If you’re a man who stands at 5’8″ or under and you’ve tried some of the clothes I’ve suggested here on Effortless Gent, you may have been disappointed.
I imagine you’ve ordered stuff online or you’ve hit up a new store based on my recommendations. And after 30 minutes or an hour of trying on clothes, you left empty-handed.
Ugh, I feel terrible.
Look, I’m not a natural when it comes to dressing the more modest body type since I, myself, am not exactly sized… modestly.
Although, I’ve been doing this job long enough and have had the opportunity to speak with lots of guys to understand the struggles shorter gents go through.
And so I put together this post based on what I’ve learned. If you’re a guy who isn’t so tall, but wants to dress smart and sharp in well-fitting clothes, these three tips will help you get started on the right track and give you a good overview.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
Note from B: Quick shout out to our friends at Peter Manning NYC for sponsoring this article. I’ve recently spent some time at their showroom in Manhattan and what they offer is incredible.
The pants wall alone (inseams from 26″ to 30″) is reason enough to check out PMNYC. But honestly, (and I’m not just saying this) they make the best clothes for the not-so-tall gent. Shop Peter Manning and use GENT20 at checkout for 20% off »
Favorite Tip #1: Make EVERYTHING Smaller
I’m talking everything. The key word here is proportion.
Look, you’re a smaller guy, so when everything is smaller scale, on YOU, it just looks right.
So here are some examples:
- Smaller-scale patterns work best for your shirts (from micro gingham to micro florals, and everything in between)
- For formalwear, look for narrow lapels, collars, and belts (or opt for side tabs, but we’ll talk about that in another tip further down this article)
- Wear smaller watches; around 34-36mm should be the sweet spot, depending on your wrist size
- Smaller patch pockets on your jackets and on your jeans is also great, though not easy to find. But hopefully me mentioning this forces you to pay attention to the pocket size and proportions when you try on garments
Also, consider scale and proportion for garments as a whole.
Unfortunately, it’s not as simple to buy a shirt or sport coat that’s too long and chop off a few inches from the hem and sleeve.
I mean, you can do this. But then the proportions are completely thrown off. You no longer have a well-proportioned shirt, you have a regular shirt that looks stumpy:
- The pockets sit too low on the chest relative to the new length of the shirt
- The sleeves are too wide
- The armholes are too low, which affects the fit in the chest and back
Trust me, I’ve tried retrofitting a 40 Long sport coat to fit me when I typically buy 40 Short, back when I didn’t know any better. That was disastrous.
So, bottom line: Wear smaller scale patterns and slightly narrower lapels, collars, and belts. If you find a brand whose clothing is close to perfect with the sizing and proportions you need, always shop that brand.
Favorite Tip #2: Don’t break the vertical line
If you feel not so tall, but you want to appear taller, focus on what’s happening vertically.
Picture your body and the outfit you’re wearing as a vertical line. You want to keep that vertical line as seamless and unbroken as possible.
How do you (sometimes unknowingly) break the vertical line?
By wearing things that visually cut you in half. Stuff that runs horizontal. This is why the following advice benefits not-so-tall guys:
- Don’t have too wide a cuff (larger than ~2″+) at the leg opening
- Low-contrast outfits are your friends, i.e. black jeans and a grey T-shirt, or chinos and a white or light-colored shirt
- For pants, avoid an exaggerated break or too much fabric bunching at the ankles
- For formalwear, opt for side tabs or suspenders instead of a belt
- If you love stripes, consider thin, tonal pencil stripes instead of large, contrasting horizontal stripes
Images via INFphoto, Barcroft Media
If you know me and my style, I’m not one for following or enforcing many style “rules”—I feel many of them are merely suggestions and can be stylishly broken. This advice exists because, visually, these things break that vertical line and (potentially) accentuate your (lack of) height.
Put simply: It’s more obvious a shorter guy is short if he’s wearing a white T-shirt and black jeans (high contrast, cut off horizontally at the waist) than if he’s wearing a black T-shirt and black jeans.
The more you can keep the vertical unbroken, the better. That provides the illusion of length, which means you look taller.
Side Note re: Stripes and High Contrast Looks
Don’t get it twisted: I’m not saying you can’t wear outfits with stripes or high contrast—no one’s asking you to wear solid, one-color outfits all the time. Just keep in mind that the more you break up that vertical line that lengthens you, the shorter you may look.
Also, if you follow tips #1 (small scale everything) and #3 (see below), you have more leeway with contrast and stripes because everything is proportional to your size.
Favorite Tip #3: Keep It Close To The Body
Slim is still in for men of smaller stature.
Even if you’re a bigger dude, do your best to keep all silhouettes slim.
Don’t confuse this with tight or skinny. But getting used to a slimmer aesthetic is important for the overall look… the one where it looks like you’re wearing your own clothes, not like a child playing dress-up with his dad’s clothes.
- Wearing slimmer shirts helps you avoid a bunch of extra fabric. If you can pull the front of your button-up shirt more than 2″ away from your body, it’s probably too big.
