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.

Final Word

elidressshirtOne 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!


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52 Responses

  1. Turner on

    On the bottom picture the tie does not meet the belt. Not to be picky but I tend to wear the tie below the belt a few inches for two reasons. One I look thinner and secondly I look a little taller as well. Plus it adds to the overall look to the outfit.

    • Barron on

      Respectfully disagree, but the small difference is certainly a stylistic choice. To me, a few inches below looks “wrong” while an inch or two above is more “on trend” or “modern”, not that I’m trying to look trendy, but I prefer of-the-moment over wrong. Rock it how you like it, though.

  2. Dhawal Shah on

    If you don’t want to make alterations to the shirt or think you may ‘grow into it’ at some point, other options for getting the shirt to behave are the military tuck (read an article on it on Lifehacker) but it doesn’t last (for me anyway) or a shirt stay (which look like garters but work throughout the day). Great post on incorporating darts. I wrote on both topics on my blog as well!

  3. beardedman on

    On the other side of the spectrum, I have somewhat narrow shoulders and a spare tire. I get custom made shirts online so the shoulders and sleeves are good, and the body is not terribly loose, but it still seems there is a bit of extra fabric I could do without. I thought about getting the shirts darted, but the last thing I want is to have the roll of fat around my beltline being accentuated they way your pecs are being accentuated by your tailor. Maybe a little billowing cloth is better than a sharply defined roll!

    • Barron on

      Have you tried just a basic slim shirt from a selection of different stores? Most I’ve tried have enough room to accommodate a bit of heft in the midsection without being too slim. It just takes a bit of legwork to try a variety of brands, but they’re out there. Of course, custom is always another option.

  4. Gretchen Neels on

    No one needs a puffy shirt! Custom shirts from J.Hilburn are the answer. In the DC metro area? Contact me for a free evaluation! 571-471-3600

  5. Unguided on

    Thanks for the information. Your measurements fit me to a T. I have the puffy shirt problem. I combat this without tailoring the same way we did it in the Marine Corps. I fold the extra material just behind my back and pull it right. Looks professional and works great.

      • Unguided on

        I do get bunching while sitting down but I always correct it wen I stand up. After years of doing it the fold comes naturally when I tuck in my shirt. Fixing really only takes 5 seconds.

  6. Alex on

    This is an awesome post. I think every guy has had this problem. So how are those New Year’s resolutions coming, everyone? I think one of the most popular ones was to save more money this year, but if you’re like me you don’t want to sacrifice looking good to do it. We’re a shaving company called Dorco and we’d love to let you know how much you could save on your razors and still look amazing. Our razors cost up to 70% less than leading brands. But that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the quality of your shave. Read what others think about our products and our prices at DorcoUSA.com. Thanks again for such a helpful post.

  7. kiko on

    awesome post I have the same problem.17″ neck, 40 something chest and much broader shoulders, currently 32″ waist, that’s me carrying extra weight.
    All of my shirts have been billowy and i hate it, I will be looking to try tailoring though. One other thing is the arms in my shirt are also billowy.dunno if it’s clear in the image. any suggestions for this? also i should note i’m quite poor so my funds are limited but i’m willing to pay for quality to look professional.

    • Red Knight 2014 on

      That shirt may not be perfect, but it actually looks better than the tailored ones shown in the article above. I’d actually stick with that until there’s some return to normality regarding men’s fashion – at that point, I’d then visit a tailor.

      At the moment, men’s fashion is simply crazy with this tight fit fetish – I’m now 44 and so fed up that I’m now drawing up my own standards for various fit types – I now have, upon research, devised seven fit styles ranging from ‘Trim’ (1/2 inch of pinched fabric on either side when worn) to ‘Loose’ (2 inches of pinched fabric). In fact, many of these styles suit me once the shirt has been cut correctly (for my shape) and the appropriate fabrics and patterns chosen. Theres nothing wrong with a sculpted (close fit) look one done right – on the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a generous look (a bit like your shirt) once done right.

