What follows is an extensive guide to how men under 5’6″ who are neither skinny nor fat can best dress themselves.
If it doesn’t make sense for you to be on this page, please see our high-level guide which covers nine different body types and two body type “modifications” (“athletic” and “irregular”). You’ll be able to find your body type there and read all about it within one click.
If you’re here because you’re short and sick of wearing kid’s clothes, read on!
How A Short Man Should Dress
Relax buddy, it’s not an insult when someone calls you short. American men are considered short when they’re under 5’6″. For the purposes of this article, we’re assuming that your build is otherwise average: not fat and not skinny.
Society prefers men who are tall, but we have just as much to offer as the next guy.
Truly well-dressed men can wear whatever they please. A good tailor and a certain je ne sais quois around “pulling it off” will take you far in this world. But there are certain types of garments that serve different body types better. What follows is a guide –not a rule book- for what a short man should wear.
Dressing The Short Man
Generally, slimness makes you look taller because the viewer’s eye is more inclined to look at you vertically than horizontally. As such, your clothing should be cut as slim as is comfortable. Loose-fitting clothes will swallow you up and make you look smaller than you already are.
We’ll be using our own Mike Oxman as a visual reference for this article. He’s 5’3″, weighs about 130 pounds, and is, as you can see, extremely photogenic.
Jackets & Outerwear
- Typical chest size: 34″-38″. Sizes smaller than 36″ are sometimes referred to as cadet sizes.
- Typical jacket length: Will almost always be a “short” jacket length if buying ready-to-wear.
- Typical casual coat size: Extra-small or small (P or TP for some Continental firms)
Make sure your jackets’ waists are nipped in to form an hourglass silhouette. Don’t make it too tight though, as we want to avoid a front button that pulls so much that it’s holding on for dear life.
As we mentioned in our fit guide, jackets should not extend much farther down than the base of the buttock. For short men, it must never extend further than this under any circumstances whatsoever.
Men traditionally show about 1/4″-1/2″ of shirt cuff from under their jacket sleeves and we suggest that you lean towards showing more than less. This will make your arms look longer, and tapering your jacket sleeves will make your arms look a bit more muscular.
In the pictures below, note how the length of the jacket hits at about the second knuckle of the thumb. This, in conjunction with where it lays relative to your buttocks, is a great way to determine if a jacket is the proper length for you.
Current trends favor small men too. Placement of the gorge, for example (the point where lapel meets jacket collar), varies with time. In the eighties, low-gorged jackets were all the rage. Nowadays, gorges tend to sit up on the collarbone and sometimes even a bit higher. This works wonders for the short man, as this draws the eye upwards and makes him appear taller.
Another great trend for smaller men is the fact that jackets have higher button stances now then they did ten or fifteen years ago. While there’s a limit to how high you should go -anyone, regardless of shape, looks silly in a super high-buttoning jacket- an extra half inch up from its normal position will again draw the viewer’s eye upward.
Body length is paramount when it comes to outerwear for small men. Generally, outerwear comes in three lengths:
- Short (hits at hip, like a Barracuta jacket)
- Three-quarter (hits just below buttocks, like a pea coat)
- Full (hits just above the knee, like a top coat)
As a short guy, you have to be extremely picky about the length of your jackets. If a coat is too long, you will look shorter than you already are. This is particularly true for full-length coats. Make sure these go no farther than the top of your kneecap. Though they’re warm, you’d be wise to avoid the classic mid-calf length overcoat.
- Typical waist size: 26″-30″
- Typical inseam: 28″-30″
Like jackets, trousers should be slim for short men. We also suggest no larger than a light break in the pants so that your legs will look as long as possible.
Another way to add the illusion of height is to wear higher-waisted trousers, which creates a longer leg line. Doing so will also prevent shirt from showing between your waistband and jacket waist when wearing a full suit, which creates an uninterrupted line from your shoes to your chin.
As for cuffs versus plain bottoms, a good rule of thumb is to go with plain bottoms. Cuffs add a horizontal element that breaks up height, and this doesn’t help a short man in his endeavor to appear taller.
Chinos and (especially) jeans aren’t subject to the same rules as dress trousers in terms of waist placement. They don’t necessarily have to be low-waisted hip-huggers, but we suggest that you avoid “Dad jeans” territory and wear them closer to your hips than your waist.
Chinos, if you desire, can be worn closer to the natural waist.
Shirts & Sweaters
For a catch-all primer on how a shirt should fit, click here. A smaller man can afford to have his shirts fit a bit slimmer than average if he so chooses. Proper sleeve length is essential, and shirt tail length (the length of the body itself) must be considered if you plan to wear your shirts untucked. Opt for a style with a shorter cut.
Sweaters should also fit slimly and neatly. We recommend V-neck silhouettes, which tend to add a bit of height and muscularity.
Short, slim men should wear slimmer neckties. Anything from 2.75″-3″ wide is best (the above tie is 2 7/8″). Have a little more fun with pattern with your ties than we advise below for the rest of your wardrobe, and as always, make sure your tie’s width roughly syncs with that of your jacket lapel.
In general, short men benefit from wearing solids as opposed to patterned odd jackets and trousers. This is because matching jackets and trousers create an unbroken vertical line that helps to make you look taller.
When and if you do decide to wear patterned suits, stripes spaced no more than 3/4″ apart will add the illusion of height while not adding bulk. Other patterns can be worn, but keep them smaller in scale. Huge-scale patterns will overwhelm your frame and make you look smaller than you are.
Braces Versus Belts
- Typical belt size: 30″-32″
Though it’s tough to not wear a belt, short men benefit greatly from wearing braces (“suspenders” in American English). Braces create additional vertical lines which – you guessed it – draw the viewer’s eye upward instead of cutting you in half like a belt does.
Many short guys wish that they were taller, and to that end, it’s important the we manage expectations:
Well-tailored, strategically worn clothing will not make a short guy look tall. What it will do, however, is enable you to not look distractingly short. People won’t comment on how tall you are, but when they get close to you, they will be surprised when and if they realize you’re short.
- Typical size: 6D-8D in American sizes (5-7 in U.K. sizes). Foot may sometimes run narrow into a C or even B width.
Your shoe choice should be based on what you’re wearing. Fine worsteds should get slim shoes, whereas heaver tweeds and denims can benefit from bulkier shoes.
Generally though, a man of slight build looks good in shoes that are less bulky. Go for tapered toes as opposed to rounded ones, and if there’s a slim loafer near you, put it on because you’re going to look amazing in it.
Short Build Celebrities
It’s hard to be a short man. Correct sizes are tough to find and you spend more money on your tailor than you do on food.
As with any body type that moves away from average height, proportion is key here. So long as your clothes fit you extremely well, you’ll be able to hang with all the guys over 5’6″. With that said, we all have some kind of asymmetry happening in our bodies, and we strongly encourage you to read our article on irregularities in the male body to fully flesh out your wardrobe.
If you’ve got some muscle on you, read about the athletic body type.