Dressing the Muscular Man - How Shirts, Pants, and Clothing Should Fit
If you are reading this, you likely have built a respectable physic and have started your journey to dressing better. It is also likely that you have hit the same barriers we muscular men face, finding clothing that fits well. I am confident you have heard advice like “fit is king” or “fit will fix most style problems.” While I agree with these statements, for us dialing in that aspect of our style is the most challenging part of the journey. The problem is that companies make clothing to fit everyone. With most of the US being in some range of obesity this leaves a lack of clothing companies that cater to the muscular man. The other issue is that those companies who do cater to muscular men often only provide clothing for the incredibly muscular and lean type. While this is excellent news, most athletes go through cycles of higher and lower body fat making this clothing only useful when you are in the low body fat part of your cycle. Over the past year and a half, I have been trying to find brands that work for my slightly more muscular than average frame. Being a competitive 102kg weightlifter, it hasn’t been easy. Today I hope to share with you some things that I have learned, to help you avoid some headaches with finding clothing that fits and makes you look the way you want. With that said let's get to it!
First I want to stop to address something. Why do you want to dress better? You spend hours each week sculpting your body and getting stronger, and my job is to help you show it off in a way that tells your story and makes you feel like you. What you need to know is why you want to do this. Take a moment to think about it and write it down. We are on a journey to find clothing that tells your story, and somewhere along the journey, you may need a reminder of why you started, cue the statement you just wrote. For most of you, I am going to encourage you to create a personal uniform. Your uniform can be flexible, but we need a framework of something you like so we can start with a solid base. My personal uniform is a collared shirt (typically a polo or casual button down, usually a flannel), shorts/chinos/jeans, nice leather shoes, and a watch. That is very broad but it gives me an excellent framework, and I can create many outfits from very little clothing while maintaining a look that others contribute to me. We want your uniform to be respectable but straightforward. Too often I see muscular men try to pull off loud clothing/styles or have given up trying to find clothing outside of athletic wear that fits. Trust me as a former owner of a 3-button red blazer I can confidently say that as a muscular man you can’t get away with loud clothing. When you are muscular, loud clothing is magnified dramatically over someone who is not. On the flip side always dressing in athletic shirts, sweats and shorts are not doing you any favors. People should know you hit the gym by looking at your silhouette, not the type of clothing you are wearing.
Action item here: write down your 'why' and what you want your personal uniform to be. You are going to need to refer back to these as you refine your look.
Next, we need to lay down some ground rules for fit. I don’t want you to have to settle for a less than perfect fit or have to search to answer your questions about how one looks. Here are some ground rules before we get into the more practical advice.
How Clothing Should Fit
Shirts are more complicated to get a good fit than one would think. Many of the men I see settle for shirts that fit ‘ok’ or worse yet they wear shirts that don’t fit at all. I did this for a very long time. Often an inexpensive trip to the tailor, or learning to do some simple tailoring, could make all the difference. Here are some points on how your shirts should fit to look your best and show off your physic:
-Your shirt should hug your frame, no boxy shirts here (you should be able to pinch only 1.5’-2’ on the side of your shirt)
-Your sleeve seams should be over your shoulder joint.
-Your sleeves should end just above the horseshoe-shaped indent in your tricep, they can be longer, but if you hit the gym, this is an easy way to show it.
-Your shirt should end somewhere between the bottom of your zipper and about 2” from the top of your pants.
-Should fit the same as a short sleeve shirt in the frame and sleeve seams.
-Your sleeves should end at your wrist bone, slightly longer is ok but only by about .5’-1’
-Your shirt should stop somewhere between the bottom of your pant zipper and about 2” from the top of your pants unless it is a tuck in then merely long enough to stay tucked.
-You should be able to roll up your sleeves to your upper forearm/ lower upper arm (often a trouble area).
Now it’s time for a little experiment. I want you to go put on your best fitting shirt, stand in front of a mirror and go through each item in the checklist we just laid out to give you a practical test for these rules.
How did your shirt stack up? If it didn’t do so well, don’t worry we are going to cover some solutions. If you like and want to keep this shirt, I would suggest you take it to the tailor and get some alterations done. Doing this will show you what it feels like to have a shirt fit you perfectly. Having at least one shirt to model future shirt purchases off of can be invaluable. If you like the clothing in your closet tailoring may be the way for you to go. Often alterations are inexpensive when compared to replacing your wardrobe. If you don't have any shirts you want to get tailored, don't worry we are going to cover how to buy a new perfectly fitting shirt for you.
Now that you have done an experiment I want to give you a visual to help the image sink in.
