Ever tried on an XL T-shirt in Zara so tight it came up like a crop top? Or attempted to pull on a pair of Topman jeans you couldn’t get past your calves?
If the answer is ‘yes’, you’re probably not alone. And it’s probably not because you’re “fat” either. You could be six foot tall, weigh 209 pounds and have a healthy BMI of just under 20 per cent and still find an XL shirt strains like a sports bra.
Still, according to society, if you can’t squeeze into certain brands’ size ranges, then “fat” is exactly what you are. Which doesn’t seem fair, particularly if most of your weekday evenings are spent squatting in a gym, not scoffing burgers.
According to a recent YouGov survey, 34 per cent of men in the UK struggle to find clothes to suit their body shape, whether because they’re too big, small, round, narrow, whatever. Which isn’t hugely surprising when you think about the fact that, owing to biological diversity, we really do come in all shapes and sizes – something most clothing manufacturers who produce on a huge scale simply don’t take into account. Or perhaps more accurately, can’t afford to if they want to make a profit.
The average menswear brand takes a rudimentary approach to size diversity. They start out by designing a garment, let’s say a Medium (typically a 38-40-inch chest), based on the measurements of their fit model – the real-life mannequin whose dimensions are as close to what the brand believes its customers are in real life. Then, in order to design bigger and smaller sizes to complete a size range, most manufacturers will simply add or subtract inches while maintaining the ratio, failing to consider the fact that that’s not really how bodies work.
“Most brands design off of a block, and scale measurements up to make larger sizes,” says Ed Watson, creative director at N Brown, the parent company of menswear retailer Jacamo, which stocks sizes Small to 5XL.
“But while that might take dimensions into account, it doesn’t allow for subtle differences in overall body shape as you get larger. Size and fit are two very different things, and not all brands and retailers have the expertise or the money to design with that in mind.”
The idea, then – considering most of us buy off-the-peg rather than have our entire wardrobes made for us bespoke – that the reason some brands’ standard size ranges don’t fit someone well is because they’re, well, too fat, kind of misses the point.
Look at Zach Miko for example, the very first ‘Brawn’ model to be signed to major model agency IMG in 2016, and the man who sparked so much of the debate around male size diversity – mostly for being the first ‘plus size’ male model to appear on American retailer Target’s online store.
At six foot six inches and 240 pounds, Miko’s definitely ‘big and tall’. And while, yes, a few HIIT sessions might shave an inch or two off his 40-inch waist, his detractors seem to be missing the fact that standing at a whopping 8.5 inches taller than the average US male, no amount of sweating it out on a treadmill is going to make him any shorter. Or make it any easier for him to find jeans that won’t look like three-quarter lengths.
“People are, in evolutionary terms, physically getting bigger,” says Watson. Just look at the stats: the average height of a man in the UK has risen by over four inches since the 1870s, while the average male chest in the UK now measures 42 inches, and the average male waist clocks in at 40 inches. Which all suggests brands still tailoring their product to a guy with a 38-inch chest and a 30-inch waist are probably missing a trick.
“There’s a tonne of income being lost over archaic ideas of ‘brand perception’,” says Corbin Chamberlin, New York Times journalist and contributor to Chubstr, a website providing fashion and style tips for bigger guys. “Brands like DXL and KingSize are trying their best, but they really need to get some young blood in to freshen things up – they’re not trying hard enough.”
But while still relatively untapped, the plus size men’s market isn’t entirely underserved – Chamberlin cites Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren as brands worth a punt, and retailers like High & Mighty (which offers sizes up to 6XL) and Jacamo have been catering for larger guys for 60 years and seven years, respectively, while household names like ASOS and Marks & Spencer now offer styles in sizes up to 3XL.
No, you won’t find anything above a 2XL at brands like Reiss. Nor will you find much sized bigger than an XL at high-end stores such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. But premium and luxury fashion have always marched to the beat of their own drum, taking pride in their inaccessibility – whether in terms of sizing or price.
What’s most disturbing than the ‘revelation’ that menswear brands aren’t providing for everyone (a moot point considering we all fall victim to the shortcomings of clothing designed off of a block, and let’s remember – having access to clothes that fit you perfectly isn’t exactly a human right), is the flak levelled against larger men. Don’t fit the modern-day Michelangelan ideal of masculinity beauty? Then, lose some weight, fattie. Bench some more, bruh. Such rhetoric is not only puerile, but dangerous.
In 2016, Wentworth Miller – the Hollywood actor who shot to fame after his breakout appearance as the muscular, tatted up prison inmate Michael Scofield in Prison Break – found himself the subject of a callous, fat-shaming internet meme that spliced an image of Miller playing super-lean Scofield with a candid paparazzi shot of the actor from 2010 that was taken to ‘expose’ his post-show weight gain.
“The first time I saw this meme pop up in my social media feed,” he said via Facebook, “I have to admit, it hurt to breathe.” Of the paparazzi shot – taken at a time Miller has said he was feeling suicidal – he said: “In 2010, fighting for my mental health, it was the last thing I needed.”
There’s no denying the ‘Fit to Flab’ headlines that tried to shame Miller are symptomatic of a wider anti-fat attitude that’s brought us to a point where 40 per cent of men in the UK now say they’re dissatisfied with their body shape, and 1 in 4 eating disorders are occurring in males.
It might be easier to think – in a society where male body image always seems to be the butt of a joke (‘spornosexual’, ‘dadbod’, etc.) – that lazily slinging a slur is all in good fun, or just ‘banter’, but the strong link between poor body image and depression (not to mention rapidly rising male suicide rates) say otherwise.
