Tuesday, 12 January 2010

What you want - 2: A big man

So, I have a lovely friend - very stylish, gorgeous, sharp...  and she has a chap who is also lovely - but struggling rather, in the struggle to match her sartorial splendour, and so she's written me an impassioned plea for ideas.  As you know, this isn't my field of familiarity: I'm no expert on where to shop for men's clothes, but I'll do the best I can using basic principles.  My friend's boyfriend is 40, tall and broad shouldered, but she describes him as "portly of tum", and "generally top heavy".  I can't reproduce all of her letter here as it gets a bit 'frank', and it wouldn't be politic to use a photo of the chap himself, so I'm going to use the actor Vince Vaughn to get the body shape in your minds.  I get a bit weak-kneed about Vaughn: he's a great big scrummy bear of a man. 

It's hard for men.  There are far fewer variables of shape and form in men's clothing, and their bodies don't offer many failsafes that can distract the eye from the imperfections.  Where a woman can put on a slash of vivid lipstick or show a splendid decolletage, most men would consider these strategies as probably not enhancing their look.  But there are some opportunities: my friend's chap has a good head of hair, and I strongly advise him to adopt a hairstyle that's a bit flash - short at the sides for slimming effect, but longer on top in the tousled style of Hugh Grant, David Tennant's artfully messy fringe, or Vaughn's own suggestion of a quiff with killer sideburns. A pair of stylish glasses can also draw the eye.

Some things don't change, though - the rules of what is optically slimming are the same for men and women.  It's no more flattering for a man to wear a t-shirt, with its unforgiving high neckline, than it is for a woman.  Any man who wishes to look a little more svelte would do well to eschew just about everything other than the traditional, button-front shirt, worn two buttons open at the neck, just as above.  The V shape neckline elongates the throat and counteracts any burgeoning double chin (a beard can help, but should be well groomed.  Those of us carrying extra weight have an unfair tendency to look unattractively ragged). The line of buttons going all the way down the front draws the eye down, creating a slimming effect.  A shirt with vertical panels will enhance this too, and generally indicates a closer fit. It may seem counterintuitive but heavier bodies shouldn't be swathed in tent-like quantities of fabric; a more fitted look will reduce bulk.  Just make sure the shirt is big enough (and long enough) to allow for a full range of arm movement when done up.  As a general rule, unless very smart dressing is required, leave the shirt untucked and remember that long sleeves are far more flattering (and classy, and elegant, and stylish) than short ones.

Just as with larger women, heavier men should pay attention to pattern.  Checks add width, horizontal lines are not to be countenanced, and patterns should be on a larger scale the bigger you are - but avoid anything too big  as you may end up resembling a sofa.  If you're going to wear the shirt without a jacket some kind of pattern is advisable, as unbroken blocks of colour can give the impression of acreage.  Perhaps surprisingly, since vertical lines = slimming, I'm advising against the ubiquitous Paul Smith-style striped shirt.  It'll make you look like a deckchair.  Not all colours are great to be worn near the face: pale colours can make you look washed out, and yet slimming black makes some look completely drained.  Experiment with dark wine reds, purples, blues and blue-greens as these shades suit all but the fairest skin and hair.  Primary colours are for children and those with very dark skin only.

If the belly protrudes significantly over the waistband, the solution is another layer that will follow the form of the body.  In winter you can wear a fine knit V neck sweater or tank top over the shirt and this will bring the shirt snugly to your waist. Summer is harder though, as obviously you won't want a knitwear layer.  You can wear a t-shirt tucked in to avoid exposing the tummy, but t-shirts themselves are so unflattering... I would advise a t-shirt in a colour no darker than your skin tone, and wearing an untucked shirt on top, done up (apart from the top two buttons) or worn undone, like a jacket. 

Over the shirt, jackets and coats should be tailored with vertical shaping, like a well-fitting suit jacket.  A retro-style leather blazer in black, brown, or warm cherry red is a fantastic everyday standby.  Finding one in the right size may be a problem as many are vintage, but keep an eye out.  In the meantime consider a well-cut suit jacket as a standby.  In colder weather, a classic overcoat like this from Crombie at House of Fraser is an investment that will flatter him and cut a dash for years to come.  It's available up to a 48" chest, and costs £395 (reduced from £675!).  Cheaper options are undoubtedly available, but it's the shape you want - deep V line, mid-width lapels, single breasted.  It needn't be black: charcoal grey is an easier shade to wear for people with paler colouring.

What then to balance out the bottom half?  Avoid anything with a tapered leg, and conversely, also avoid bootcuts.  Bootcut trousers are designed to balance out a heavy thigh.  Great for pear shaped women and rugby players, but heavier set men tend not to have proportionately wide legs.  We want a trouser style then that will add bulk and an impression of width to balance out the top half.  Cargo / combat pants do this, but probably won't work with the button front shirt and form fitting jacket.  Instead I'm going to recommend a wide leg trouser in flannel or corduroy for winter: in summer adopt a dark linen suit with a wide leg. It should be long enough to crumple over the shoe at the front, but shouldn't rub the floor at the back: this is a fairly smart look.  Avoid all except very dark denim with a wide, parallel leg, and say 'no' to shorts and cropped trousers altogether.

Footwear is important, and this look won't work with most trainers, although retro style tennis shoes, baseball boots etc would give a creative edge.  More conventional would be a lace up (or ankle boot for casual wear) with elongated lines, echoing the vertical tailoring of the shirt and jacket.


  1. Excellent work there. I'll pass it on to any friends I may or may not have with these issues.

  2. ahhh - tantric radish is you... you're such an enigma!


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