- For all tops, pay attention to the armhole size and sleeve width. This is a common problem for smaller guys. If the armholes are cut too low or very large in comparison to your frame, do not buy or wear the shirt. If there’s plenty of room in the sleeves, no matter if it’s short or long sleeve, do not buy or wear the shirt. These shirts will make your arms look like little twigs.
- You only accentuate your small size when your pant legs are wide and shirts billow out, so keep both things slim fit. Only consider pants that are labeled slim, skinny, or slim / skinny tapered fit, and for shirts, look for slim fit or tailored fit.
- Find pants that taper (i.e. get slimmer from the knee to the leg opening) with no extra fabric at the ankle. Always get your pants hemmed if you have too much break.
- When wearing shorts, it’s important to keep the leg slim as well. The leg opening should be small (maybe ~1″ of give, max, when you pull the hem away from your leg), and the shorts’ hem should end above your knee. This helps keep you in line with tip #1 (scaling your proportions) and also makes your legs appear longer. Just look how much better the shorts on the right look compared to the ones on the left in the image below.
Images via Aeropostale, J.Crew Factory
Fit is everything
If you can follow these three general tips for dressing your not-so-tall body type, you’ll be in good shape.
It’s something you read a lot, but only because it’s true: Fit is everything.
If your clothes fit slim and close to your body with no extra fabric and the details have smaller proportions to fit your frame, you’re golden.
“Wait,” I hear you saying, “this is easier said than done.”
I think what’s totally unfair about this whole thing is, it’s not easy to find clothes for the not-so-tall guy… clothes that help you apply these tips.
I’m of relatively average height and weight, so I can confidently walk into most stores knowing I’ll find something that fits.
For guys of a smaller stature, that’s not the case at all.
Even size Small can be too big, or too long, or both.
Pants that may fit your waist are too long and wide in the legs. Sure, you can have a tailor cut off 3-4″, but then he also has to re-taper the leg, adding an additional cost (the dreaded Tailor Tax all shorter guys who strive to dress sharp know very well).
And like we discussed earlier (tip #1), tailoring can only take you so far before the proportions start to look off.
Midlayers are baggy and billowy, jacket sleeves are too long and the arms too wide.
And getting a tailor to fix a sweater or a topcoat? Forget it. He basically has to take it apart and reconstruct it if you want a perfect fit.
Basically, shopping can be a nightmare.
I have many readers who are under 5’8″ and I hear the same shopping struggles every single time.
That’s why whenever I receive these emails (or tweets, or Facebook messages), my first sentence is…“Have you checked out Peter Manning?”
Clothes designed specifically for the not-so-tall guy
If all these shopping and fit problems strike a chord with you and you haven’t heard of Peter Manning, prepare to have your mind blown.
Peter Manning (let’s call them PMNYC) designs clothing specifically for the not-so-tall guy… guys who are smaller than the average build every mainstream brand caters to.
It’s all about proportion, like I mentioned in tip #1. The issue is, as a man of smaller stature, it’s not easy to nail proportion when 97% of clothes in stores are made for guys who are bigger.
And as you know, simply sizing down doesn’t always work.
Even if you manage to find clothes that fit decently, the tailor tax is an expensive one – especially if you have to get each and every item of clothing altered so it fits your body type.
And if not, you’re stuck wearing clothes with a subpar fit. That sucks!
PMNYC exists to let not-so-tall guys discover incredible fit. To be able to walk into a store and have everything fit you is one hell of an experience. And as a man of smaller stature, that’s what you get when you shop with PMNYC.
I would say I’m sad that I don’t fit in Peter Manning’s clothes. But then I’d just sound like a jerk who wants it all, and then some.
If you’re 5’8″ and under and you have a tough time finding clothes that fit perfectly, give PMNYC a shot. They’ve devoted themselves to the mission of outfitting the not-so-tall dude in classic American sportswear – clothes with a smart, sharp aesthetic. The exact stuff we talk about all the time here on EG.
They nail the proportions of every single piece so you can wear their clothes right off the rack (no more annoying tailor tax)! Every item, from their shorts to their tuxedos, are designed specifically for you.
PMNYC even has detailed, proprietary sizing with fewer gaps in between. If one size doesn’t fit perfectly, you simply have to move up or down one size, and you’re good.
Oh, and speaking of sizing, you’ll love their selection of pants. Inseams between 26″ and 30″ mean no more mandatory tailor trip. Again, their focus on proportion guarantees the perfect fit in the legs, without compromise.
Anyway, I can’t say enough great things about the brand. I always suggest Peter Manning clothes to my not-so-tall readers whenever they reach out.
I recently visited their stunning showroom in NYC’s Flatiron neighborhood to check out the new offering.
The prices are fair and the quality is on point, but wearing clothes that fit directly off the rack? The true game changer.
Take 20% off your purchase using code GENT20 at checkout.
If you’re ever visiting NYC, definitely stop by the shop (933 Broadway, NYC). It’s awesome and I want to move in (I asked, but they wouldn’t let me).
All my not-so-tall gents: Where you at?
I wanna hear from you if you’re 5’8″ and under and you have a tough time finding clothes that fit well off the rack.
What other annoying fit issues do you have to deal with that average guys don’t even consider? I’d love to know.