It’s a cold and cruel world out there and you’re expected to adult like you were taught how. You have to put yourself to bed at a reasonable hour AND get up on time for work. And, unless you’ve got some kind of overbearing fashion-minded mother-hen figure in your life, you’ve got to pick out your own clothes. Every. Damn. Day. A daunting task for most people, (made somewhat easier if you’ve taken time to develop a personal uniform) but an especially frustrating task if you’re learning to dress well as a plus-size man. Most clothes simply aren’t made for us. And because of differences in taste and body weight distribution, the clothes that are made for us can be expensive, ill-fitting, or ugly. What’s a big guy to do?
First, take a deep breath. The great thing about menswear is that so much of it is interchangeable. While many plus-size women struggle to keep up with ever-changing trends, we big men are blessed with a freedom from that kind of fashion high-bar. Though not recommended, I often see men wear the same few rotating pairs of pants and shoes, day in and day out, and no one bats an eye. But we’re going to try to do better; that is, after all, why you’re here reading this article. Let us explore some quick and easy-to-remember tips on dressing well as a plus-size man that will not only boost our clothing awareness but also help us feel better about ourselves as worthwhile people, as big men in a modern age.
1. Dress for who you are now.
Maybe you have gained a few pounds over the last few years and intend to drop the weight when you can afford a gym membership. Or perhaps you’ve been unsuccessful in the past but the next diet or “way of life” you commit to will melt your body down into straight-sized clothing. Medical conditions and medications used to treat some conditions can both cause weight gain. Maybe you’ve been big all your life and you accept and love yourself, you’re just having trouble finding clothes that fit and look good.
There are a thousand ways that someone becomes a plus-size person. But here are the facts: you’re plus-sized now. You’re a big man right at this moment and that’s not something that will change overnight. And, as a big man, you deserve to look and feel good about yourself. No matter what the scale says, no matter what the size is on your shirts and slacks. Remember, you’re a worthwhile person who deserves to look his best if that is your desire.
This first tip is arguably the most important one: dress for who you are now. This means buying and wearing clothes in a size that allows you to breathe, move, sit, stand, and bend over. Do not attempt to squeeze into clothing that is too small, that is restrictive, or that is aspirational. Do not continue to wear clothing from a time in your life where you were a smaller size. Keep these words in mind:
A properly fitting sweatsuit is more flattering on a person than an expensive but ill-fitting three-piece suit.
This may mean that you can’t find a particular article of clothing you want in your proper size. I feel this; I struggled for years to find a particular style of leather jacket that fit me well, and I’m still looking. But it is better to wear a different article of clothing that fits than to wear ill-fitting but trendy clothing that makes you physically and emotionally uncomfortable. Those smaller sizes of clothing will be there if you find yourself at that size in the future; they’re not going anywhere. But for now, for right now, dress for your body as it is.
2. Accept your size and shape.
It’s been said that accepting your nose is the first step to self-love. It’s right there every time you look in the mirror, as plain as the, well, you know. For large men, particularly men who have recently gone up in size, accepting your true size and shape is the first step toward dressing well. This follows closely with the previous point above about dressing for who you are right now, but it’s distinctly different. Dressing for who you are now is about getting the right size clothing; accepting your size and shape means evaluating your body type. This means figuring out what you consider your physical strengths and your flaws and using that knowledge to choose outfits that make you feel good about yourself.
Ask yourself some questions about your shape*.
- Are you apple or pear shaped?
- Do you carry weight in your neck, shoulders, back, belly, hips, butt, or thighs?
- Are you evenly proportioned or top/bottom/middle heavy?
- Are you tall or short?
- Do you
* Do not judge while you evaluate; we are merely observing, as objectively as possible. Shaming ourselves does nothing for the process.
Use the answers from the above questions to figure out what fits you and gives you the shape you desire. If you carry weight in your belly, look for jackets and coats that build out your shoulders to give a more square proportion. Do you have a pronounced abdominal panniculus (belly overhang) that you dislike? Start wearing your pant waist over your belly, up near your navel, and choose an open overshirt or jacket that helps to break up horizontal lines and blends your upper and lower body together as a whole. Do you have large rear end (I believe the kids call it a “donk” these days…) that you’d like to minimize? Choose dark colored pants or a wider leg.
On the other hand, if you want to maximize your rear end, look for outfits with a tucked-in shirt and choose slim-cut stretch jeans. We’re not trying to force you to conform to a particular set of beauty standards; part of body acceptance includes determining what you like about yourself and what you want to highlight, and that’s a deeply personal decision. In the end, the reason you should arm yourself with knowledge and acceptance of your size and shape is this: if you don’t make a conscious decision when choosing your clothes, the highlighting will happen anyway and it may not help you feel your best.