Of course, there will always be those that fear embracing size diversity is simply condoning unhealthy habits. That celebrating the success of a plus size model, or calling for an increased presence of body diversity in the media, only makes serious health issues like obesity worse. But, as research has shown, stigmatising people who are overweight not only doesn’t help combat obesity, it actually makes it worse.
5 Plus Size Style Tips
Dress The Body You Have
Not the one you think you have/want/someday might have etc. As we know, bodies vary significantly, from the length of our arms to the width of our calves, and everything in between. You might have narrow shoulders, for example, but the thighs of a hooker (the rugby kind, sir, steady on). Or your gut might be disproportionately large in comparison to the width of your neck – whatever, we’re all different, and it’s all possible. So, to properly dress, or more specifically flatter your body, you need to get an accurate idea of it. That means taking your measurements and looking for clothes in sizes that fit those measurements.
Try Before You Buy
Always. And we mean always. Sure, you might be pressed for time, but if whatever you buy online or grab from a sale rack on your lunch break makes you look like sausage meat exploding from its casing, then it’s sort of a false economy. Take just a few minutes to quickly try something on for size and study how it fits in the mirror. It’s never not worth it.
Tailor To Fit
Buying off the rack is a relatively modern approach to kitting yourself out (in fact, it only really caught on in the mid-20th century). But unless you’re something of a manufacturer’s Vitruvian Man, it’s not a particularly advisable one. You might not be able to afford to have your entire wardrobe custom-made, but enlisting a tailor to make a nip and tuck where needed can make all the difference to store-bought style.
Respect The Power Of Patterns And Prints
Stripes, florals, chevron… all of these patterns and prints instantly draw the eye. Which means it pays to know when, where and how to deploy them. Reserve punchy patterns, prints and even bright contrast colours for the parts of the body you’re happy to put on show. Wide horizontal stripes, for example, will only accentuate an already large belly – which is cool, of course (we’re not ones to judge), but only if that was your intention in the first place.
Know What To Pass On
This goes for everyone really, but particularly for men who aren’t exactly model-build. Get to know what suits you and stick to it. That’s not to say you can’t incorporate a fashion trend now and then, just that that trend needs to work with your body, rather than against it. Cuban collar shirts? Great for everyone. Bare-chested suits? Not so much.
3 Stylish Plus Size Men To Copy
Dwayne’ The Rock’ Johnson
This former wrestler might look like a walking Muscle & Fitness cover, but that’s not to say Dwayne’ The Rock’ Johnson isn’t sometimes left clotheslined by off-the-peg clobber. With reported chest and thigh measurements of 50-inches and 35-inches respectively, Johnson’s is the kind of mountainous frame most mainstream menswear brands simply don’t cater for. His solution? A savvy double-whammy of bespoke tailoring and wardrobe classics that were made to flatter his colossal build – crew-neck T-shirts and knitwear to soften his broad neck and shoulders, and straight-leg jeans and trousers that complement his quads without compromising his circulation.
Some of you will know Khalid as the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter behind hit songs like ‘Location’ and ‘Eastside’. Others will recognise him as the guy who wore a bubblegum pink denim suit and chunky Balenciaga sneakers to the American Music Awards – and actually pulled it off. Disclaimer: Khalid isn’t ‘plus size’, but we’ve made the decision to include him here for how he’s calling time on the tired belief that a man has to be runway model-thin to get radical with fashion. From patterned tracksuits to high-shine fabrics, this 21-year-old style icon proves a more-to-love frame needn’t mean a monotonous wardrobe.
Standing at six-foot six-inches and with a 42-inch waist, actor-model Zach Miko was never exactly a shoo-in for the entertainment industry’s body ideals. Not that he’s let that stop him. After landing his first major modelling gig with US mega-retailer Target in 2015, Miko was signed by IMG, the modelling agency behind blue-chip talents Pietro Boselli, Richard Biedul and Lucky Blue Smith. Since then, he’s starred in campaigns for Levi’s, Nordstrom and Uniqlo. Both tall and broad, Miko matches his style to his size, taking advantage of tailoring and structured separates that lend his silhouette a clean line. Plus, he plays a blinder in a floral shirt.
5 Plus Size Men’s Clothing Brands
The OG, British retailer Jacamo has been outfitting men sized out by mainstream menswear since 2007. Best for lads brands, its roster includes Ben Sherman, Lacoste and Lyle & Scott, alongside sportswear giants Adidas, Puma and Under Armour, with sizes extending to 5XL. Plus, big fans of the beautiful game will be pleased to know they carry select LFC and MUFC merchandise, too.
A FashionBeans favourite, this Dutch suit-maker has revolutionised tailoring, providing men with a staggering range of premium quality tailoring without the staggering mark-up. Crafted from the finest Italian fabrics, Suit Supply’s two- and three-pieces are available in sizes up to 3XL. There’s also a speedy in-store customisation service to tailor off-the-peg tailoring to fit as well as a truly bespoke experience that won’t break the bank.
One of only a handful of iconic brands to embrace men of all shapes and sizes, denim specialist Levi’s understands that, whatever his size, a good pair of jeans is the cornerstone of any man’s wardrobe. As well as its beloved 501 and 502 styles, Levi’s Big & Tall range includes trucker jackets, hoodies, shirts and logo T-shirts in sizes up to 5XL. It also, in a stroke of rare genius, offers what so many other brands don’t: belts for bigger men.
Launched in 2015, UK-based brand Bad Rhino offers clothing, tailoring and underwear in sizes up to 8XL. Look beyond its err, eyebrow-raising name (and, let’s be honest, much of its own-branded fashion) and you’ll find versatile basics at affordable prices in sizes you can’t get anywhere else. Our advice? Swerve anything logoed, distressed or otherwise Superdry-ified, and stick to the low-key wardrobe staples this specialist retailer does well.