I was recently asked about the rules short men should follow when wearing a dress shirt.
And although I’m not a big believer in rigid “Rules” – I do think there are guidelines every man south of five foot seven should evaluate when wearing a button-up shirt.
Here are a half dozen dressing taller tips I suggest specifically for short men who do not want their shirts to make them look any smaller.
1. Shop For Shirts Made For Your Size
We’re not just talking about buying things labeled “S” or “XS” here. Those are usually just the same pieces of clothing made for bigger men with all parts reduced slightly in size.
A small man needs a shirt with somewhat different proportions, not just a resizing of a standard-issue dress shirt, so look for brands and stores that market specifically toward shorter men.
Consider looking at brands coming out of Japan, Italy, or Spain – the manufacturers are often assuming a shorter, more slender baseline customer, and their “small” sizes are much more likely to be made with a shorter man’s real proportions in mind.
You can even have luck in the Youth/Boys section of some department stores, though the clothes may not always be as sturdy or high-quality as those meant for adult men.
2. Adjust Aggressively to Meet Your Needs
If you can buy custom-tailored shirts, do. You can usually get a tailored shirt for the price of two mass-manufactured ones, three at the outside.
It rapidly becomes worthwhile if your body’s outside the average sizes (and tailored shirts tend to be sturdier than machine-made ones, so you’re not likely to pay that much more in the long run anyway).
If you do buy off the rack, at least have a tailor adjust the length in the sleeve and the fit at the waist to your body’s measurements.
Nothing makes a short man look more awkward than sleeves that hang down too far, or a shirt that billows and sags around the waist. A quick adjustment doesn’t cost much and keeps you from looking like you’re being swallowed by your shirt.
3. Select Narrow Collar Styles
A shorter man always does best with slim, streamlined details. A broad spread collar with outward-pointing tips stops the viewer’s gaze at your neck and makes you look stouter than you really are. Narrow collars whose points aim downward help keep the eye traveling all the way up toward your face.
I generally (although there is no hard fast rule here if you love them!) steer smaller men away from button-down collars as well — there’s really no need for the extra visual clutter, and a good crisp point collar makes you look sharper as well as taller.
Just remember that narrower collars need a narrower knot when you wear a necktie! You’ll want to wear ties made of thin material that doesn’t bulk up when folded over itself, and to use a small knot like a four-in-hand or a Pratt-Selby knot.
4. Wear Vertically-Oriented Patterns
This is good advice for every piece of a short man’s wardrobe, but it’s particularly easy to achieve with dress shirts.
Candystripe patterns (equal-sized stripes of white and a single color alternating with one another) are simple, dressy, acceptable at almost every level of formality and fantastic for guiding a viewer’s gaze up toward your face.
Try not to wear anything with lots of stripes in varying colors and sizes — these can get too distracting, keeping the eye stuck on your chest. Thin, simple stripes make you look elegant, streamlined, and taller than you actually are.
5. Avoid Unnecessary Details
You want to keep your shirt simple. A breast pocket isn’t necessary at all, though unless you’re having your shirts tailored it’s hard to avoid them these days; if you do wear a shirt pocket try to only have one, and to avoid any hemming, decorative stitching, or monogramming on it. You also shouldn’t ever have a pen clipped to it — this looks a little sloppy on any man, and it’s a dead stop for the viewer’s gaze, robbing you of your height again.
6. Tuck It In!
The final piece of advice for a short man’s dress shirt is to always keep it tucked in. Loose shirttails, even in socially-acceptable situations, shorten your legs dramatically. They’ll make you look particularly stumpy if the tails are long on you (and they often are unless you’ve had the size tailored).
Even if the shirt doesn’t come down much lower than the waist you still have a billowing, loose line around your midsection that cuts your body in half.