How do you feel about these shirts? Is the one on the left that much better than the one on the right? The price isn’t the difference here. You can spend several hundred dollars on a shirt that looks like the one on the right. The difference is the fit. You can look good without spending a fortune, to do so you need to be willing to find the brands that fit you well or pay the tailor tax, between $10-$30 on average for a shirt, to get a good fit. If you are unsure try the suggestion above and get at least one shirt tailored, I promise you will see that it is worth it! If you don’t want to pay the ‘tailor tax’ we are going to help you find brands that will get you a perfect fit. You can also learn to tailor your clothes yourself if you like to do things with your hands and have the free time. There are channels on Youtube where you can learn to do this, the ‘Stylish Dad’ channel is a decent place to start. (I think for most of you, that suggestion sounds more painful than going shopping in the mall if so I have a better solution coming for you.)
Pants are the area where many of you probably complain about the most. When your thigh measurement is a pant size, it can be overwhelming to find well-fitting pants. Let's go over a few points for a good fit.
-Pants should be comfortable at the waistband without riding up or falling down
- You should have a comfortable hug at the hips
-There should be about 1’-1.5’ of pinch-able fabric at the thigh, knee, and calf (often with muscular legs you get a tight fit at the thigh, a baggy fit before/after the calf and an ok fit in the calf, use the pinch test to assess).
-Pants should end at the top of your shoe for no break to a full break
-Shorts should fit similarly only ending above the knee.
Again let's give you a visual, take a look below:
Both of these gentlemen are well dressed, but the one on the left has jeans that fit terribly. No matter the size of your quads or calves you can find clothing that fits well, I promise. Don’t settle for a less than perfect fit you will regret it later. You have worked so hard to build a great body; we want to use clothing to improve your overall masculinity to enhance it, not detract from it.
Alright, now into the practical advice, we are going to start by helping you find your brands. Likely you have put some thought into this, but as a well-built man, you need to take this one more seriously. If you can find brands that make quality clothing, fit you well and help you tell your story, you will have solved 80% of this style puzzle.
Your first option, but the one I do not recommend, is to go try on clothes from many brands (stick with me if you want a shortcut). You can go to the mall, order clothes from places that offer free returns (make sure to try on at least two, but preferably three sizes), use Amazon Wardrobe, etc. If you can find brands that work for you the effort put in here is going to be the highest yield work you can perform. The issue is this is time intensive and can turn out to be fruitless. I have easily spent over 100 hours either trying on or searching online for a well-fitting pair of jeans with little to show for it. If this sounds like what you have been doing and you need a better option, then keep reading.
A quick note, I initially started to put together a list of all the brands, fits, sizes, etc. that did and did not work for me to help expedite the process if you chose option one. As I did this, I realized I have tried on clothing and shoes from over 50 brands, in multiple sizes and fits. After all this effort I do not have very many off the rack shirts, and pants that both fit me perfectly and is of the quality I want. It has only been in the past year I have been able to figure out my real shoe size and get shoes that are built well and fit like a glove. It is incredibly frustrating to have a closet full of clothes and feel like you have very little you want to wear. The moral of this story is that a great wardrobe takes deliberate effort and I promise that there is a solution. For the most of you, the answer is going to be Made-to-Measure clothing. While some of you may not have heard of MTM and others may not have tried it based on the price, there has never been better to try it. I am going to cover several brands and reasons why MTM is the way to go if you are a muscular man. Now, let’s get into the practical advice!
#1-Start From the Ground Up
One of the easiest ways to improve your appearance is to wear better footwear. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a man that is dressed reasonably well, only to ruin the look with a pair of running shoes. Trainers/running shoes are meant for the gym, not for looking your best. I know many of you are going to push back on that before you do look at the pictures below.
What is the first thing you notice? These outfits are not all that different, minus the climate, but the glaring difference is the shoes. The man on the left could benefit incredibly if his shoes looked more like the ones on the right. The reasons I recommend this approach are that this is the way I started to improve my wardrobe and you can see the impact that it has. You could throw an awful graphic tee shirt on Mr. Effron, but he would still look great. Switch his shoes with the red Nike's on the left and well things wouldn't be going so well. The point I want to make here is that you saw the problem with the outfit and when we have something off others do notice, even if they don’t say anything.
A great place to start for most of you will be either some leather sneakers or boots. I also really enjoy a nice pair of brogues and believe that every man should own a pair, I will give some solid options for those as well.
My favorite places for these are going to be Greats or Allen Edmonds. Both offer great shoes, though Greats may be a better value for your money when it comes to sneakers. I have a pair from Allen Edmonds that I love, but I am not sure that they will outlast a pair of Greats. That being said shoes from either company should last you 5-10 years easily if you take care of them.
I would start with a white or brown pair, but you could also start with a navy, grey or black pair depending on what your clothing looks like now. One thing to note is that you will want to condition your shoes and store them with shoe trees. That is a topic for another article, but a little research into shoe care will make your shoes last much longer!
One easy way to look more rugged and masculine is to throw a pair of boots on! Swapping out training shoes for some suede Chukka boots will instantly take your style up several notches! I have a few favorite brands, but I suggest you start with Thursday Boots. For the price, you cannot beat them! They have fantastic cap and plain toe boots, as well as suede and rugged options or even wingtips if you want to set it up a notch. I have loved Thursday Boots, and they are a regular part of my rotation.
