Dress Shirt Tips for Short, Skinny and Small Men

I was recently asked about the rules short men should follow when wearing a dress shirt.

And although I’m not a big believer in rigid “Rules” – I do think there are guidelines every man south of five foot seven should evaluate when wearing a button-up shirt.

Here are a half dozen dressing taller tips I suggest specifically for short men who do not want their shirts to make them look any smaller.

Shop For Shirts Made For Your Size

We’re not just talking about buying things labeled “S” or “XS” here.  Those are usually just the same pieces of clothing made for bigger men with all parts reduced slightly in size.

mens shirt fit difference

A small man needs a shirt with somewhat different proportions, not just a resizing of a standard-issue dress shirt, so look for brands and stores that market specifically toward shorter men.  Consider looking at brands coming out of Japan, Italy, or Spain – the manufacturers are often assuming a shorter, more slender baseline customer, and their “small” sizes are much more likely to be made with a shorter man’s real proportions in mind.

You can even have luck in the Youth/Boys section of some department stores, though the clothes may not always be as sturdy or high-quality as those meant for adult men.


Adjust Aggressively to Meet Your Needs

If you can buy custom-tailored shirts, do.  You can usually get a tailored shirt for the price of two mass-manufactured ones, three at the outside.  It rapidly becomes worthwhile if your body’s outside the average sizes (and tailored shirts tend to be sturdier than machine-made ones, so you’re not likely to pay that much more in the long run anyway).

small men dress shirt measurements

If you do buy off the rack, at least have a tailor adjust the length in the sleeve and the fit at the waist to your body’s measurements.

Nothing makes a short man look more awkward than sleeves that hang down too far, or a shirt that billows and sags around the waist.  A quick adjustment doesn’t cost much and keeps you from looking like you’re being swallowed by your shirt.

Select Narrow Collar Styles

mens straight point narrow collar

A shorter man always does best with slim, streamlined details.  A broad spread collar with outward-pointing tips stops the viewer’s gaze at your neck and makes you look stouter than you really are.  Narrow collars whose points aim downward help keep the eye traveling all the way up toward your face.

mens wide spread collar

I generally (although there is no hard fast rule here if you love them!) steer smaller men away from button-down collars as well — there’s really no need for the extra visual clutter, and a good crisp point collar makes you look sharper as well as taller.

Just remember that narrower collars need a narrower knot when you wear a necktie!  You’ll want to wear ties made of thin material that doesn’t bulk up when folded over itself, and to use a small knot like a four-in-hand or a Pratt-Selby knot.


Wear Vertically-Oriented Patterns

This is good advice for every piece of a short man’s wardrobe, but it’s particularly easy to achieve with dress shirts.  Candystripe patterns (equal-sized stripes of white and a single color alternating with one another) are simple, dressy, acceptable at almost every level of formality and fantastic for guiding a viewer’s gaze up toward your face.

mens stripe shirt patterns

All of these would complement a short man’s body type.


Try not to wear anything with lots of stripes in varying colors and sizes — these can get too distracting, keeping the eye stuck on your chest.  Thin, simple stripes make you look elegant, streamlined, and taller than you actually are.

Avoid Unnecessary Details

You want to keep your shirt simple.  A breast pocket isn’t necessary at all, though unless you’re having your shirts tailored it’s hard to avoid them these days; if you do wear a shirt pocket try to only have one, and to avoid any hemming, decorative stitching, or monogramming on it.  You also shouldn’t ever have a pen clipped to it — this looks a little sloppy on any man, and it’s a dead stop for the viewer’s gaze, robbing you of your height again.

Tuck It In!

The final piece of advice for a short man’s dress shirt is to always keep it tucked in.  Loose shirttails, even in socially-acceptable situations, shorten your legs dramatically.  They’ll make you look particularly stumpy if the tails are long on you (and they often are unless you’ve had the size tailored).  Even if the shirt doesn’t come down much lower than the waist you still have a billowing, loose line around your midsection that cuts your body in half. 

RAW Transcript


Hi. This is Antonio at Real Men Real Style. And today we’ll be talking about dress shirt tips for short, skinny, and small men.

Okay, so I get quite a few questions from man’s [0:00:12] [Inaudible] of 5’7″ and 5’8″ and they’ve got questions about how can I look taller, how can I – I mean what particular things can I do with my clothing to look sharp?

So today we’re going to talk about how you can properly wear a dress shirt and make sure that you are dressing taller so that – and what I mean by that is that you’re not wearing something that’s going to just inhibit your – basically make you look shorter. And the key is remember, you want to be streamlined. So anything that goes against that, you want to avoid doing. Now I understand that if you’ve got a particular style you really like, if you’ve got a little bit of color, or detail, or monogramming in your shirt that, well, you are really in love with, well, wear it with confidence. And you can give up a few of these things here.

But what I want to make sure that you understand is that each of them, even though it has a small effect, those small effects add up. And you want to try to follow as many of these guidelines. And they’re guidelines. They’re not really rules because you can break them and you can adjust these to fit your personal style.

