How to Dress for Your Body Type

By: Dave Christopher, Clothier
November 13, 2019


If you’re like most men, you walk into a store on a tight schedule, browse through limited options, find items in your size, and try them on. From those, you select the ones you like best and have the sales associate mark the hem and any other needed alterations. Typically, you won’t have time to consider current styles and trends or how these items will fit into your current wardrobe. You likely also don’t have time to consider how these clothes enhance your professional image or whether they’re right for your body type.

Long gone are the days when the sales associate in a men’s store met you at the door wearing a tape measure around the neck, ready to advise on what would look best on you. Instead, your options are limited to the sizes available.

Off-the-rack clothes are made for standard body types. You’re more than fortunate if you have one of those. If not, you’re likely on your own to find the best garments for your needs and body.

Your goal in acquiring new clothing should be to portray the image that best matches your career, your aspirations and that are crafted specifically for you – leaving you perfectly attired for everyone occasion!

Unfortunately, with limited time and without professional guidance, you end up buying suits, jackets, trousers and sweaters that look better on the mannequins than they do on you. If you want to wear clothes that fit, that reveal your personality, and that present you in a professional manner, you must learn how to dress for your body type.


Understand the Principles of Fit

Even if you have the type of physique that allows you to wear garments right off the rack without alterations, it’s still important to know how to dress for your body type. Some styles positively accentuate aspects of your build. Others work against you by drawing more attention to your challenging areas. When you wear clothes that fit properly, you look better and feel better!

Once you understand the basic rules, you can buy the clothes that work in your favor. Some of the principles of style include:

  • Vertical lines create an optical illusion that you’re taller and slimmer
  • Horizontal lines make you look shorter and heavier
  • Trousers with patterns make your legs appear smaller
  • Black clothing has the overall effect of making you look slimmer
  • Tight trousers make your torso look wider

Of course, there are exceptions to these rules. For instance, in recent years slanted ticket pockets (on the jacket) have become fashionable. However, for many wider men, these slanted pockets don’t work because they draw too much attention to their midsection.


Finding the Right Fit for Your Body Type

It’s important to consider those general rules, but there are other elements to dressing for your body type. 

Choosing Fit Over Fashion

Many men have the same problem. They see the latest styles on magazine covers, on their favorite athletes, or on the mannequins in the store. These styles look great and they want to look that good. The problem is that these styles may not be right for your body type.

For example, today’s trend is for men’s shirts, trousers and jackets to be snug fitting. Men who are slim and in great shape look good in those clothes. But men who carry extra weight around the middle don’t achieve the same effect.

Your top concern for buying clothes should always be the fit and not the fashion. One of the many benefits of working with a Tom James clothier is that they find clothes that complement your body type and coordinate with the rest of your wardrobe because they’re able to provide clothes specifically designed for you.

Fit Is All About Proportion

How your clothes fit comes down to proportion. Walk into a typical retail men’s store and you’ll discover that the majority of the suits and dress shirts are cut for a hypothetical model who doesn’t exist. These clothes look good in theory, but they don’t flatter you if you are taller, shorter, thinner or heavier than the model, which, often, you are.

For instance, suits off-the-rack assume that if you’re a 42 regular, your legs and torso fit a certain standard. But we all know that’s not the case for most men. For example, one of our clients is 6’9” with the torso of a much smaller man and extremely long legs. It is impossible for him to find a suit off-the-rack that fits properly even after alterations because the proportions will always be wrong. 

While this is an extreme example, everyone has slight variations (some that you may not even notice) that makes off-the-rack options an improper fit, even after alterations.

Choose the Right Fabric

Dressing for your body type includes choosing the right fabric for your specific needs. For example, do you run hot or run cold? You need to choose fabrics that complement your typical body temperature. Where you live will also dictate the type of material you choose. For instance, someone in Minnesota will not wear the same fabric as someone in Miami.

You should also take into consideration other factors, such as how frequently you travel. If you’re constantly in airports, then your wardrobe should consist of serviceable fabrics that stand up to the rigors of travel.

Just as important as your physical needs and travel schedule, you also need to take into consideration the image you want to portray. Do you want to be the next fashion icon? Or, do you want to wear the finest handmade suit in the world?

Either way, custom clothing can achieve your style goals by allowing you to choose the right fabric. And remember that great-fitting clothes that are tailored specifically for your body type are a better investment than high-end fabrics that don’t fit properly and don’t take your lifestyle into consideration.


How Custom Clothes Fit Your Body Type

If off-the-rack clothes are made to a non-existent standard, how do you achieve a wardrobe that properly fits your body type?

Bespoke suits and dress shirts made by a professional clothier, by definition, are made for your body type. Our clothiers typically take around 30 measurements when creating a suit or shirt designed to your exact specifications. When you put them on, you can tell the difference. They accentuate the positive and downplay the negative. They complement your body type and they create your ideal look.

Your professional clothier will take the time to understand what you do for a living, who you interact with on a day-to-day basis, how you dress and what professional clothing you already own. Their goal is to create clothes that fit your body type and that communicate professionalism, competence and leadership.

Schedule a time with a Tom James clothier today to learn the custom clothing options designed for your body type.

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"I am sure I am speaking implicitly for many of Sarah's clients that she is a fabulous clothing advisor. While she certainly responds elegantly to your tastes, I have on many occasions been advised by her to try more daring colors and patterns or cuts than my traditional wardrobe, and on most of those occasions, she and I have had a short debate about whether I would feel awkward or out of character in the new duds. Instead, once I got them my character moved into the clothes and was feeling pretty buff and stylish. I now have the majority of my wardrobe from her, accumulated over a handful of years, and I always receive compliments on them. She is also fun and gets to know you personally, beyond your clothing needs, so there is a nice relationship to enjoy."

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Tom James of Washington DC

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Sarina Brion

Tom James of Madison
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