Men built outside of the average bear a mixed blessing.
They are memorable in stature.
They struggle to find clothes that suit their frames and flatter their unusual advantages.
Shorter men in particular face a limited selection on most department store racks.
For the man built both short and strong — athletic, but measuring under 5'6″ or so — specific styles will flatter, while others will give the unfortunate impression of a man shoved into clothes either too large or too small.
Fit is a primary consideration, but not the only one; even a well-cut suit in the wrong style can make a smaller man seem awkwardly shaped.
This article examines the needs specific to short but powerfully-built men who carry most of their mass in muscle and want to make the most of their physique.
Clothing Needs Of The Short, Muscular Man
1. Vertical Presence For The Short Man
Contrary to popular belief, most short men aren't trying to be taller — nor should they.
Nickel-and-dime additions of height here and there do little beyond make a man look desperate, and in the case of a strong, muscular man will simply distract from an otherwise attractive physique.
What is desirable is an unbroken vertical impression — that is to say, a smooth visual profile that allows the viewer's eye to travel seamlessly from heels to head.
While there's no need to build an entire wardrobe around the most obviously vertical elements (strong up-and-down striping, etc.), few shorter men will suffer from clothing that leaves the heels-to-head journey smooth and unbroken.
2. Clothes For A Muscular Man
The reality of a solid, muscular build is that it's an advantage in nearly every social situation — there's nothing wrong with choosing clothes that demonstrate or flatter one.
Since most social situations don't allow for Speedos or Spandex bodysuits as part of the dress code, a subtler approach is needed — well-fitted clothes will help most here, emphasizing a muscular shape without pinching or bunching tightly and giving the impression of an overstuffed sack.
Tailored menswear may be the only option for some men, or clothing can be altered to fit better than off-the-rack options, but a strong man will always want to avoid anything that hangs too loosely or clings too tightly.
3. Style & Presence For Well-Built Men
One of the advantages of a powerful build is a frame that can bear most patterns and styles; a strong man has the luxury of wearing combinations that could overpower a more slightly built man.
For a shorter man, this is doubly advantageous — distinctive style can help add to a memorable impression even in a room full of taller men, many of whom tend to dress more conservatively. Clothes that add a sense of body and presence will flatter strong, short men better than pale or understated looks.
Fashion For The Short, Athletic Man: Head To Toe
4. Patterning Choices For Short, Athletic Men
All menswear will have a texture to it, whether it comes from a printed fabric or the weave and dye of the cloth itself.
As a shorter man, you want to seek out patterns that encourage an automatic upward gaze — vertical stripes are the traditional advice, and will serve you well, but plain, dark fabrics are just as easy on the eyes and can present a more confident impression.
The slimming effect of strong-lined patterns may also detract from your physique, making a subtler verticality more flattering.
Color choices are primarily determined by complexion — trying different choices on is the only way to really tell what suits you best — but in general, darker colors will make a more striking impression and allow the eye to travel more easily.
The weave of the cloth is important in solid prints; avoid anything with heavy patterns or too much texture. The smoother the appearance of the color, the less there will be to distract the eye as it travels along your frame.
5. Short Men's Shoes
There is a variety of footwear options for a shorter man looking to boost his height, which may or may not be worth taking advantage of.
Many of the more obvious choices, especially thick soles and chunky heels, are noticeably out of proportion and actually distract the viewer's gaze, holding it near your feet instead of allowing it to travel naturally upward.
They can also give the impression of a man's head being smaller than it actually is, an unattractive look for any man and especially a shorter man.
Smooth shoes with no distracting detailing do more to flatter a short man than anything designed to add height; a narrow tip and slanted lacing can help increase the vertical impression and move the eye upward away from the shoe.
Like any man, a short man should match his socks to his trousers rather than to his shoes — a band of mismatched color shows clearly against the bottom of the pants leg, and once again halts the viewer's eye.
6. Trousers For The Short, Athletic Man
Fitting trousers to a muscular man depends on where he carries his weight — men with strong buttocks and thighs can wear their trousers tightly fitted (though they will almost certainly want pleated pants, which can stretch to fit the muscles as they move and flex), while men whose lower half is not as muscular as the torso will want a looser fit that falls in a straight drape to the shoes.
No short man benefits from wide cuffs, so opt for narrow or no cuffs at all — while standard on most off-the-rack pants, cuffs are an option, not a necessity.
As a particularly muscular man, you may need tailoring or alterations to make sure the pockets of your trousers can hold your keys and other small items without bulging. Since you want to keep your vertical profile unbroken, suspenders are vastly preferable to belts, and may be more comfortable as well — adjust them as needed for the muscles on your chest.
7. Suits & Jackets For Small, Muscular Men
The shorter man's suit coat is a secret weapon of style, and the most versatile piece of clothing available as well. A long, plunging opening in the front showcases a solid chest while adding an impression of height, so single-breasted, two-button suits serve you best here.
An aggressive, dark color without patterns makes a striking and elegant look, while understated upward striping increases the impression of height and helps you stand out from other men in sober, solid suits.
The shoulders of the jacket should be fitted close and unpadded, and you would do well to consider upward-sweeping peak lapels instead of the more common notched style as well.
The flaring shape directs the viewer's eyes upward and outward, drawing attention to your muscular torso, as well as simply standing out in a crowd.
8. The Athletic Man's Shirt & Tie
Like your suits, your shirts will benefit from simple, solid colors or modest striping, and your ties should be matched accordingly. Remember to keep your patterns well-mixed — a narrowly-striped shirt goes best with a solid or broadly-pattered tie, and vice-versa.
A close-fitted shirt will flatter your musculature, as will narrower ties made from thin fabric and tied in simple knots that allow the viewer's eye to pass over them. If your chest is truly impressive, you may even consider a bow tie, although it can add an unwanted horizontal element that stops the viewer's gaze at your neck.
Make sure your ties do not fall too far — if the tip falls below your waistline, you risk appearing undersized. Most collar sizes will work for your build, and you should let the shape of your face determine which looks best, but spread collars should likely be avoided; their horizontal impression will shorten your appearance, and they risk looking undersized at the top of your broad chest as well.
9. Hats For Short, Strong Men
A man's hat is a personal choice, and many choose to wear none at all, but you may want to consider one simply as an extra vertical touch.
Hats with a sharp “taper” — that is, hats that are narrower at the crown and spread wider at the brim — continue to direct the viewer's eyes upward beyond a man's height, adding to his apparent size. A low-slung hat can also keep your head from looking oversized and add balance to your frame.
Completing A Short, Athletic Man's Style
In general, you will want to avoid any unnecessary finishing touches to your style. Pocket squares, tie clips, cufflinks, and other minor elements of menswear distract the eye, and may well look undersized against your powerful body as well. Rely on bold colors and an aggressive style that showcases your build to make the impression, rather than distracting details.
Following the basic principles of vertical emphasis, good fit, and distinctive style will flatter you beyond any single flourish's ability — and make sure that you stand out in any crowd of men, no matter what their bodies look like beneath their suits.
For more style tips for the short body type, check out these articles: