Dressing the Tall, Muscular Man

Chris Bosh - tall man in a gray suitOnce a man gets past a certain size it’s hard to find any clothing on store racks at all, much less enough of a variety to make significant choices and develop a personal style.

Custom clothing isn’t just a luxury for some athletes, it’s a necessity.  If you’re unfortunate enough to have an NBA build without an NBA salary you’re going to need to pick and choose your articles of clothing carefully to get a good look without going broke.

Knowing the best choices ahead of time saves time, stress, and probably money as well, regardless of whether you’re talking to your personal tailor or to a salesperson at a “big and tall” store.

Good Looks for Tall, Broad Men

Let’s remember that tall, muscular men are pretty much the idealized body type for guys.  That’s not something you want to hide or distract from.

Simple clothes in dark or muted colors are the athlete’s friend.  If you’re seriously tall and seriously muscled you’re going to draw every eye in the room anyway.

That doesn’t mean completely stark clothing, though — tall men need some horizontal elements in their clothing to break the height up a bit and keep people from getting that uncomfortable loomed-over feeling.

Pockets, cuffs, and belts are all good ways to keep the visual impression a little more contained and less overwhelming.

Muscular Men’s Pants

No one wants pants that are too tight to move in comfortably.  Beyond that caveat, let’s face it — a close fit isn’t going to do a well-toned guy any disservice, so you might as well keep everything in close.

The key to well-fitted trousers is the drop, or the space between the waistband and the crotch of the pants.  If the drop is larger than it needs to be, you get a goofy-looking billow of loose fabric between your legs and the cloth around your butt and thighs looks droopy.  Keep the jeans tight around your midsection.

tightly fitted women's jeans

Okay, not that tight.

Take the time and find a pair of trousers that gives you enough room in the crotch to move comfortable but doesn’t hang any lower.  Well-muscled men also need to make sure the thighs have enough cloth in them — if the fabric is pulling tight and bunching, or if the pants have pleats and the pleats are stretching open, there isn’t enough room in the thigh.

Tailors can help large men by making the design elements of clothes a little larger so that everything looks proportional.  Wider cuffs help trousers look like they were made for you, not stretched awkwardly over a too-large frame.

A broad belt with a large buckle has the same effect, and also helps cut your height in half visually, which helps with the looming problem. You still want people to be noticing your body, though, and not your clothes, so stay away from huge, shiny rodeo buckles or anything else excessively eye-catching.

athlete in a gray suit

Shirts for Well Built Men

One of the worst looks for large men is the “overstuffed” appearance, and shirts tend to be the worst offenders. Watch out for collars that pinch — button them up in the store, even if you aren’t tying a tie with them, and make sure that the fit’s comfortable and that the collar itself is large enough not to look undersized for your chin.

A wider spread usually looks better on larger man, but take a look at our article on collar styles to see a more detailed discussion on matching your shirt collar to your features.

wide-collared white men's shirt

Lower down, make sure the shirt can be tucked in all the way around. Most dress shirts are longer in the front and back with an inverted V-shape where the halves join; if the point of the V is too high it will creep out of your waistband and look silly as you move around.

Try for shirts that are long but not too baggy — lots of excess fabric will billow around your waist or balloon out over it and hide your torso.

Ties, if worn, should also be long enough, which almost always means shopping for specifically-marketed “tall” neckties.  A tie should never end with a gap between the tip and the belt, and tall men in particular look like boys who’ve outgrown their hand-me-downs if they show one.

Tall, Strong Men and the Men’s Suit

It’s hard for an athletic man to look bad in a well-fitted suit.  The modern suit jacket or sports coat (check out our What’s in a Jacket article for the difference) is a powerful, masculine shape, and it drapes wonderfully over a powerful, masculine man.  A close fit is still your friend, as long as you can button the jacket without straining it.  Single-breasted jackets with the buttons down low are a great way to showcase a strong chest.

A jacket also gives an opportunity to introduce some horizontals to balance out your height — unslanted pockets are a must, and a horizontally-folded pocket square in the left breast pocket catches the eye without seeming gaudy.

Vince Young in a gray suit

Modern style generally calls for men to show “a half-inch of linen” beyond the ends of the jacket sleeves, but don’t be afraid to wear a slightly longer sleeve and show a bit less shirt cuff.

Longer wrists mean more change in the cloth shown when your arms move, so even a small band of cuff will widen when you use your arms.  Alternatively, consider French cuffs as a great way to shorten the appearance of your arms and put a visual frame on your upper body.

Problem Areas for Tall, Muscular Men

If you’re really built along bigger lines than other men, your biggest fashion enemy is excessive color or patterning.  You don’t need your clothes to draw anyone’s attention.  You’ve already got it.  Bright colors, high contrast, and any kind of vivid print or texture makes you a little too large for most people’s lives.

That doesn’t mean everything has to be flat monochrome — a fine-lined grid on the undershirt can help break your height up some, and any colored fabric can be spiced up with a textured weave.  Just don’t overdo it.

The other key issue is going to be fit.  Anything too tight is just going to look ridiculous, like you got jammed into rental clothes and you hate them. Loose, baggy fabrics aren’t a huge improvement, since they take your toned figure and turn it into a slouched, sack-like appearance. Be picky, and turn down anything that doesn’t fit closely without pinching or bunching.