      From what I can see you look reasonable and perhaps, you could take 1/2 inch of fabric out of the shirt on either side at the waist if there’s too much there – that would take 2 inches in total from the shirt measurement there – remember that pinched fabric is fabric folded in two. Tapering at the waist usually involves starting at the base of the sleeve and tapering down towards the waist before letting the shirt kick out again towards the hem – perhaps, you could just tell a tailor to simply take the shirt in by 1/2 inch on either side at the waist – nothing else.

      • John D. on

        Great comment and explanation. I wanted to check something with you. I as well, am sick of this super tight fitting look, where you can barely bend over to tie your shoes or hug/pick up your kids. Anyway, I recently came across an article that gave recommendations on how much loose fabric should be for a good fit, which I thought was nicely put. But I want to confirm the measurement regarding pinched fabric.

        For example, they recommended for the chest and waist fit, as follows:

        Should be well fitted without pulling at the buttons. Have room in the chest and waist to pinch out 1-3 inches of fabric (depending on fit desired). So assuming I pinch the fabric (folded in two) in the back of the shirt, to make the shirt skin tight in my stomach area. Now, is the measurement of 1-3 inches taken from the surface of my back (where the two fabric sides meet) to the end of the pinched fabric (where the fabric is folded over). I.e. from my back the shape looks like a squeezed U shape.

        My question is, assuming that straight line measurement (i.e. one side of the fold) is 2inches. Is that the pinch out amount of fabric they are suggesting. Or are they saying, I measure that distance and then multiple by 2, to get the full excess fabric. I’m just unclear on this. Obviously, my first example, I would be within range, however, if we double the value to consider the total amount of fabric in excess, that would be 4inches, and then I should take in 1inch worth of fabric.

        Can you help explain. I’ve seen this mentioned a few times, but nobody has really provided clarity around whether the 1-3inches is of total fabric pinched, or a half measurement (therefore meaning that total excess fabric would be 2-6inches. It’s a big difference.


        • Red Knight 2014 on

          Hi John,

          I would be very happy to help – now when I’m talking about the amount of give in the shirt, I’m referring to how much fabric is pinched on either side – for example, if you were going for a regular (uniform like) style, I would say that when you pinch the fabric fairly tight on either side, you might aim for 1 inch of folded fabric on either side – that would be 1 inch x 2 (for the fold) x 2 (for the sides) = 4 inches in total. If you were pinching at the back and only there, that would be 2 inches of folded fabric (straight line measurement).

          Referring to the article you mentioned, I’d say they mean 1 to 3 inches of folded fabric pinched at one point (let’s say the back) only – that would be between 1/2 inch either side (trim) to 1.5 inches either side (generous) – that sounds about right to me. If they meant in total, then one inch would leave only 1/4 inch of pinched fabric on either side (too tight) while 3 inches would leave only 3/4 inch either side (not even regular). If they meant either side, then one inch of pinched fabric both sides would be regular while 3 inches of pinched fabric on either side would be in my mind far too loose.

          Now, I have this shirt that I’m in the process of tailoring – it was a classic fit long sleeve shirt in size L. The problem is that I’ve lost quite a bit of weight since purchasing the shirt and I’m now rather thin for 44 years of age. This is what the shirt will look like after altering (it’s now pinned up) – indeed it’s being tailored, not butchered.


          The shirt in it’s new shape (pictured) is now what I’d call a generous cut style relative to my shape – the sleeves are now half (finishing at the elbow) and the give in the fabric is about 1.5 inches folded either side when pinched – if you were to pinch at just one point on the back, that would be about 3 inches (straight line measurement) of extra fabric folded in two. I hope I’ve cleared things up a bit…

          I’m also hoping to release details (via posts) in the not too distant future regarding my own styling standards that I’m currently devising.


          Red Knight 2014

          • John D. on

            Hi Red,

            Thanks for taking the time to write a very detailed response to my question. It really helped me to understand what was being explained. Now it’s crystal clear. Regarding the general rule of thumb for the 1-3 inches of folded material (at one point), do you apply that to the entire length of the shirt? For example, you would pinch out 1-3inches at one point in the back of the shirt at the horizontal position of your stomach and then do the same at the horizontal position of your chest? The reason I ask, is I’m wondering if the amount of excess fabric should be different depending on the area of the shirt. The reason I ask this, is that my body shifts quite a bit in my stomach, lower belly section, when comparing my waist measurement at a standing position, versus a relaxed sitting position. I’m sure that applies to most men over the age of 35/40. Just curious what your thought is on this.


