A Big Man in a little Coat doesn’t look Smart

How your Body Type determines the Cut of your Clothing

As quoted by Nicholas Antongiavanni (pen name), in his book The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style, Xenophon wrote in his Life of Cyrus (4th or 5th century B.C.) “It is not reasonable that a big man wear a little coat, or that a small man wear a big coat, and expect to look smart.”

Albeit getting the size of your clothing correct may not prove very challenging, getting the best “cut,” especially for a tailored jacket, often proves to be more elusive. Each variation of cut is designed to emphasize one thing and to downplay another. Since it could mean other things, when I speak of the “cut” of clothing, I am referring to the basic shape and style as well the proportions of a given garment.

For every body type there are particular cuts of clothing that simply look better than others. For men, body type is based on three main dimensional factors:

  • Height (Vertical)
  • Girth (Horizontal)
  • Proportion (Distribution)

To keep it simple, with the respect to the vertical dimension, a person is tall, average, or short (diminutive). Horizontally, a man is of ample girth (stout), average, or thin (slight). With regard to proportion, a man is V-shaped (chest wider than hips), average (chest and hips about the same), or A-shaped (hips noticeably wider than chest).

How would you describe/categorize your dimensions?
What cuts of clothing look best on you?

If you fit with “average” in all three categories, well lucky you! You can wear pretty much whatever you want and look good, assuming that what you choose is in good taste, appropriate to your level of maturity, station in life….that sort of thing. If, however, you fit into any one of the other categories, then what you choose to wear will require more thought and attention.

All of the following advice assumes that you want to use clothing to its best advantage – to create some illusion or ideal – whether to make yourself look taller, thinner, less imposing, or to improve your chance at a desired association or result. The basic idea then is to create a visual counter balance to anything that may be out of balance – to visually emphasize an opposite of your natural body type in order to balance your appearance.

Space will not permit an example of what to do for every body type, but the following should give you a framework to use for your individual situation.

Short (vertical)/Average (girth)/Average (proportion)

Coat:
Two-button with a lower button position or a Three-button (soft roll), high armhole, high notch and narrow lapels, roped shoulder, with a coat length as short as possible while still covering the seat. Slightly more than average cutaway in front will allow more of the pant to be visible. No vents or pocket flaps.

Pant:
Worn high on the waist, beltless, with a single pleat and no cuffs. The pant length should be as long as possible without breaking too much on top of the shoe.

All of those design details accentuate the vertical, working to create the illusion of height. A two-button coat with lower button position creates a long lapel while a three-button coat also draws out a vertical emphasis. The higher notch and more structured shoulder elevates the eye, and a higher waist, beltless pant provides the longest possible leg line, while a single pleat is trimmer than a pant with more pleats. A flat front pant would also work, though it would typically be worn lower, more on the hips. In that case, I would suggest less cut away on the jacket, because the goal for the vertically challenged is to continue all vertical lines as much as possible.

Tall/Ample/Average

Coat:
Two-button (or soft roll three button), easy-fit, standard notch and lapel width, natural shoulder, coat length that covers the seat or slightly longer. A tall man with ample girth will do better to keep coat details to a minimum. If of average girth or relatively thin, then he should wear more pattern and texture and add details such as pocket flaps and a ticket pocket. A tall, thin man will always look especially smart in double-breasted clothing as well.

Pant:
Worn at the natural waist, with forward pleats (facing toward zipper) and cuffs, fitting with a bit of ease. This style will do the most to counter the effect of girth, especially when viewed from the profile. If the pants must be worn below an ample mid section, then they should be flat front and still have an easy fit. Pleats worn lower on the waist have no chance of draping properly. A man with ample girth or stout of build should never wear trim fitting clothing if he wants to be comfortable and look his best.

Those are but two examples, but, in any case, the goal along this line of thinking is to arrive at the best style and cut choice for your particular build. From that point, any deviations based on fashion or style preference will at least be better informed decisions, and you will find yourself wearing your clothing in comfort and with a more confident swagger.

Is there another body type you’d like to ask about?

Always a cut above,

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