Dressing Taller: 10 Tips for Short Men

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Short men have always had a tougher road to hoe than their taller fellows. It can be frustrating to be picked last for the pick-up basketball game, to feel like you're overlooked when walking into a party, and to struggle to see your favorite band at a concert.

And then there are those studies that say that tall men are perceived as more powerful and better leaders, are more desirable to women, and make more money (almost $1,000 more for every inch of height).

But short men shouldn't despair. The news isn’t all bad.

First, while height may give men a leg up in the race for success (US presidents have been on average 4 inches taller than the general male population), there are always exceptions to the rule. Andrew Carnegie (5'0u201D)! Martin Luther King Jr. (5'7u201D)! Harry Houdini (5'5u201D)! TE Lawrence (5'6u201D)! Robert Reich (4'10')! And have you seen Dennis Kucinich's wife?

And second, while there isn't much you can do, short of gruesomely lengthening your bones, to physically increase your height, there are ways to appear taller. Key in this is the way you dress and present yourself, and today we'll share ten tips on how you can use style to enhance your stature, and perhaps more importantly, your confidence.

The Guiding Rule — Always Streamline Your Look

Looking taller is all about getting viewers’ eyes to travel smoothly up your body. It’s pure illusion: the more their eyes have to sweep upward, the taller their brains will register whatever they’re looking at as being.

That means that a shorter man wants to ease and encourage the viewer’s eyes upward towards his face. Visual clutter — such as eye-grabbing stuff on the body — breaks up the impression of height. That means staying away from obvious accessories like big, chunky watches, but it also means keeping an eye out for things as simple as the pockets on your suits and shirts. Something as simple as a pocket flap instead of an unadorned slit pocket can clutter up your appearance and lessen the impression of height.

10 Tips on Dressing Taller

FYI — I put these ten tips in orders of practicality and cost. I realize some of these are beyond some men’s resources or not options worth considering — but I lay them out there so that you can make that decision yourself.

1. Monochromatic Color Themes

Along the same lines as minimizing visual clutter, removing contrasting color from your appearance helps streamline the way you look. Keeping all your clothes within a fairly consistent color theme, especially a dark one, will create an illusion of height. Different color shades are fine — just try to keep it loosely monochrome.

When you do wear different colors or different shades of the same color, try to weight the darker colors toward the bottom half of your body. That way people’s attention starts down near your feet and travels upward. Dark trousers with a lighter shirt create a lengthening effect; a darker shirt with lighter pants shortens your appearance.

2. Wear Vertically-Oriented Patterns

Most people have heard that vertical stripes are “slimming” and horizontal stripes are “widening.” That’s just a simplification of the same visual effect we’ve already been talking about: where people’s eyes go when they look at you. Patterns that run horizontally make you seem wider because the eye wants to follow them naturally out to the sides of your body.

Unbroken vertical stripes are one of the best ways to add an impression of height without seeming to try for it. Dress shirts that increase the perception of height ideally have striping that is narrow enough to not create broad empty spaces of monochrome but wide enough to be visible at a glance. The equal-width alternation of white and colored stripes — often called candystriping — is a good choice.

Textured cloth with a visible up-and-down pattern has the same effect as any other vertical striping, so corduroy or very narrow herringbone weaves are also worth working into the wardrobe. Other than those very definitively vertical textures, however, stick to smoother fabrics where possible — rough textures add the visual clutter you want to avoid.

3. Wear Close Fitting Clothing

A loose fit on a short man actually emphasizes his petite frame — it makes him look sloppy, and it signals that he's too small to find clothing that fits him right. Don't let your own clothing send this message to the world.

When shopping for menswear, pay close attention to where your clothing sits on your body when you try it on. Most men are used to wearing clothing that is 1 to 2 sizes too large on them, and smaller men who have never given it much attention are some of the worst offenders.

Steer clear of jackets that hang loose in the armpits, even if the sleeves are short enough for your arms, and avoid any trousers with a lot of slack cloth in the crotch. Trust me, this doesn't make you look more endowed. Instead, that sort of bagginess leads straight to the stereotypical “kid in his father’s suit” look.

Remember that most menswear is deliberately cut loose to accommodate as many body types as possible. Clothing marked small isn't made for one type of small; it's often made to try to accommodate shorter men who are anything from stout to round to thin. And the results are rarely flattering.

Savvy short shoppers often find a brand, oftentimes from a particular designer, that consistently suits them. They do this because designer clothing is often built for a narrower variety of body types, and as a result accommodates those limited builds better than the one size made to fit all variety. Designer clothes generally cost a bit more, but carefully watching sales and knowing when and where to shop for your particular size can lead to savings that make buying higher end clothing affordable.

Finally, have a trusted tailor who you can take your clothing to. Ensure he has an understanding of proportion and the needs of your body type, and you'll find the adjustments he makes can transform your look more than any of the other tips in this article. It’s relatively inexpensive to have sleeves or cuffs shortened; more complicated work like having your trousers slimmed or jacket torso tightened isn’t too expensive either. Having a jacket shortened, or adjusting shoulders on a shirt is often limited by proportion — but again these small adjustments will transform your look from dopey to dashing.

4. Smaller Proportions

Be aware that as a smaller man you won’t always want the exact same proportions in your clothes as other men. For example, it’s traditional to wear a sport coat or suit cut so that a half-inch or so of shirt cuff shows beyond the end of the sleeve. A shorter man, however, wants to pair shirts and jackets so that there’s less of a broad band — as little as a quarter-inch. A sliver of cloth color down around the wrists will look more proportional on shorter arms than of an inch.

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