Short men have always had a tougher row to hoe than their taller fellows. It can be frustrating to be picked last for the pick-up basketball game, to feel like you’re overlooked when walking into a party, and to struggle to see your favorite band at a concert.
And then there are those studies that say that tall men are perceived as more powerful and better leaders, are more desirable to women, and make more money (almost $1,000 more for every inch of height).
But short men shouldn’t despair. The news isn’t all bad.
First, while height may give men a leg up in the race for success (US presidents have been on average 4 inches taller than the general male population), there are always exceptions to the rule. Andrew Carnegie (5’0”)! Martin Luther King Jr. (5’7”)! Harry Houdini (5’5”)! TE Lawrence (5’6”)! Robert Reich (4’10’)! And have you seen Dennis Kucinich’s wife?
And second, while there isn’t much you can do, short of gruesomely lengthening your bones, to physically increase your height, there are ways to appear taller. Key in this is the way you dress and present yourself, and today we’ll share ten tips on how you can use style to enhance your stature, and perhaps more importantly, your confidence.
The Guiding Rule – Always Streamline Your Look
Looking taller is all about getting viewers’ eyes to travel smoothly up your body. It’s pure illusion: the more their eyes have to sweep upward, the taller their brains will register whatever they’re looking at as being.
That means that a shorter man wants to ease and encourage the viewer’s eyes upward towards his face. Visual clutter–such as eye-grabbing stuff on the body–breaks up the impression of height. That means staying away from obvious accessories like big, chunky watches, but it also means keeping an eye out for things as simple as the pockets on your suits and shirts. Something as simple as a pocket flap instead of an unadorned slit pocket can clutter up your appearance and lessen the impression of height.
10 Tips on Dressing Taller
FYI – I put these ten tips in orders of practicality and cost. I realize some of these are beyond some men’s resources or not options worth considering–but I lay them out there so that you can make that decision yourself.
1. Monochromatic Color Themes
Along the same lines as minimizing visual clutter, removing contrasting color from your appearance helps streamline the way you look. Keeping all your clothes within a fairly consistent color theme, especially a dark one, will create an illusion of height. Different color shades are fine–just try to keep it loosely monochrome.
When you do wear different colors or different shades of the same color, try to weight the darker colors toward the bottom half of your body. That way people’s attention starts down near your feet and travels upward. Dark trousers with a lighter shirt create a lengthening effect; a darker shirt with lighter pants shortens your appearance.
2. Wear Vertically-Oriented Patterns
Most people have heard that vertical stripes are “slimming” and horizontal stripes are “widening.” That’s just a simplification of the same visual effect we’ve already been talking about: where people’s eyes go when they look at you. Patterns that run horizontally make you seem wider because the eye wants to follow them naturally out to the sides of your body.
Unbroken vertical stripes are one of the best ways to add an impression of height without seeming to try for it. Dress shirts that increase the perception of height ideally have striping that is narrow enough to not create broad empty spaces of monochrome but wide enough to be visible at a glance. The equal-width alternation of white and colored stripes–often called candystriping–is a good choice.
Textured cloth with a visible up-and-down pattern has the same effect as any other vertical striping, so corduroy or very narrow herringbone weaves are also worth working into the wardrobe. Other than those very definitively vertical textures, however, stick to smoother fabrics where possible — rough textures add the visual clutter you want to avoid.
3. Wear Close Fitting Clothing
A loose fit on a short man actually emphasizes his petite frame–it makes him look sloppy, and it signals that he’s too small to find clothing that fits him right. Don’t let your own clothing send this message to the world.
When shopping for menswear, pay close attention to where your clothing sits on your body when you try it on. Most men are used to wearing clothing that is 1 to 2 sizes too large on them, and smaller men who have never given it much attention are some of the worst offenders.
Steer clear of jackets that hang loose in the armpits, even if the sleeves are short enough for your arms, and avoid any trousers with a lot of slack cloth in the crotch. Trust me, this doesn’t make you look more endowed. Instead, that sort of bagginess leads straight to the stereotypical “kid in his father’s suit” look.
