Big & Tall – Clothes for Large Men

Here’s the trouble with “big and tall” clothing:  there’s rarely much attention to the “and.”  The majority of options will either be for “big,” i.e. broad, men, or else for tall men, but not for both.

The options for a man who is both tall and broadly-built are pretty much limited to huge, cloak-like shirts and jackets that drape loosely over anyone’s frame, no matter how big.

It’s the overkill approach — by making baggy, saggy clothes, they can produce a single size that at least won’t be too small for anyone. And if you don’t mind looking like a sack of potatoes it’ll do just fine, but most big guys like a little more definition to their shape.

Nicolas SoamesGetting the Right Look

It’s not impossible to get a good look from off-the-rack clothing, even “big and tall” clothes, but it’s going to take some patience.  Bespoke tailoring is a great alternative for men that can afford it, and men of more modest means may still want to keep a good tailor in the cell phone for small adjustments.

Sleeves and waists can usually be taken in without too much trouble, and a more skilled tailor can narrow shirts to fit a specific torso, often at a fraction of the cost of a from-scratch bespoke article. Measuring yourself at home is also reasonably easy, and can give you a good idea what you’re looking for before you even walk into a store, much less talk to a tailor.

measuring tapeOf course, you have to know what you want before a tailor can do anything for you.  Broadly-built men are going to want a balanced look that makes their clothing seem made for them, rather than draped on a frame that it doesn’t quite fit.

“Slimming” isn’t necessarily the goal, although it’s a word you’ll hear a lot in your shopping experience.  Clothing that looks like it’s trying to hide something generally tends to be less attractive than clothing that works with what’s there.

Making sure the details of the clothing are in the right places — sleeves end at the base of the wrist, shirt pockets aren’t riding too high or sagging too low on the chest, etc. — are more important that cramming in as many vertical stripes as possible.

charcoal gray suit jacketTall, broad men in particular want to be careful how many “slimming,” i.e. vertical, elements they incorporate into their clothing.  Too much and you start to look looming. Some modest decorative elements that help distract the viewer’s gaze as it moves up the body will go a long way to making a “big and tall” man look strongly-built but not awkwardly oversized.

Big Men – Avoid “Fat Man” Pants

Ever notice how Hollywood has a particular pair of pants they put on every character they want to look like the “fat man”?  They’re usually light-colored, double-pleated, and buttoned too tight to keep them from slipping off the big man’s hips and falling down. These are all deliberately bad choices! There’s plenty of good-looking pants out there for heavyset men who know what they’re looking for.

The most flattering thing a larger man can do with his trousers is wear them high — around the natural waist, well above the hips.  This lets the fabric drape over the stomach and fall in a smooth front down the body.

Trousers worn lower will need to be belted tightly underneath the belly, which encourages it to drape over the belt and create an unsightly bulge in the shirtfront. Belts in general have a tendency to make a bigger man look uncomfortably pinched; whenever possible, larger men should consider the more comfortable and better-looking alternative of suspenders.

men's red suspendersPleats (the little vertical folds in the front of a pair of trousers) are a very comfortable feature, and should be a staple of any heavyset man’s wardrobe. The trousers should be loose enough that the pleats are fully closed when you stand at rest — if the folds are stretching open before you move or sit, the pants are too tight in the thighs.

Big and Tall Shirts

Whether you’re talking about business dress shirts, polos, or even more casual shirts, the rule is the same for tall & thin or tall & broad men — buy shirts that are long enough to tuck in all the way around, and fitted enough that there isn’t a big billow of cloth around your waist when you do it.

gray men's dress shirtA bit of looseness is good, but too much just adds to the impression of bulk and width. Dark colors will have more of a “slimming” effect than light, but solid color in general is the way to go.

Patterns have a tendency to look awkward if they bend too much with the shape of the body under them, so try to limit them to things like neckties, which don’t have to cover a wide, curving space.

Make sure the collar of any collared shirts is loose enough to button without pinching, both for your comfort and to keep the shirt from looking overstuffed. Men choosing dress shirts may want to consider French cuffs as an extra detail — the splash of color at the wrists helps define the visual boundaries of your frame.

Suits, Jackets, and Sportcoats

When you can, wearing a jacket of some kind is always a flattering option for a larger man. The modern suit jacket is designed to have a leveling effect — it turns every man’s silhouette into a kind of squared-off hourglass, broad in the shoulders and slightly tapered at the waist before flaring back out in the back. There’s obviously a lot of variations on that theme, but the point is that the shape flatters you and you should wear it.

A tall, broadly-built man looks best in a single-breasted suit that buttons low down to create a deep “V” shape in the front.  The jacket should be loose enough that the button isn’t straining, and long enough in the back to drape over the curve of the buttocks.

Double-vented jackets (jackets with two slits in the bottom rear) give the best drape in the back and add extra flexibility to the sides and front of the jacket, making them the ideal choice for larger men.

men's charcoal gray suitLook for jackets that have larger details — pockets, lapels, etc. — than the regular off-the-shelf ones for a more proportional appearance.  A tall, wide man needs wide pockets to keep his jacket from looking like it was meant for a smaller man and stretched to fit.

Shoulders should be closely-fitted and largely unpadded.  Solid dark colors are the best choice here as well — spice it up with a patterned necktie if you want to; figure patterns like paisleys, dots, checks, or repeated crests are all good ways to draw the eye without emphasizing either height or breadth.

What “Big and Tall” Men Can’t Wear

At the end of the day, there’s a lot of styles that look good on big guys.  Finding them on the rack can be challenging, but there’s plenty of room for self-expression.

About the only things that are totally verboten for well-dressed “big and talls” are heavy horizontal patterning (checks, windowpane, plaids, etc.) and anything that’s fitted so tightly it pinches or so loosely it billows.  It’s hard to over-emphasize the last part — everyone benefits from a good fit, but large men look terrible with a bad one.  Take the time to find clothing that fits well, or have a tailor adjust garments to meet your needs.

Got suggestions for tall, broad men dealing with the frustrations of the “Big and Tall” section?  Drop us a comment and we’ll take a look!

  • Laowei

    Don’t live in China. I am 6’2″ and 3XT and living over here means nothing is available without going to a tailor. The good thing is that tailors are everywhere and inexpensive. It can get tiring sometimes having strangers walking up and saying “Ohh, so fat!” I am always happy seeing guys bigger than me over here.

    I have read these kinds of posts before and they are helpful but always seem to be designed for the businessman. I am a school teacher and have no need for a suit (I don’t even own one). How about some articles about everyday wear? I am getting tired of jeans and khakis and polo shirts.

  • http://twitter.com/RMRStyle Real Men Real Style

    Ouch! I surprised that people are that insensitive to say that Laowei? Is it because they don’t realize what they’re saying exactly as English isn’t their first language? My lovely wife occasionally says things in English that crack me up because of the language/culture difference. I try not to laugh though as she speaks 3 and I barely speak 1:)

    We will write an article to address your needs when it comes to casual style for the large man – so stay tuned. And make sure to join or email list (happen automatically when you get the free eBook!)

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