Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Robert van Tongeren.
So you’re a skinny man and you want to look more buff.
The advice you’ll hear around here is to hit the gym, gain weight, and build muscle. And I concur!
But as a skinny man myself, I know this can take time.
If you’re anything like me, you have a crazy fast metabolism that makes it harder to gain weight and build muscle. And besides your fast metabolism, you might also have a hectic work schedule and children to take care of, leaving you less time to hit the gym than you’d like.
So maybe you’re already trying your best to follow that advice.
Maybe you’re hitting the gym when you can, trying desperately to gain weight, but you’re not building the body you want quickly enough, and you want to make the most of what you have now.
Or maybe you’re not actually looking to beef up. Maybe you’re a long-distance runner who’s happy with his thin frame or a jockey who wants to stay lightweight. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to create a strong masculine impression in everyday life.
Because looking strong has many benefits. Our subconscious sees fitness as an indicator of health, and people naturally gravitate towards healthy people. We subconsciously look for signs of strength and health in our romantic partners, our professional relationships, and even our friends. Men admire other men who look like they could hold their own in a crisis, and women are attracted to men who seem like they’d be sturdy protectors. And everyone likes guys who exude vitality and look like they’ll be around for awhile.
So what if I told you that you can evince such an appearance and tap into those benefits even before you’ve packed on the muscle? By wearing the right clothes, the right way, you can create that strong masculine impression even before you’ve beefed up your physique.
You won’t end up looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the style tips I’m about to share can help you make subtle visual gains that make quite a difference.
Let’s dig in.
1. Avoid Clothes That Make You Look Frail
The first step in creating a stronger impression is to stop wearing clothes that make you look physically weaker.
And chances are, if you’re a skinny man, you’re wearing such clothes right now. And if not now, I bet you have worn such clothes and probably will again. Frankly, they can be difficult to avoid. But you should still try.
The biggest offenders are over-sized, billowing clothes. Skinny guys often try to hide their frame by wearing larger clothes, thinking they’ll look larger themselves as well.
Wrong. The opposite is true. By wearing clothes that are too large for you, you make yourself look like a skeletal scarecrow.
On the opposite end, you also want to stay clear of skin-tight clothes, since they’ll accentuate your skinny frame just as much. You need to get clothes that fit you just right.
Your clothes should drape over your body, following your frame closely without billowing or stretching anywhere. (Hint: You probably need to take a trip to the tailor from time to time to get clothes taken in.)
You should also pay special attention to your shoulders and sleeves. The shoulder seam should sit at your shoulder’s edge. When it sits past that edge, you give the illusion that you’re slumping. And if your sleeves are too roomy (pirate-sleeve syndrome), you look like you don’t have big enough arms to fill them out.
Similarly, t-shirts with large sleeves can make your arms look like spaghetti strings (see left image below). Try and find t-shirts that fit somewhat tight around the arm. (You can also roll them up a bit, James Dean style, if you like that look. Just don’t roll them all the way up your shoulder. A little goes a long way.)
Skinny jeans and tapered legs can make your legs look like sticks. Avoid them too (if you weren’t already doing so).
And avoid wearing large accessories. No bulky watches or wide ties. Keep your accessories proportionate to your frame. You don’t want the face of your watch to cover your entire wrist.
Just by fixing these little issues, you’ll already be making a huge difference. But you can do a lot more.
2. Wear the One Item Designed to Make You Look Stronger
Did you know you can instantly make yourself appear more buff by wearing one specific item?
I’m talking about a jacket — and not your everyday windbreaker. I’m talking about a suit jacket, sports coat, or blazer.
These jackets are designed to accentuate the male form, making you look more muscular.
Well, first off, they broaden your shoulders. Most of these jackets have padding that create a sharper edge where your shoulder normally starts to slump down. This padding can add about half an inch on each side. And while that might not seem like much, you’d be surprised what a difference it can make.
You want to go for light padding though. Be careful not to get a jacket with padding that’s too large for you. It should be subtle, not over the top.
Good jackets will make you look wide in the shoulder and taper down to your waist. This accentuates your V-shape, which is a universal sign of male strength. The V-shape on your lapels will enhance this effect even further.
Lastly, the jacket will open up from your mid-torso to your neck, allowing your shirt and/or tie to peek through. This will create a contrast that draws the eye away from your slim waist and up to your chest, where you are broadest.
All these features help you look stronger, but you can take it even one step further by opting for a double-breasted jacket, which will add another layer of cloth to your torso.
Speaking of layers…
3. Wear Multiple Layers
With each layer you add, you gain a little bit of breadth. Each layer on its own won’t add much, but combined they can make quite a difference.
You want to keep a few things in mind though.
First, you don’t want to just wear a number of thick layers on top of each other. So no, you can’t just put on three thick sweaters. While this will certainly make you look larger, you’ll also end up looking like the Michelin Man.
