Tips for men on how to dress based on their body shape

Dressing according to one’s body shape can make all the difference to a man’s appearance

For men with rectangular body shapes, fitted clothes, like this outfit from Berluti, work well. Courtesy Berluti

Few things say as much about a person as the way they dress. It's human nature to judge someone on first impressions, and our appearance tends to be what others go by when sizing us up.

That goes for women as much as men, but it’s fair to say that many of us blokes are pretty clueless on how to dress, even if we’re well-heeled in the figurative sense. We can spend a fortune on clothes and still end up looking like we’ve woken up on a park bench, simply because we aren’t dressing according to our body shape. Think about it. If you’ve recently bought a shirt, how did you choose your size? S, M, L, XL, or by the collar circumference? Hardly scientific, is it?

When you consider that more than half of the population of the UAE is overweight, according to research by the World Health Organisation (with twice the obesity rate of most countries), it's obvious that, when it comes to how we dress, we should pay more attention to our vital statistics if we're to look sharp. And it isn't just the larger man that has to take his body shape into consideration, either. Tall, skinny, short, rotund, muscular or good old "dad-bod" – there are some highly effective ways to even things out, at least visually, by the way we dress – whether our style is smart, formal or simply casual.

The larger man

Jeremy Hackett, founder of menswear brand Hackett, and author of several authoritative style guides, says he's always been puzzled by men carrying extra weight who are financially well-off, but don't invest in having their clothes made for them. "I so often see large men who have squeezed themselves into skinny suits in a bid to look fashionable," sighs the elegant Brit, "the effect being that they end up looking even bigger. There are many advantages to having one's clothes made. For a start, the suit or jacket will fit in all the right places, and a good tailor will be able to disguise any unseemly lumps and bumps, so not only will you look trimmer, but your clothes will also last longer and you will feel more comfortable."

There are some age-old pieces of advice regarding the disguise of physical heft that most of us will be aware of, such as never wearing horizontal stripes because they draw attention to width. Far better to wear vertical pinstripes, which draw the eye up and down rather than from side to side. Another trick is to opt for dark colours, although Hackett says that isn’t always necessary.

“If you are a larger-than-life character,” he counters, “then even a white suit can look elegant as long as it has been made by a decent tailor. I would also advise having one’s shirt made, as nothing looks worse than a man wearing a shirt so tight that the buttons look as though they may ping off at any moment.

“I would also suggest opting for pointed collars rather than cutaway items, with a neckband fractionally large, rather than one so tight that it emphasises any folds of skin. I would avoid wearing T-shirts, particularly if you are unfortunate enough to suffer from ‘moobs’ – an alternative would be an easy-fitting sports shirt. And whatever you do, never ever wear skimpy swimwear,” he advises.

Five fashion tips for men:

The long and short of it

For men who are vertically challenged, appearing taller is a common pursuit and one that, if done correctly, can yield convincing results. It's all about where the eye is drawn, so try wearing slimmer fitting items and having your trouser hems higher than normal (ankle level is ideal) to show off a flash of colour with some contrasting socks, which give the illusion that you are longer in the limb than you actually are.

Baggy clothing only accentuates a diminutive frame, and loud colours and prints should be avoided and left for the accessories, with neutral tones best for your main items of clothing. Keeping to the same colours throughout helps, too, as it means you will be seen as “a whole”, rather than drawing attention to different areas of the body with a mixed palette. A hat, a pocket square or a skinny tie can all subtly contribute to a taller look, too, as they draw attention to the top half of the torso, adding that all-important sense of height.

For tall men who wish to appear less towering, generally it’s best to do the opposite of what’s outlined above. Wearing longer coats causes some visual shrinkage (provided that’s desirable), and it’s a good idea to avoid tucking in shirts and tops if the situation permits, as again it lowers the eye and your “centre of gravity”. Similarly, mixing things up a bit, colour-wise, provides a much-needed visual break.

Triangles and rectangles

Do you have strong shoulders and a relatively narrow waist? While that inverted triangle look is perfect for the beach, it can cause problems once clothes are brought into the mix. To bring about some visual harmony, the waist and hips need to be brought to the fore, which can be done with looser fitting items that add visual bulk to the middle of the torso. A V-neck top draws attention away from the shoulders and down toward the middle ground.

Author and style consultant for online clothes retailer The Idle Man, Charlotte Pratt says that for men with a rectangular body shape, "the main aim of the game is to bring out your shoulders and make yourself look more trapezoidal. One of the easiest ways to do this is opting for more structured clothing. Whilst not necessarily bringing back 1980s-style shoulder pads, you can add some architecture to your frame with stiffer blazers [or jackets] that won't sag downward. Accessories can act as a quick fix. Scarves, backpacks, potentially even headphones can add some chunk to your shoulders, while horizontally striped T-shirts will also give your frame a little more width".

Advice for everyone

No matter the body shape, there are certain truths that affect us all and advice that covers each and every possibility. And what comes through loud and clear is that having your clothes made-to-measure is the best way to make sure that they fit and hang correctly.

Moni Nanda is the managing director of M7 Bespoke, a Dubai-based men’s tailoring service. She says that many people mistakenly compare fine, bespoke tailoring with the products (and prices) of high-street stores. “Even when it comes to shirts,” she says, “you cannot get a correct fit unless you opt for tailoring. Every person I have ever met has some sort of physical anomaly, like a slight variation in the heights of their shoulders, or their hips. Having your clothes tailor-made means these variations are catered for – it’s important to remember that there really is no such thing as a perfectly proportioned body.”

Nanda is a big fan of blues and charcoals when it comes to the colour of the fabric, saying they're good for practically every skin tone. "If you're pale, go for a deeper navy blue, while those with olive or darker skin might want to opt for a lighter blue." She says that a blazer is a wardrobe essential, as it can easily smarten up a casual outfit, and that you should always ensure your shoes (brogues will never be out of fashion) and wristwatch are on point. "You wouldn't put cheap floor mats in a Maserati, would you?" she asks. "So why let down an entire outfit with cheap accessories? The first thing people notice on you are your shoes and your watch."

Pratt agrees that, whatever shape you are, being aware of how colours and styles impact your overall appearance is a must. "By understanding the male body shapes, you can learn how to emphasise areas of your body in a positive way," she adds, "while subduing those areas that aren't so flattering. Failing to do this risks undoing any good work you've put into your appearance by making your body appear out of proportion. Dressing to your body shape can take only a few tweaks to your wardrobe; changing the fit of your jeans, buying a blazer, or starting to wear more accessories are all actions that take minimal effort but, importantly, can make a big difference to your appearance," she concludes.


Read more:

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Why Jeremy Hackett is the quintessentially British menswear mogul

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