3. Seek out specialty stores.
It’s not like back in my youth. When I needed “husky” sized (isn’t that a breed of dog?) clothing, my grandmother would pack me and my brothers into the station wagon for a long trek into the outskirts of town. We’d drive past the topless dancing clubs and the seedy pawn shops. We’d go way out past the city limits where graffiti covered every road sign, to “Bertrand’s Big and Tall”. It was a run-down crumbling brick store in a strip mall featuring the latest in ill-fitting pseudo-clown apparel, perpetually manufactured 15 years too late to capitalize on any kind of trends.
These stores took the ugliest straight-sized clothing as a prototype, and then it seemed like they rolled a dice when it came to which measurements they’d simply scale up to accommodate larger bodies, while leaving other measurements completely untouched. Whoever designed and produced plus sized clothes in the 80s must have been from an alternate dimension, where they were given only the vaguest ideas of what a human’s anatomy looked like, much less a plus-sized human.
Better Big and Tall Stores Are Everywhere Now
Today, we have big and tall stores with helpful salespeople, located in regular malls. And the clothes, while they might not be the most current trends, certainly represent fashion from a recent time period. We have dark denim, suits, peacoats, sweaters… the list goes on. We have t-shirts with interesting patterns and graphics (not just shirts emblazoned with an angry cartoon bulldog that say “Big Dawg” or designs with similar themes/euphemisms) I’ve even seen stores that carry wider-than-average sunglasses. It’s all there, you can touch it and hold it up in front of you. You can get your partner’s opinion on it. And there’s nothing quite like being in a clothing store and knowing that every item is available in your size. That feeling, I can tell you, as a plus-size man, is rare and beautiful.
Even if the prices at specialty shops are higher than you’d like, they are an excellent opportunity to try on clothes in different sizes. They’re a great way to get a feel for how something looks on you before you order it online. You’ll find that often a style that looks good on another big guy doesn’t look right on you. Or a type of jacket that you didn’t love online, looks much nicer in person and fits like a glove. There’s just no substitute for choosing clothes in person, so check out a specialty shop in your area.
4. Do not hesitate to return clothes that don’t work for you.
First, plus-size clothes are typically more expensive than straight sizes. And finding a good fit, whether in person or through ordering online, can be a struggle. So make sure that you do business with retailers who have a good reputation for hassle-free returns.
Amazon is typically great about this when it’s being fulfilled BY Amazon; I’ve been burned before when a jacket was shipped through a third-party retailer. My return was going to take several weeks and I couldn’t do an exchange or get Amazon credit. This meant I couldn’t get something that I needed for an upcoming event.
Choose Stores or Websites With Hassle-Free Return Policies
I don’t want to wait a week to get clothing; two more weeks to for the product to be returned. Then wait another week for them to process and issue the refund. And then 3-5 business days for the refund to show up in my account. This is another great reason to visit a specialty big and tall store in your area; returns and exchanges can be done on the spot with minimal fuss.
The second part of this is that big men have a tendency to be shamed for our shape and size. Returning something to get a bigger size can make us feel like all eyes are on us. No one wants their personal business to be made a public matter to everyone else in line, but it’s important to remember this:
You deserve to have clothes that fit you.
You are no less worthy of having your return or exchange processed than a straight-size person. The fact is that you, as a big man, are more likely to need to return clothing. This is because the clothing industry regularly fails to provide full measurements for plus-size clothing. Or they provide measurements that simply do not show the reality of the product. Denim jeans marked as “stretch” online come in and have less stretch than a suit of plate armor. A sweat-wicking polo shirt that looks great while inside the store is found to have a sharkskin-like sheen when worn outdoors.
Don’t let clothing companies get away with selling you something that doesn’t work on you and that you’ll never wear. It’s a waste of money and an insult to you as a consumer. Stick up for yourself, make the return or exchange, and get on with living your best life.
5. Learn how your clothes should fit.
Behold the simple denim jean, a standard in most men’s closets. There are hundreds of brands of denim jeans and each brand has their own subtle variations in cuts and washes. And that’s not taking into account material weight, stretch, flare, and length. We could spend hours going over every possible clothing article in a man’s wardrobe, but it would be a struggle to remember them all. So let’s focus on just a handful of things to remember.
- Avoid wearing oversized/baggy clothing. It hides your body at the cost of making you look bulkier all over. If you’re looking for a more streetwear or modern loose fit, that’s a particular cut of pants or shirt, not just going up several sizes.