Instead, you want to layer your clothes from thin to thick and from light to sturdy. Start with the lightest fabric and get sturdier with each layer you wear on top of it.
Likewise, you want your clothes to go from light patterns and textures to stronger ones.
And since all your layers (except your possible undershirt) should be visible, you want them to be coordinated. All the colors in your outfit should complement each other.
If you’re not sure how to coordinate colors, an easy way to avoid clashes is to use the one-color trick. Simply limit your outfit to one color family, and keep the rest neutral.
For example, you might wear a light mint green shirt with a darker green sweater, topped with a grey jacket. Or you might wear a light blue shirt with a grey cardigan and a navy jacket.
Lots of guys struggle with coordinating their outfit, but the simpler you keep it, the easier it becomes.
4. Wear Fabrics That Add Bulk to Your Frame
Choosing the right fabric is another easy way to add some visual bulk.
Textured fabrics, for instance, give the illusion of having more mass than smooth ones. So look for fabrics like:
- Glen check
Everything that looks a bit rougher to the touch will suggest you have more bodily mass than you do.
Besides textures, you should also look at the thickness of your knitted clothes.
Chunky, thick knits have become quite popular in recent years, particularly in fall and winter, which are seasons they’re obviously more suited for. So besides lightweight wools, you should also have some thick-knit sweaters or cardigans in your wardrobe for casual wear.
The best thing about thick-knit clothes is that they not only are thicker than regular knits, but they’re usually textured as well, which means you can strike two birds with one stone.
5. Make Your Neck Look Beefier
When guys think of beefing up, few take their necks into consideration. They think about their chest, abs, arms, and legs.
But Aristotle, in his works on physiognomy (essentially, how people judge other people based on physical appearance), mentions a sturdy neck as a sign of courage and strength.
A thin neck, on the other hand, is a sign of weakness and even cowardice.
So it might not be a coincidence that schoolyard bullies at some point coined the term pencil-neck to throw at whomever they deemed too weak, timid, or cowardly.
Personally, my neck is quite long as well as thin. So I felt fortunate to find some ways to make it both look shorter and sturdier.
Turtle necks are the classic choice to create this effect, but you have many more options. You can find collared sweaters and cardigans in many different models, both classic and modern. You might look into the following styles to find something you like:
- Zip necks
- Stand-up collars
- Shawl collars
- Funnel necks
Honestly, anything with a sturdy collar works. Check out these examples:
6. Wear Colors or Patterns That Boost Visual Heft
Most of the tips so far have been better suited for winter. But obviously, you can’t throw on too many layers or wear thick-knit clothes when the temperature starts rising.
In summer, you’ll rarely wear more than a tee or lightweight shirt in casual settings. You will have to be satisfied with subtler gains, but you can still do plenty to make yourself appear slightly heftier.
For instance, you might wear lighter colors like white, beige, or pastels. Many people know that darker colors slim you down, but few know that lighter colors have the opposite effect. This is also why rooms with lighter walls feel like they are spacier than same-sized rooms with darker walls.
Another reason light colors will work better for you is that they show off what little muscle-definition you have. Since shades are more apparent on a white shirt than a dark one, they will better accentuate your body’s natural bulges. So you may not have huge pecs, but wearing lighter clothes can still call some attention to them.
And what about patterns?
Wearing a t-shirt with horizontal stripes can make your chest look larger and your shoulders broader. Because the stripes will be wider on your upper torso due to your sleeves, this helps accentuate your V-shape.
But that’s not your only option.
Checks and boxes can also add visual heft to your body, much in the same way that textures do. The smaller the scale of the pattern, the more it increases your visual heft and the stronger it makes you look.
So generally, you want to go for medium-to-small patterns like (micro-)gingham, graph checks, or tattersal. (Large plaids work too, but have a more subtle effect.)
Strengthen Your Appearance, and Your Confidence
You don’t have to be physically strong to show your strength of character, strength of leadership, or strength of mind. Such qualities are quite hard to transmit when meeting someone for the first time though.
We all know we subconsciously judge people based on their outward appearance, whether we like to admit it or not. So you also know that people make assumptions about you based on their first impression.
That’s why you should have a strong outward presentation to match your inner strengths.
Everyone should work out and build their fitness. But if your gains are slow in coming, or never come at all, you don’t have to wait to present yourself as a strong, masculine man.
You should always dress to flatter the body you have in the present instead of pining for a body you hope to have in the future.
Just try the tips above, and you’ll see for yourself.
By wearing clothes that flatter you, you won’t just create a stronger image. You’ll actually feel stronger too.
Robert van Tongeren shows men how easy dressing well can be at Restart Your Style. If you’re a style rookie looking for simple ways to boost your personal style, check out his e-book The Beginner’s Guide to Dressing Better.
Last updated: February 26, 2016