          • Red Knight 2014 on

            Hi John,

            I’ll have to reply separately to both of your queries – the point about the fluctuating waistline is indeed very interesting and as I’m very much on the learning curve, will need more time to think about it – did a quick test with the measuring tape last night and yes, I see your point but need more time.

            Regarding your query relating to chest and waist measurements, yes I’d keep the two measurements the same. I measured myself yesterday and took the chest measurement around the widest point (at the nipples breathing in normally) and the waist measurement at the widest point too (at the belly button between meals) – my measurements for the record are 16″ neck, 40″ chest and 36″ waist. Now, the narrowest point of my waist is around 34″ and a site I looked up said to use that measurement – unless one is skinny, I wouldn’t advise that. I’m thin myself, but at middle age, not perfectly so.

            Let’s say I was going for a regular cut style (2″ pinched fabric – 4″ extra in total), I’d halve my body measurements and add 2″ for the width of the shirt. Now having lost weight, some of my shirts are simply too big for me while others I now have to wear differently – perhaps leaving them out and over and/or rolling the sleeves half way. However, I have a large sized classic fit shirt that I like, but no longer fits me so I’m having it tailored – I’ll see how it actually turns out.

            However, if I’m going for a regular style regardless of sleeve length, I’d put down a straight edge across the shirt (turned inside out) at the bottom of the sleeve holes – now, I’d add 20″ (half my chest) plus 2″ giving me 22″ – I’d centre that measurement and place pins at either end of the new width. Now I’d move the straight edge to the belly button line and add 18″ (half my measurement there) plus 2″ giving me 20″ which will again determine the pin position, but at the narrowest point in the shirt this time. Now, I need to form a line of pins on either side using the two measured pinned points. These lines would be slightly concave so that the shirt tapers more significantly from the upper pin points downwards before tapering very mildly towards the narrow point (lower pins) after which the shirt will slightly kick out again towards the hem.

            Now, to join the new seam line with the sleeve holes, the curved pin lines would need to continue up to the sleeve holes (means higher sleeve holes) to a new inseam through the sleeves which in actual terms are being reduced to a slim short type finishing at the lower bicep (I think it’s right for the particular shirt given the pattern, color and fabric) – on that point, some shirts being tailored will only require waist reduction meaning the the shirt will only be reduced from the base of the sleeves downwards. The sleeves however are still a learning curve for me. BTW, if you’re using a scissors, you must allow another 1/2″ for the seam stitching – the cut line will actually be 1/2″ out from the pins. Though I’m only starting out, I hope my posts help.

            I need to get back to work, so I’ll let you peruse – I’ll be back in a day or so.


            Red Knight 2014

          • Red Knight 2014 on

            I posted a fairly detailed answer to one part of your query and it looks as if it didn’t go through – it appeared to me as if it did – perhaps it was taken down or there’s a word count limit or something.

            I might make a site and post links – at least that way, I won’t lose my work.

          • Red Knight 2014 on

            I’ll keep it short this time in case I lose the reply – yes,in general I’d keep the measurements at the chest and stomach the same – regarding the fluctuations in the stomach area while sitting, I guess the minimum give of 1″ of folded fabric (while standing) is intended to take care of this problem once you’re not significantly overweight. I was looking for a video pertaining to this issue, but can’t find it at the moment. I’m still on quite a learning curve myself, but hope this helps.

            Red Knight 2014

          • John D. on

            Thanks Red! Yes, definitely helps. I wish I learned this stuff a lot earlier in life, would have really helped avoid all the poor purchases of ill fitting clothes. Anything shared is quite helpful. Thanks!

  8. victor on

    I shop at Mexx, where a lot of their shirts already have darts in them…check them out !!!
    they fit awesome…the only thing is I find their sleeves a bit long, but that’s easy to get tailored…

  9. Domengnator on

    You see, I’m from the Philippines and it is often that most of our relatives in the abroad give me formal shirts for my work, knowing what my work environment is. Since the weather here in our country is typically hot, we rarely use our sweaters and blazers! Sometimes I do use them but remove them before I go out of my car. I have a slim body type, but slim fit shirts that they gave me are still too big in the waist/belly part.

