Written by Ethan Newton
It is no secret that I have proportions on the heavier side of the norm, and certainly a lot heavier than the ready-to-wear world would deem worthy of accomodating. I stand a not particularly tall 181cm, my weight fluctuates between 100 to 105 kilograms, and I am usually about a 46" chest on a 39" waist. I tend to be a tailors nightmare, as I have a broad chest and thick arms, but still with a large drop. Only one tailor I know has ever said that my proportions are good for tailoring - Yuhei Yamamoto of Caid Tailors. I suspect my heavy build conjures images of a 50's New Yorker for him - well fed on a diet of burgers and pie, and as American as a Japanese Ivy League fanatic could imagine.
What I have learnt, however, is that for all the things the heavy set man cannot wear, from ankle choking jeans that afflict the early 20's crowd lately to bermudas and tee shirts, there are some things that almost demand the extra weight to properly effect.
There are some garments that I think benefit from a larger frame to carry them, chief amongst them being the traditional 3 piece suit. With the full leg and high waist of the trouser, the shorter and trim girdle of a waistcoat, and the soft roll of a draped chest coat. Properly tailored, and that is tantamount to the bigger gent, a three piece in a dark formal cloth can amplify the gravitas a bigger man will often possess.
The secret here, although it is no secret to anyone that has studied the likes of Jackie Gleason or James Robertson Justice later in their careers, is that drape and depth are an imperative. And while it is the coat that most men remark upon, and where the significant attention the novice bespoke client lies, a well cut trouser is to a bigger man of the greatest significance. A few tips I have found that have aided me in all my significant girth are as follows;
Depth of rise - The tendency for skimpy, hip riding trousers is an abomination that any man hoping to be viewed as such and not the opposite sex should avoid. This is never more true than in a man built properly through the hips and seat.
As the hips and seat fill out, they also tend to draw upwards. The slim man has hips that begin at the shelf of the hipbone, while the bigger man will find it extending upwards towards the natural waist. The hips grow in proportion and the waist shortens.
Those of us that have put any real thought and study into dressing well are aware that a man cannot look good without looking elegant, and he cannot be elegant unless he is comfortable. Hitching at a low slung trouser and fearing the exposure of a creased shirt tail every time you sit severely inhibits the chances of looking elegant.
The depth of rise should be sufficient that you can sit and stand without the trouser needing to be adjusted each time. If your shirt tails are billowing from the back of your waistband after sitting, you can afford a higher back rise.
Personally I have found that a fishtail trouser worn beneath a waistcoat is an elegant, if slightly archaic option. When I am in three pieces, however, the waistcoat stays on, so the exposure of my braces and fishtail back is unlikely.
Braces - On that point, the trouser is built to hang from the shoulder. I know the proportions of my waist, much like my thigh, tends to shift between sitting and standing, so a slightly looser waist - 2/3 of an inch while standing is usually a safe allowance - and braces to keep the trousers at the correct position makes for a far more comfortable experience.
The brace over belt argument is also supported by the back rise issue - a longer back rise needs to be anchored higher than a belt could usually allow. Hung from the shoulder, however, the trouser falls clean from waistband through the seat and thigh, and there is no unsightly roping to break the vertical line of the leg.
Stride - Seemingly a factor misunderstood by most ready to wear manufacturers is the principle of stride - the difference in volume of the thigh between standing straight to leg crooked. What tends to happen here is twofold - the distribution of weight in the leg shifts, and the back rise through to the knee lengthens as the leg bends. This causes the thigh to occupy all of the extra rise height we have offered in the back of the trouser, and shift forward and down in the front of the trouser leg. Here, without the extra allowance in volume at the thigh, the trouser grips the fronts of the legs, strains the back rise, and leaves a trouser with sharp creases splaying out from the inside leg.
Taper in a trouser is important, especially for a big man - we don’t want to look like we are in oxford bags - but taper it is. There must be enough room in the upper leg to justify the gradual narrowing to the cuff.
Pleats - Hand in hand with the above, and an unpopular choice for nearly all men of my generation, are pleated trousers. The perception of 80's era chinos with pintuck like pleats cascading from a low riding waistband has poisoned the minds of many from common sense.
Pleats are for medium to high waisted trousers, not low. Pleats should have enough volume, and the waistband not be so tight, that the pleats can accordion open when needed, and fall closed again when standing straight.
The other need for pleats for us bigger men is the visual break it gives the expanse of lap that a full hip creates. Broken evenly with one or two pleats, the trouser fronts are seemingly quartered and diminished. The clean, flat front on a rounder lower torso and hip begins looking like a globe of the earth in its unbroken fullness.
Taper - The taper in the leg depends on two main measurements - that of the hip and of the shoe. None of us want to look like overgrown Oompa-Loompas, shortened to a pear shape with tiny feet beneath a massive waist. At least I hope none of my audience here wants that. Nor do we want to look like Daffy Duck with rail thin ankles and paddles of feet beneath, so the last of our shoe, its size, and how we taper the trouser is important.
I have big feet myself - about a 44 European, so I favour shorter, rounder toed shoes with narrow waists and slightly taller heels and thicker soles. It makes for a shoe that isn’t overly long on my already big feet, but has enough weight at the sole to carry my build, while the narrow waist keeps it looking elegant rather than clumsy.
Conversely, someone with a small foot relative to their height might choose a longer, chiseled last that helps extend the length of foot below the trouser cuff. Or a heavy, gunboat style that will overall add visual weight to the foot.
The taper of the trouser needs to follow the same rules - we neither want to look unbalanced by an extreme taper, nor missing our feet by trousers that flap around too full and long. A good rule of thumb for the bigger gent is that the trouser should fall to the shoe with the gentlest of breaks in the front, and cover the top two or three eyelets of the shoe. A cuff of some depth will help keep the trouser stationed on the foot, and provide the visual weight to balance our, ahem, generous waists.
Much can be said about pattern and colour, their visual weights and how they affect the appearance of a bigger man, but for every rule there is someone whose style and panache is able to squash said rules entirely. I try to remind myself that I am accentuating the vertical as much as possible, especially in the lower body, and setting elegance as the marker of success.
There are some other points that Us bigger folk can carry that a more diminutive build cannot - lapels that look generous on a bigger man can come across as overwhelming on a smaller man. The classical full overlap of a double breasted suit that can look straight jacket like on a small man is entirely appropriate over a fuller girth. And the softer, longer extension of shoulder that is loved by the Northern tailors often balances a larger waist and creates the appearance of a drop from chest to waist, while the smaller man can end up looking like a scarecrow in it.
The soft drape of chest that was the hallmark of the Scholte cut gives a louche elegance to the bigger man, and adds the feel of generosity and ease that elegance demands.
And that brings us back to the original tenet of this piece - Gravitas. Picture Babe Ruth in his bigger years wearing a vested suit with all the softness and comfort as he did his baseball uniform. And in it he commanded respect by his very physicality. He had a gravitas to take something severe and humble it.
But the best example of a bigger man that could put to shame any more regularly proportioned clotheshorse is Jackie Gleason. His portrayal as Minnesota Fats in the 1961 classic "The Hustler", he epitomizes elegance and gravitas, next to a fidgeting, sweaty and disheveled Paul Newman.
Gleason, a renowned clotheshorse in his personal life, spends the film in a three piece suit with a carnation in his buttonhole. With every shot he takes, his 270 pound figure looks as graceful as sometimes only a big man can be.