Without a doubt, one of my favorite television shows growing up was Seinfeld.
For those of you who are die-hard fans of the show, I’m sure that just the title of this article is enough for you to recall one of the more classic episodes from the series when Jerry is cajoled into wearing a “puffy shirt” designed by Kramer’s girlfriend for his appearance on The Tonight Show.
As humorous as this episode was, my main reason in referencing it is to invite men everywhere to pay particular attention to the fit of their button-up shirts.
When it comes to men’s style, fit is one of the most important aspects to get right.
Far too often, I’ve seen men wearing shirts one to two sizes too big, giving them the much dreaded “puffy shirt” effect.
Needless to say, this is not a flattering look. First line of defense: Make sure the shirts you buy are your actual size!
However, with that said, I do understand that for a man with slim or athletic (especially athletic) builds, this can pose a challenge. I know this because I happen to be one of those men myself.
The problem with today’s clothing is that it is mass produced on an industrial scale and is based on the dimensions of the average consumer.
Unfortunately, this means that guys who spend even a modest amount of time in the gym will have trouble finding shirts that fit them well in the chest and shoulders, while still being trim and tapered in the body.
The same goes for men with slimmer builds; the body weight and midsections of the average American male continues to balloon amidst the ongoing obesity epidemic, making classic fits (i.e. boxy, wide) a necessary silhouette on store shelves.
To illustrate my point, take a look at the following images. For reference, I’m 5’11” (180cm), 190 lbs (86 kg), 43.5” (110.5cm) chest, 33 inch (84cm) waist, and I’m wearing a size 16 neck, 34/35 sleeve, classic cut dress shirt.
As you can see, I’m absolutely drowning in this dress shirt. Although the length of the sleeves and neck fit me well, the body of the shirt is just way too big.
As this is a classic cut shirt, it is not tapered, so it does absolutely nothing to accentuate my wide chest and narrow waist. Judging from these pictures, you wouldn’t even think that I spend any time in the gym at all!
This is a perfect example of what I consider a “puffy shirt” to be.
Men with slimmer builds suffer a similar fate with classic silhouettes. Their slim physiques simply drown in pools of excess fabric. Again, not flattering at all. Why walk around wearing clothes that make you look 10-30 lbs heavier than you actually are?
What about “Slim Fit” shirts?
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Why don’t you just wear a slim or tailored fit dress shirt instead? That would surely solve your problems.”
Sad to say, but these shirts are often hardly any better!
For example, take a look at the following images. In them, I’m wearing a medium slim fit white button up shirt.
As you can see, there is still a significant amount of “puffiness” going on here, despite the shirt being labeled as slim. The proportions are still too large and simply do not flatter an athletic physique. If I’m experiencing this problem, slim guys will definitely see the same issue.
A note on sizing down
Slim guys do have one advantage over men with beefier physiques: they can size down more effectively since they don’t carry any excess muscle through the chest and shoulders. This means that when a slim man does size down, he won’t have any pulling or tightness in those areas.
In fact, if you’re an evenly-proportioned guy and your “slim” shirt looks similar to the above photo, you should continue to size down so the shirt fits you even better, keeping in mind basic indications of good fit, such as shoulder seam orientation and lack of pull on the buttons.
If the shoulder seam is tight around your armpit, if your front placket (where the shirt buttons) is pulling apart as you move your arms, or if your nipples are showing, your shirt is probably too tight.
So what’s a guy to do?!
So what can well-built, athletic, or slim men do to rectify this puffy shirt problem?
Should they just resign themselves to a lifetime of hiding their button up shirts under sweaters and blazers? Of course not!
Fortunately, the solution to this problem is a rather simple one: Darting.
In order to ensure proper fit, men with more muscular physiques (yes, even generally athletic and slimmer guys as well) will most likely need to have their shirts darted by a tailor.
For those who don’t know what darting is, it is a simple tailoring procedure where extra fabric from your shirt is taken in at the back, thereby slimming or tapering the fit of the shirt to the contours of your body.
Still confused? Here is a visual example of what darting looks like from the back of one of my button-up shirts:
The above image is from one of my slim fit shirts (size medium) which I had darted for a better fit. I have highlighted the location where extra fabric from the shirt was folded over and sewn together, creating a fine line or a “dart” that runs down the back of the shirt.
This alteration cost me about $15 and made a dramatic improvement to the overall fit of the shirt:
There’s no question that this shirt fits my body much better than the previous two examples. The shirt has no excess fabric around the waist, it accentuates my broad chest and shoulders, and nicely highlights my V-taper. You can now actually tell that I spend some time in the gym.
As a well-built man with features that don’t always conform to standard proportions, I can’t stress enough the importance of having your clothes tailored. A good tailor can make a world of difference in how your clothing fits, especially when they’re just not fitting right directly off the rack.
One of the most important aspects of good style is the fit of your clothing. When it comes to dress shirts in particular, you want to ensure they fit snugly (but not tightly) around your torso, with no excessive fabric pooling when tucked in.
Finding button up shirts that fit well in this respect becomes particularly challenging for men with more athletic or slim builds because of our body’s proportions, plus, most off-the-rack options are designed for the “standard” consumer.
The fact is, we’re just not carrying enough extra volume around the midsection, and we tend to have a larger drop between our chest and waist measurements. This makes finding well-fitting button up shirts difficult, regardless if they are tailored or slim fit versions.
The solution to this problem relies on the relationship you have with your tailor. Since darts are now an option, you can buy a shirt based on how the chest and shoulders fit. Even if the body is slightly wider than you’d like, once darts are added, they will help you achieve that clean, polished look.
Keep in mind, you don’t ALWAYS have to add darts, but if a slim fitting shirt is still much too wide and you can’t find anything else, darting is your solution.
So as a well-built man, do yourself a favor and take that ill-fitting button up shirt to the tailor. It’s a small price to pay to avoid looking like a puffy-shirted pirate.
And as always gentlemen, stay fit and look sharp!