    To cut the story short, you solved one of my worst problems in my closet! I have around 10-15 shirts just staying in my closet because of this “puffiness” issue.

    Will definitely go to my tailor this weekend and have it altered(darting). Thanks a lot!!!! More power!

    • Barron on

      Tailors are cheap in the Philippines; I used to send clothes home with my parents when they’d visit, just to get my garments altered (pre-pinned, of course).

  10. wordup on

    As a thin guy, I pretty much need to get all my shirts taken in. Even after tailoring, and even on my made-to-measure shirts, I still get this puffiness that happens in the lower back area.
    Do you have any tips for this area?
    Thanks a lot for the article! People need to spread the word on this, too many grown men are looking like a kid at sunday school.

    • Eric on

      Find a better tailor. A good tailor will take a shirt in from the back, as well as from the sides, when necessary.

    • Barron on

      You can ask for more to be taken in, especially if you’re getting made-to-measure shirting. You’ll have some extra fabric there (you don’t want it looking like spandex wrapped around your torso), but not so much that it looks like the first example picture above.

      It could also be related to how you’re tucking in your shirt. The tucked area needs to be evened and smoothed out after buttoning your pants and buckling your belt.

  11. StylishGuy on


    Great post I have always wondered how to remedy this problem! I usually just live with the billowiness, because most other guys have this problem too so I just thought thats how things are. I will try the shirt stays (even though most did comment that they look like the ever so feminine “garter”) and see how these work. Thank you for the help! As always EffortlessGent gives me the advice I need to take my wardrobe to that next level.

    • Barron on

      Glad to hear it helped! Yeah the shirt stays are essentially garters, though they work. I’d prefer to just have darts put in, or try the military tuck.

  12. Wayne on

    Thanks for the post. as a tall guy with a athletic build even at times that I have carried ten extra lbs I have the problem with large shirts. When I slim down to a medium my shoulders do not fit. Darting is defiantly the right move for someone with these problems.

  13. ac on

    In the photo with the grey shirt, how do you deal with the tightness of the upper arm? The torso fits well, but I can’t imagine being comfortable with a non-stretch woven cloth fitting that closely in the area just above the elbow.

    • Red Knight 2014 on

      Darts IMO are what not to do with a man’s shirt – most look ridiculous. If you need your shirt taken in, tapering at the side seams is the answer!

    • Barron on

      I personally don’t mind darts. If it’s a white shirt, you may see the extra fabric taken in underneath, but if it’s not a significant amount of fabric, not a big deal. And sure like Red Knight says below, if you can alter at the side seams, go for it, but depending on the seam, it can be more expensive.

  14. Oxemberg on

    Very nice pieces of information on the right fit for a shirt. A perfect fit shirt can make your look Likewise a shirt with an imperfect fit can mar the look.

  15. Matt on

    Great article! It also may be worth looking into e-commerce companies that are approaching fit differently, like Hugh & Crye. They create off the rack shirts with a different sizing system based on the build of the body and length of the torso/sleeves. Has worked well for me. http://www.hughandcrye.com/pages/fit

  16. Gabe on

    Great tips. Being a man with a similar build to you I have the same struggles and have had many of my shirts tailored to prevent them from ballooning. Like Hugh & Crye which Matt mentioned I recently discovered Batch Shirts. Their tapered fit is based off of your waist size and the length of their shirt is just right to stay tucked in. No more needing to go to the tailor. http://www.batchshirts.com

  17. KB on

    I have been wondering how to tailor my hubby’s shirts. I was thinking about darts when I saw this article. I pinned up two identical shirts for him, one down the side seams, one darted. He loved the way the darted shirt felt. I have always loved his V shape. Thanks for the advice.

  18. Tareq on

    MANNN!! Exact problem Thanks for the solution …. My wide back and shoulders is causing too much excess fabric in the back, doesnt look nice

  19. Pascal Aschwanden on

    It’s really hard to find a shirt that’s small enough for a normal sized person and yet still long enough. It doesn’t help that all the labels are screwed up. XL labeled as Medium. L labeled as small. M doesn’t exist, here in the US.