Suit Style 4: Flattering the tall and the short
This is the fourth article in a series presenting a guide to buying tailoring.
Following on from the previous articles on single and double-breasted suits, we turn our attention to body shape, and how different styles and elements in a suit can change the impression of his physique.
By the time most men buy their first suit, their body shape is relatively set. While the chest and (particularly) the waist will fluctuate over time, a man’s height, shoulder width, and length of limb will not change.
Given these fixed attributes, it's worth a man understanding how they can be accentuated or mitigated by the subtleties of a suit’s design.
Tall or short, broad or narrow - even average build - there are things he should consider whether buying a ready-made suit or commissioning bespoke.
I should also say at this point that none of the following recommendations are 'rules'. A short man can dress as he likes, in any style. If he is interested in looking taller, there are some things he can do to help. But whether that's a priority is entirely up to him.
Flatter a shorter stature
For a short man to create an impression of height, the first thing he should do is avoid any excess cloth.
This adds bulk to the suit and emphasises a shorter stature - so go with a close fit. Nothing is worse for a short man than a jacket that swamps him, whether on the arms, waist or hips.
In terms of style, this means moderate or soft padding in the shoulders, and no more than a little drape in the chest. A one-button, or maximum two-button jacket with a lowish buttoning point will also increase the impression of height. The more buttons there are, the more horizontal points break up the front of the jacket, and, probably more importantly, the shorter the lapels have to be.
The sweep of a suit’s lapel from neck to waist is the strongest line in the suit and potentially it’s most flattering. So keep that line as long as possible, with the jacket closed. The V of the chest thus created will accentuate the shoulders and suggest athletic shape.
The difference between one and two buttons is small, as the waist button will not move much, if at all, with the addition of a button below it. The jacket’s waist should be quite close, or ‘suppressed’, in line with the theme of keeping cloth to a minimum.
The skirt (the lower half of the jacket, from the waist down) should be relatively short to lengthen the legs, but not as short as the trendy ‘bum freezer’ jackets so popular over the past 10 years.
High vents will also add to the impression of height; though if you can resist the urge to put your hands in your pockets, a ventless jacket can be even better.
Adding length through the trousers
Arguably, however, it’s the trouser line rather than the jacket that makes a man look tallest.
Ideally the waist of the trousers should be high and at a man’s natural waist (around the belly button, if not higher). This may feel unnatural to some, but it does make the legs look longer and produce cleaner lines in any pleats. If you go for a lower rise, keep to a relatively slim trouser leg with sharp creases in the front.
Cuffs or a large break also interrupt the long lines we're aiming for, so best to avoid both. The ideal is a clean, unbroken line in the trouser at the back, and a slight break at the front (achieved by angling the bottom of the trouser slightly).
Finally, anything that removes bulk or the impression of width from the look of the suit is beneficial. So avoid ticket pockets, large pocket flaps and patch pockets. If the notch in the lapel can be a little higher, that will also help.
Think of bulk when choosing the cloth too: a darker, finer worsted wools will create a sharp silhouette.
You should avoid pale tones, bright colours and large patterns (particularly checks), although a fine pinstripe can elongate.
As to the rest of the outfit, dark shoes and a simple tie will accentuate the look, and avoid the contrast of sports jackets or odd waistcoats.
Interrupt a tall man
Now reverse everything we've said for a tall man.
Interrupt the look at every possible opportunity: ticket pockets, patch pockets, broad checks and odd jackets. Wear a belt, have trouser cuffs and buy some brogues – the more texture the better.
Throw the eye sideways with a pocket handkerchief, eschew a smooth silk tie and opt for a textured wool or shantung silk instead. Wear a waistcoat; wear a watch; have your sleeves a touch shorter so there is always a half-inch of shirt cuff – anything to break up the lines.
Tall men and narrow men have the same tools at their disposal. The thin should ape the tactics of the tall man, the large man those of the short.
If you are tall and stout, or thin and short, consider your priorities and apply accordingly. Men tend to want to avoid the latter of those two pairs most.
The beauty of buying a bespoke or made-to-measure suit is you can specify many more of these elements. But then again, a tailor is also there, ready to give you advice on such things.
If anything, understanding the effect of these elements on a ready-to-wear suit is the most useful - something to bear in mind as you carry those 4 different choices to the changing room.