But probably one of the first and most important things is make sure you get a shirt that actually fits you. And you need to understand what fit it. Most men in this country, they like really loose clothing. I myself grew up really liking loose shirts. And I think that it’s maybe it’s not so much that we like them. It’s that pretty much only what’s available and that’s because most clothing especially less expensive clothing is made to fit as many body types as possible. And that makes sense if you think about it. I mean the manufacturer wants to sell this to as many people so he makes huge – it’s going to fit huge to the torso because something big will fit a 100 different types. He’ll make it huge in the arms.

The problem is if you are short and thin and you’re a petite guy, you are going to get – you’re going to get drowned in this shirt even if it says small, but it’s made to fit also a small guy who weighs 50 pounds. You’re of the same height, but weighs 50 pounds more. You want to take your clothing and get it adjusted.

So these are the kind of the first two things is to make sure you get a shirt that fits your size and the other one is to adjust aggressively. So take your clothing to a tailor and have them adjusted. Now I sell custom clothing and of course that would be great if you could buy custom clothing. But I know that’s not, you know, it’s not available for everyone. A lot of people they’re going to thrift stores or they’re going to Wal-Mart and target, they’re picking some great buys, a shirt for $5. But don’t let it end there.

First, again, make sure that you get it and it fits you reasonably well. And then understand what you can get adjusted. You can have a shirt darted in the back and you’re going to pull in – you could easily pull in two inches in that torso. And that’s going to make a huge difference. The same with those sleeves, you can get those sleeves tightened and you can loose a good inch on those sleeves. And all of a sudden you’re going to have a much better fit.

Okay, so now we’re getting into selecting narrow color styles. You want to make sure that your lines are going up and down. And you don’t want to have anything that has horizontal line going across, so narrow straight point colors are really nice. Now they’re harder to find in off the rack shirts, but you just want to make sure that the points are aiming down. Once you start getting in the spread colors, wide spread colors, those are nice in terms of they’re not as common. But they really just don’t – they’re basically creating a horizontal line. It’s going across. And they’re not – they’re not strengthening the vertical. And that’s what you want. You want the up and down streamlined look.

Now, I’ve talked about the button up collars, you know, button down collars are not necessarily a best thing for a short man. If you like widespread collars or if you like the button down, this is a small thing, I say go for it. Wear it with confidence. But the other one jumping into is wearing vertical oriented patterns. Now this one most of you have probably heard especially if you’ve been looking shirts for awhile. But you’ll find that a lot of guys still don’t adhere to this. And all you have to do is look at a picture of a man wearing vertical stripes versus that same picture of that man wearing horizontal lines going across. And you’re going to see there’s a huge difference. It’s a little bit of an optical illusion, but one that you need to use to your full advantage.

And in addition, not all men wear stripes and I think that they look great.

Another thing I didn’t really talk about in the article is if you look at some of the pictures I have. I’ve got this one that’s like an orange brown with like a black at the top right. Now, this would be great if you are wearing a really dark pair of trousers, let’s say, dark black denim or indigo or what else. I mean you could be wearing a black dress slacks because when you think about it, your eyes are going to go right along those black lines right into your trousers. It’s going to be a seamless transition versus you having a white shirt with dark trousers. Where are my eyes going to stop? Right at your bell buckle or right at the area where the white goes to black. That’s a contrast and where our eyes naturally want to stop.

So wear vertical clothing not only because it allows the eyes to go up and down, but because it goes better especially with dark stripes with your trousers usually.

All right, avoid unnecessary details. So you don’t want to have big shift pockets. You don’t want to have pens in your pockets. I mean, just make sure that you’re not wearing a detailed – I mean I even advise shorter guys not to wear pin collars or anything like that because that’s going to – it’s going to keep people focused on that part and that’s not really what you want.

In addition some of these unnecessary details are going to be proportionally bad. So a pocket, you know, they don’t make pockets for smaller guys and pockets for large guys. They make one size pockets most manufacturers. And by not paying attention to proportion, that pocket is just going to look too big on you. Something is going to – you know, people won’t be able to pinpoint it exactly, but it’s going to be something they notice because human beings notice patterns.

All right, last thing, tuck it in. And the reason you want to tuck in is you want to make sure that your leg line is maximized. You never want your leg line to be shorter because men with longer leg lines naturally give the illusion of being taller. I mean, the difference between tall and short men is not so much in their torso usually, but it’s usually in their limbs. And you always want to make your limbs look as long as possible and this will give the optical illusion of you being taller than you are.

So, you know, this also applies to fit up above and making sure that your shirts that you don’t have huge arm holes on those and that you can try to tighten those up which a skilled tailored can actually do.

And finally, you know, on the trousers, well, I’ll get into trousers in a later article. But again, this has been Antonio at Real Men Real Style. Hope you’ve enjoyed this little podcast. Take care, bye-bye.

[0:07:31] End of Audio.