Remember that most menswear is deliberately cut loose to accommodate as many body types as possible. Clothing marked small isn’t made for one type of small; it’s often made to try to accommodate shorter men who are anything from stout to round to thin. And the results are rarely flattering.
Savvy short shoppers often find a brand, oftentimes from a particular designer, that consistently suits them. They do this because designer clothing is often built for a narrower variety of body types, and as a result accommodates those limited builds better than the one size made to fit all variety. Designer clothes generally cost a bit more, but carefully watching sales and knowing when and where to shop for your particular size can lead to savings that make buying higher end clothing affordable.
Finally, have a trusted tailor who you can take your clothing to. Ensure he has an understanding of proportion and the needs of your body type, and you’ll find the adjustments he makes can transform your look more than any of the other tips in this article. It’s relatively inexpensive to have sleeves or cuffs shortened; more complicated work like having your trousers slimmed or jacket torso tightened isn’t too expensive either. Having a jacket shortened, or adjusting shoulders on a shirt is often limited by proportion–but again these small adjustments will transform your look from dopey to dashing.
4. Smaller Proportions
Be aware that as a smaller man you won’t always want the exact same proportions in your clothes as other men. For example, it’s traditional to wear a sport coat or suit cut so that a half-inch or so of shirt cuff shows beyond the end of the sleeve. A shorter man, however, wants to pair shirts and jackets so that there’s less of a broad band–as little as a quarter-inch. A sliver of cloth color down around the wrists will look more proportional on shorter arms than ¾ of an inch.
The parts of your clothing that fold over one another contribute a lot to your visual effect. On your upper body, that usually means the shirt collar and the jacket lapel, if a jacket is worn. Try to keep both of those on the narrower side–though be cautious with lapels; jackets with very broad or very wide lapels run the risk of looking dated, depending on when that particular extreme was in fashion.
Collars with shorter points that aim downward help as well. Stay away from anything with an extreme spread (more than 120 degrees) or longer collar points (2.5+ inches), especially when the collar points are angled dramatically outward.
Your necktie should be on the slimmer side as well, particularly if you have a smaller torso; if your torso is very broad, a narrow tie may start to look undersized. However, this is a better problem than overemphasizing the latter.
It may seem like splitting hairs to recommend narrower collar spreads, shorter trouser cuffs (or no cuffs at all), 2 or 1 button jackets, thinner lapels, and pockets closer together on a jacket. But when you start combining all the usual elements of a piece of clothing in smaller proportions, the effects add up. A small difference here, a small improvement there–next thing you know you have a significantly improved look.
Most of these details are things that different companies do in their own style–you don’t need lots of expensive tailoring, just the patience to figure out which brands have the smaller, more vertically-tilted details that work best for you.
5. Wear Attention Grabbing Details Up High
You can keep attention moving up from your feet toward your head by weighting the brightest details at the top of your body. A pocket square or a brightly-colored tie help guide the eye’s motion upward. Just be careful of adding too much clutter all at once. A bright lapel pin on its own is helpful–worn at the same time as a patterned tie and a pocket square, it edges into the distracting category. More casual outfits can utilize details such as epaulets on a shirt’s shoulders or a contrast inner collar on a dress shirt.
Resist the temptation to add a few inches with a hat unless you regularly wear one–if not worn naturally or with confidence it can backfire on the wearer. Some even argue that the visual effect is actually shortening–a hat puts a “lid” on your body and stops the viewer’s gaze dead. I have seen it work both ways. Again, this is an attention-getting detail that takes confidence, practice, and the knowledge of which hat compliments you.
Always keep it simple, vertically-oriented, and limited to one or two extras at most.
6. Wear the Right Clothing
Wear a Jacket – Wearing a sport jacket or suit jacket builds up the shoulders–taller and more pronounced shoulders emphasize height. Use this to your advantage every chance you can and match the jacket with either trousers of the same fabric (suit) or trousers of a similar shade (sport jacket). Again–know how to buy the right type of suit for maximizing height by following the guidelines in this article.
Trousers at the Waist – Shorter men benefit from a longer leg line, and you get a longer trouser leg by wearing the waistband higher. Wear your pants at the natural waist rather than down on the hips which only makes your legs look stubby. Trousers at the natural waist don’t need a belt cinched tight the way that they do on the hips, which helps your middle from looking distractingly pinched. For the best effect, wear trousers without belt loops and use suspenders.
