shopping?
Yes, but here’s the upside: if you weed out clothes and brands that don’t address proportion, you can be more laser-focused with your shopping efforts, which will save you time and heartache in the long run.
2. Stop Cutting Yourself in Half
One of the more common tips for shorter men is to “keep your outfits monochromatic.” It’s good advice, but it might sound arbitrary if you don’t know why it works.
Again, most of us are just trying to dress the best for our body types. That usually means accentuating things we like about our bodies and minimizing things we don’t like.
As a shorter man, you might want to downplay your shorter stature and appear a little taller.
Wearing monochromatic outfits (where the top and bottom are in the same color family or similar tones) helps create a more fluid “eye-line” along your body, from bottom to top.
When there’s too much contrast between your top and bottom half, you “cut yourself in half” visually, making you appear shorter than you are.
That’s why limiting the contrast between your pants and shirt and avoiding heavy-looking belts can help make you seem taller.
This also happens on a micro-level as well. The more details you add to your outfit—think pant cuffs, extra jacket pockets, etc—the more visual “noise” you create, which breaks up that fluid eye-line.
3. “My Eyes Are Up Here”
Another staple of advice for shorter men is to avoid wearing horizontal stripes and to wear vertical stripes instead. Why does it matter?
Not surprisingly, vertical stripes help since they literally point up and down. As with the previous tip, this helps keep the attention and “eye line” flowing upwards.
But beyond stripes, there’s another trick that may be less obvious. Remember how a moment ago I said to minimize details on your outfit?
Well, I lied….At least sort of.
You see, another way to create that sensation of upward movement is to actually add details to your outfit—as long as you do it higher up:
- Pocket squares
- Lapel pins
- Unique eyewear
If you can get direct people’s attention upwards (“Hey, my eyes are up here!”), it can help create the illusion of height…or at the very least, minimize the perception of shorter stature.
4. Date Your Tailor, But Don’t Marry Him
Of course, the advice above can help fine-tune your search for clothes as a shorter man. But there’s still a fundamental problem to address:
You still rarely find anything that fits off the rack, and your closet is full of “compromises.”
That’s when it helps to get cozy with your tailor. He can help with basic fixes for some of those items you bought that almost fit, but not quite…
If you haven’t already, you should go through your closet and separate everything into 3 groups:
- Items you love and fit your body perfectly
- Items you like but don’t fit well
- Items you “kinda like” and may or may not fit well
Group 1 stays in the closet. Group 3 goes straight to Goodwill (if you’re not feeling a resounding “Hell yes!” it’s time to part ways). Group 2 is where your tailor may be able to help—the items you know you want to keep, but which still have some issues.
However, keep in mind:
The tailor can help with minor surgery like a quick hem job, some fine-tuning and tightening here and there…
BUT, there are some articles of clothing—suit jackets, outerwear, etc.—that can never be truly fitted well if they don’t start out close enough.
Those garments have so many nuances that as soon as you adjust one element, you have to tweak another and so on. Then before you know it, you’ve made so many adjustments that you would’ve been better off buying a whole new coat. (and it STILL doesn’t fit that well!)
Plus, even for the simple fixes, it gets pricey if every garment you buy has a tailor surcharge added to it. Original price + tailor + time spent = sad face.
So, it’s okay to lean on your tailor for small stuff occasionally, but best not to make it a habit—especially for more complicated pieces.
5. Find Brands That Feel The (Shorter Man’s) Pain
As I mentioned earlier, many brands have a one-size-fits-all mentality. So even if you’re lucky enough to find your size, it’s often just a bigger man’s pattern that’s been “hacked” to remove some extra fabric.
That’s why it helps to find brands that truly understand the needs of shorter men—not just treat them like an afterthought.
Peter Manning vividly remembers when, at age 10, his mom told him that the bell bottoms he wanted wouldn’t be bell bottoms anymore after she shortened them.
So, it’s not surprising that his company, Peter Manning NYC, is dedicated to and designed for the “not-so-tall” guy.
It’s not just about shortening pants or sleeves. To make a better fit for guys, they actually sweat the smaller details (pun intended)— like pattern size, button distance, pant rise, etc.
Peter Manning clothes are designed so you can actually find shirts, pants and even (gasp) jackets that fit…right off the rack.
They also go beyond the one-dimensional sizing that most brands offer (S, M, L, etc). Their proprietary sizing system offers more sizes to choose from because it takes into account height AND weight. What most brands miss, PMNYC understands fully: not every short guy is the same size or shape.
Readers often ask me about style tips for shorter men, and one of the resources I turn to is my friend, Brock over at The Modest Man. He specializes in teaching shorter men how to dress better.
Brock has been a huge advocate of Peter Manning. Because they’re not just a company that happens to also sell clothes to shorter men. They actually feel the pain of the shorter man—they get it. Their clothes not only reflect that, but they look great as well.
If you want to give Peter Manning a try, use offer code DISTILLED to save 20% off.
Even though I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum, I completely relate to the style challenges of the shorter man. When you’re not perfectly average, it’s hard to find clothes that not only fit but also bring out the best in your body type.
Dressing well as a shorter man ultimately comes down to understanding a few not-so-secret secrets:
- Sizing is only half the battle—proportion is key
- Colors and patterns can work for you or against you
- The tailor can help for one-off fixes, but you can’t depend on him for everything
- Finding a brand that “gets” the shorter man, like Peter Manning, can make all the difference
If you’re a shorter man, what other tips have you found helpful for dressing well? Leave a note in the comments below.