Menswear and suits for the tall, athletic gentleman
Dressing well means dressing for your body type. Presented here are considerations of pattern, color, and cut for tall, well-muscled men seeking custom suits, bespoke tailoring, and other menswear.
If you’re a gentleman fortunate enough to be both tall and well-built, congratulations. You have what many consider to be the ideal masculine body type. Unfortunately, making the most out of your stature can be hard (outside of the occasional speedo contest) — social expectations demand that you spend most of your life smartly dressed, and finding off-the-rack clothing to flatter a powerful figure is impossible at most stores; difficult even at the best.
Tailored menswear is likely to be your only recourse for comfortable and good-looking clothing, so make the most of it — know the styles that will showcase your strength, and keep you from looking like an awkward giant shoved into clothes (and a world) too small for him.
Needs of the Large, Muscular Man
Minimize the Tall Man’s Height
Any tall man stands out in a room, and you most of all. There’s nothing wrong with being the tall guy — in fact, it’s an advantage in most social situations — but you don’t want it to be how people think of you all the time. Well-tailored clothing will break up the imposing vertical impression your body gives, keeping people from feeling like you’re looming over them without disguising your noteworthy height.
Let the Powerful Build Show
You don’t need a speedo contest to let people admire your natural advantages. Tailored suits, trousers, and shirts can be made to make your strength plain without hugging uncomfortably tight or looking inappropriate. As a powerfully-built man, you will want to select patterns, colors, and cut that show your good health without appearing to flaunt it. Most importantly, you want to avoid anything that constricts you or clings too tightly, giving you the appearance of someone stuffed into an ill-fitting suit.
Style and Presence for Tall Men
Any time you meet a stranger, you are going to have to make a conscious effort register in their minds as anything more than “that tall guy.” Men’s clothing often lacks the breadth of style that women’s fashion has produced, so small changes can help you stand out from the rest — your challenge will be to stand out in understated and well-thought ways that highlight your uniqueness rather than demand the viewer’s attention.
You’ve had that from the moment you walked into the room, so craft your style to leave a lingering impression rather than an immediate one.
Menswear for the Tall, Athletic Man: From Heels to Head
Patterning Choices for Large Men
Whether it comes from dye or the natural weave of the fiber, all your clothing will have a certain texture and pattern to it. As a very tall man, you are almost always well-served by patterns that incorporate horizontal lines — these lines will give the viewer’s eyes something to follow that isn’t the imposing up-and-down of your body, detracting from the looming impression.
Since your figure is already powerful, bold checks or windowpanes that draw the eye may be overkill, so consider understated patterns like a classic glen check. Too much mixing and matching can also be overpowering, making simple but elegant patterns your best ally.
Monochrome fabric with a textured weave is subtler than dyed patterns, and can turn even a simple white or blue undershirt into a flattering, memorable fashion statement.
Coloring needs will differ from one complexion to the next, but large men are generally better off avoiding the brightest and boldest dyes. Once again, you stand out enough on your own — even a bright blue is enough to make you seem hulking.
Pastels or dark, muted colors are good choices for suits and dress shirts alike. The timeless charcoal gray suit is particularly flattering on tall men, and has the added benefit of being appropriate in nearly any setting.
Tall Men’s Shoes
While most people’s eyes are likely to travel upward along your frame, there’s always a few people who judge a man by his shoes. Prepare for them with something simple and understated (and with a thin sole), and add a horizontal element with a capped toe or flat “bar” style lacings across the front.
Properly tailored trousers for the tall man should fall all the way to the top of your shoes, but wear understated socks that blend with your trousers for those awkward stretches — be sure to match your socks to your trousers, and not your shoes! No one looks good with a glaring stripe of mismatched fabric around their ankles, but the effect is particularly disastrous for the tall man, who will simply look like a scarecrow.
Trousers for Muscular Men
Except for a few dedicated cross-trainers, most athletic men carry their mass unevenly. The fitting of your trousers will depend on the placement of your muscles — slimmer legs will benefit from a looser cut, which adds to their perceived mass, while men with very strong legs can wear the trousers fitted closer.
If you have particularly large thighs, pleats can help create a more evenly-distributed look for your upper legs. Specially tailored pockets may also be needed to hold your keys and other small items comfortably without straining your trousers — be sure to bring your usual daily items with you when you are fitted for your pants. A belt is preferable to suspenders, but avoid very broad belts or oversized buckles that add unnecessary bulk to your midsection.
Jackets and Vests for Big Men
The overall goal of your suit coat as a tall, broadly-built man should be to de-emphasize your height without adding too much bulk — small details that break the vertical line are more effective than the heavy horizontal patterning that a slimmer man might use. Flat pockets will do a good job of reducing your vertical profile, and an extra “ticket” pocket above the regular right-side pocket helps complete the effect.
Consider a square- or puff-folded pocket square on the left breast; in addition to adding a horizontal element, it will give you a distinct personal touch without demanding too much attention.
The best fit for a jacket will, like your trousers, depend somewhat on how your muscle and height is distributed. If you have a slimmer chest padded shoulders and a heavier fabric will help balance you with your legs; cutting the jacket long enough to hang below the curve of your buttocks in the back can shorten the line of your trousers and add another horizontal element.
If your chest is considerably broader, unpadded shoulders and a close fit are ideal, but be cautious of uncomfortably tight jackets — these will bunch around the shoulder, armpits, and collar, giving an unattractive “overstuffed” appearance. It will also be uncomfortable for you, which tailored menswear never needs to be; all your clothing should have enough room for you to move comfortably.
A slightly longer cut in the sleeve benefits most tall men, whose wrists extend further when they move — don’t be afraid to show a touch less than the customary half-inch of shirt cuff; more will reveal itself with even small motions.
While broad men generally want to avoid extra layers of cloth over their chests, the downward-pointing “V” shape of a steeply-angled vest is often both slimming and shortening — a rare combination in a single article of clothing. Waistcoats also tend to feature pockets on both sides of the buttons, sometimes as many as two per side for a total of four.
Unusual fabrics or patterning are also considered more appropriate on a waistcoat, especially if it is worn without a jacket, allowing you to make a memorable impression without appearing loud or overdressed. A vest without a jacket is considerably less formal, however, so reserve the look for casual situations — and avoid overusing it; being “that guy with the vest” is not much of an improvement on “that tall guy”!
A Strong Man’s Shirt and Tie
Whatever you wear as a jacket, the shirt beneath it will need to be well-fitted and tasteful. The advice on colors and patterns is particularly pertinent here — avoid bright, unbroken colors or bold patterns, which will only add to your eye-catching bulk. Soften monochrome shirts with textured fabric, or opt for a very understated windowpane to incorporate some horizontal lines without creating an overpowering effect.
Ties should be on the narrow side, with a simple pattern and a minimum of vertical striping; avoid bulky knots that will make your neck look thick and strained at the collar. Make sure the tie falls far enough — many off-the-rack ties are too short for men over 6’4″ or so, and will make you look too small for your clothing even if the rest fits.
Completing the Ensemble
It should be reasonably clear at this point that the tall, muscular man has many choices in custom menswear — vertical stripes are largely to be avoided, as are bright colors and bold patterns, but nearly anything can be made to work so long as you find a tailor who will be able to understand and adjust for your needs.
Yours is the advantage of presence; with a solid body, proportion and balance in cut, color, and pattern are the keys to a comfortable, memorable style.