Avoid Shorts and Short-Sleeved Shirts – Short men are short because their limbs are smaller than those of their tall counterparts. Wearing clothing that draws attention to your limbs, especially if you’re big or built, makes you look shorter because your limbs are proportionally more compact. Although not always practical–especially in the summer–a man on the short side should consider linen trousers and lightweight long sleeve shirts he can roll up on the forearm. A classier look that helps create a streamlined appearance.
7. Physically Add Height
Playing around with patterns and collar sizes and details are all good ways to make a combined impression of extra height. But what if you actually want to add real height?
It’s doable. But remember to do this in moderation. Some short men find it useful to wear a heeled shoe, and there are definitely styles that look fine with a half-inch or so of heel on them, but know what you’re buying. Manufacturers that advertise specifically as “for short men” are often slapping chunky heels on styles meant to be worn with a more moderate heel, and the result is eye-catching and tacky. Stick to black pumps for a formal look or heeled boots in more casual situations. And always avoid athletic shoes or regular dress shoes that come with an exaggerated heel–you’ll just end up tripping.
Heel inserts are a matter of personal preference. They add height but can be uncomfortable, and it can be embarrassing to have to take your shoes off in public if you have inserts. Definitely don’t wear them with an already thick-heeled shoe–you’ll end up tilted forward like a woman in high heels.
8. Shop Internationally
Mass manufactured clothing is made for specific regions based off taste and average target customer size. As such, American clothing is big; however, there are regions outside the ole USA that make clothing for a smaller demographic. Think Japan & Italy–two countries where style is at the forefront and clothing is manufactured for a man who is much smaller than the average American frame.
The internet has made it possible to get clothing from overseas without a trip yourself–the downside is that international shipping isn’t always cheap and many of the best online stores in Italy or Japan do not have an English storefront. Google translate helps–but it doesn’t translate size, especially when you’re trying to figure out what equals what–inches to centimeters, and then you have to account for brand variation! If you go this route, try to work with a merchant with excellent customer service or a website that gives you exact measurements of the garment you’ll be sent. Start slowly, ensure you get the fit right, and then buy in bulk to save on the shipping!
Ideally though, you’d be able to travel to the country and find the deals yourself, getting a closet full of great clothes and a memorable experience.
9. Visit the Young Man’s Department
There is great clothing to be found in the “Youth” section of American stores. Some styles obviously won’t work on an adult, but there’s a good number of clothing manufacturers who make scaled-down versions of perfectly presentable adult outfits.
The biggest challenge of the Youth/Boys department may turn out to be fit in the chest and stomach. Most adult men wearing youth sizes need an XL or a L, which have recently started to be made looser and looser. “XL” for a child carries an expectation of weight as well as height, which wasn’t as true ten or fifteen years ago–you may need to seek out long-established and more old-fashioned manufacturers to find youth-sized clothing that’s long enough for a short adult and also not cut for a very heavyset kid.
An added bonus is that these clothes are oftentimes value priced. If you’re small enough to fit clothing marketed for children and young adults, it’s worth the minor hit to the pride to browse the children’s section of a few high-quality clothing or department stores.
10. Go Custom or Buy from a Specialty Store
Seeking out a custom men’s clothier or short clothing specialist who can help optimize your look is an option many men take. They realize a second set of eyes and years of experience dealing with hundreds of men with similar problems gives a clothier expert status; the best study their craft and can build entire wardrobes for their clients that not only make them look taller but are interchangeable and functional for maximum wear.
Finally, keep your look natural. By this I mean you have to be comfortable in your clothing – wear IT, don’t let it wear YOU. There are a lot of tips in this post…DO NOT implement all of them into a single outfit. Instead pick a few and apply them in moderation over the next few months. Keep the ones that work, discard the tips that don’t.
And remember that being a sharp dressed man is all about confidence. Know who you are and have fun expressing that individuality with your personal style.
VIDEO: 10 Style Tips for Short Men
Last updated: June 20, 2016