- Untucked shirts should not, as a general rule, go below the middle of the fly of your pants. Any longer and they have a tendency to make the top of your body look larger than your lower half; ideally your top and bottom should look evenly proportioned to your overall shape. (Another reason why you should wear your pants waistline up near your belly-button.)
- Be aware of “hug” (how an article of clothing adheres to parts of your body) and “drape” (how clothing hangs off of parts of your body). For example: as a large man, I stay away from knitwear as it tends to hug too closely to my upper body, clinging to and accentuating that which I would rather minimize. I instead like an untucked sport shirt as it drapes well from my shoulders and chest without looking blousy. Easy enough!
Specific Tips About Pants
- When it comes to pants, “loose” in not the only answer when asked how you like them to fit. Choose pants that are comfortable on your hips and allow a full range of motion without billowing as you move. Beware of a tight waist when seated or bending over. And watch for the dreaded “grandfather’s arse”; you should have a discernible rear end in the butt area of your pants. It should not be just a cliff off of which hangs some fabric, free to take on strange curtain-like shapes.
- Wear your pants at your waist, just below your navel. There are many reason. First, your pants are less likely to fall down so you won’t tug endlessly to keep them up. Second, it helps to balance the top and bottom of your outfit, presenting a more proportional shape overall. And finally, it is more comfortable since your belt buckle doesn’t dig in when sitting.
- Watch how your pants cuff breaks at your shoes. This is the easiest way to tell if someone knows how to dress well; your pant leg should stop just above your shoes, with or without a folded cuff. If it’s too long and bunches, get them hemmed or hem them yourself. If they show sock when you stand, buy longer pants.
6. Choose colors and patterns that look good on your body.
“I can’t bear being seen naked. I’m not exactly a tiny woman. When Sophia Loren is naked, this is a lot of nakedness.”Sophia Loren
As a big man, the fabric that makes up our clothing occupies a large amount of space in the world. Many of us are broad, shoulder to shoulder, and when we wear gingham, this is a lot of gingham. When we wear florals, it’s a lot of floral. This is a fact and not necessarily a negative thing: when we wear a statement piece, say a blazer in a floral print, it really makes a statement.
Use care when choosing patterns and prints in your outfit. I tend to try to break up small-to-medium sized patterns by wearing something over the clothing item, or wearing the clothing item unbuttoned with a solid white or black shirt underneath. This helps break up the pattern and reduces what I like to call “the car-cover effect”. See these photos of John Goodman (similar size in each example) here:
The same can be said for colors: if a small person wears a color that works just-okay with their skin tone, people will often not take any note. But when a large person wears the same color, there’s a lot more skin and clothing that’s not working well together. This makes it especially important to choose colors that work well with your skin tone. Not sure how to do this? Ask someone who uses makeup regularly, man or woman, or go to Colorwise.me.
7. Find big men who dress well and emulate them.
This might be the best tip here because I can give you guidelines to follow and you’ll still need to experiment to find what works best. But by finding a style icon with your same shape, you can skip right to the dressing-well part. There are a long list of plus-size men in the public spotlight with a team of personal style consultants (or perhaps just innate fashion interests and a keen sense of style) that can serve as examples of what works, from a simple date night to the red carpet. Here are a few names to look up:
- Steven G. (Instagram)
- Max Talisman (Instagram)
- Koichi Macgregor (Instagram)
- Bruce Sturgell (Founder of Chubstr, Instagram)
- Joel Davis (Instagram)
- Jonah Hill (Instagram)
- Cameron Britton (Instagram)
- Eric Stonestreet (Instagram)
Get On With It
Dressing well as a plus-size man doesn’t have to be a chore, it can be something you look forward to every day, an outlet for self expression and a way to try new looks. But that requires real honesty with yourself about who you are, your size, shape, and what you want to look like. It requires moxie, boldness, and a willingness to stand out from the crowd and be noticed. It’s a lot better than it sounds, trust me, and it becomes a way of life. And it’s an important step on your journey to self-love and knowing that you are a worthwhile person who deserves to look good.
*A Special Note from the Author
The article above is not a slam on being overweight, weight changes, diet, or exercise plans in any way; I believe that changing one’s body weight is simultaneously the simplest AND most difficult thing you can do. I have lost and gained over 200 pounds myself: from my top weight of 475 pounds down to 250 pounds at a my smallest adult size. If you’re restricting your foods, it’s a battle that you will fight every day, all day long. Every time you turn around, you’ll be confronted with making a choice over and over again. And it’s only through self-love and acceptance of our bodies that we become more wholly ourselves, no matter if that accompanies a change in size or shape or a change in how we view ourselves.