If you are in a place where you have several pairs of quality sneakers and boots or have more money to spend, Allen Edmonds is better quality. The drawback is that their prices are about 2x as much. If you have the money to spare they are worth it, if not I would say get two pairs of Thursday Boots over one pair of Allen Edmonds. I do have a pair of Allen Edmond Higgin Mills Factory Seconds, and they are my favorite boots.
I wanted to note that Factory Seconds may be a great deal for many of you. These are shoes that are made with the intent of being sold on the floor but have some minor flaws that make it so they cannot be sold at full price. My Higgin Mills are factory seconds and arrived with a few minor blemishes on the leather, nothing compared to what normal wear has added. I was able to get $175 off for ‘dealing’ with some minor flaws it has been worth it in my opinion.
These are more casual dress shoes that can dress up jeans or chinos. I will say that I believe your wardrobe is not complete until you have at least one pair of brogues in it. Both Thursday Boots and Allen Edmonds have good options, and again the price difference is about 2x. I have heard amazing things about Thursday Boots Wingtips, but due to sizing, I have not been able to try a pair out. Again I would get two pairs from Thursday boots, possibly one pair of boots, and one wingtip before I would get one pair of Allen Edmonds if you are building your wardrobe. True to form though I have the Allen Edmond Strands and they are by far my favorite dress shoes. I am a bit biased as these were the first pair of perfectly fitting shoes I ever purchased (I went into Allen Edmonds only to get sized, and I bought them because they fit so well!).
I mention this because I wore the wrong size for years! I am a 10.5 3E, but for the longest time, I wore anywhere from a size 11-12 to fit the width of my foot. Once I figured out my correct size buying shoes became enjoyable (that is an understatement as I obtained six pairs of quality shoes in under a year). I would recommend you find a higher end shoe store and get sized. Allen Edmonds or Alden would be preferable if you have one nearby, or even somewhere like Nordstroms. Likely your foot size is not the size of shoe you are wearing. The length is probably ok, but I have a feeling that most of you have feet that are more wide or narrow than a size D. If you get sized and that is the case, Allen Edmonds may be your new go-to shoe store, being that they have widths from A-EEE. You can sometimes find wide shoes in other brands, but I have yet to see the width range from Allen Edmonds be matched anywhere else in that price range. If your foot is wide, you will have some options at Thursday Boots, but they will be limited. I should also mention that you will get a more substantial width range as you go up to higher quality shoes. You will pay more, and it may or may not be worth it. For me, Allen Edmonds is at the sweet spot of being just before the point of diminishing returns, in that you get an excellent value for the money you spend.
Get Your Shirts and Pants Made-to-Measure
Before we jump in here let’s make sure you understand how to determine if this is the best way for you to go. So first off what is Made-to-Measure? It is just like it sounds; it is clothing that is produced from your measurements. Essentially you are ordering clothes custom made for your body. There are varying degrees of this MTM being the least extensive, but also the least expensive variation. At this point, you may be asking yourself "Is it expensive?", "Does it take forever to get clothing made?" "Is this time intensive?". The answers to these questions are no, no and no. MTM clothing has made leaps and bound in the past few years. You can get quality clothing in 2-4 weeks made just for you and at the same cost or a slightly higher than other clothes of the same quality. The thing is that MTM clothing is so affordable anymore it is hard not to justify going that route. For example, I have an $85 Calvin Klein dress shirt that fits me terribly. I could get a perfect fit with a $40 trip to the tailor, but the dress shirt would then hit the $125 mark. Instead, I could go to one of the companies listed below and get a custom, perfectly fitting dress shirt for $70-$125 and the fabric and build would be much better for the same price or less and without the hassle of making a trip to the tailor. You can avoid MTM, but in doing so, you will have to pay the tailor tax in time and money. You will also likely spend more money than the value you are getting. So here are some questions ask yourself to see if MTM is the best fit for you.
How many pieces of clothing in your closet fit you perfectly? (In case you were wondering outside of MTM my answer is very few).
How many hours and dollars have you spent on trying to find excellently fitting clothing that didn’t yield anything or less than what you wanted? (ahem, too many for me to count)
Are you willing to pay a little bit more to have a perfect fit and better quality?
Would you like to skip going to the clothing store or have every online order of clothing come to you fitting perfectly?
Check your answers, how are things looking? For me, my answers leaned heavily toward MTM, making me a little biased, but with good reason. With that said I am taking my advice above and tailoring some pieces in my existing wardrobe, but it would have been easier to get the right fit up front. So if you think MTM is for you let’s get into some places to look.
Woodies is a company that has a solid offering. You can get dress shirts, casual button downs, flannels, chinos, and shorts all custom made to your measurements. They guarantee you a perfect fit all while offering clothes at a great price. One thing to be aware of is they have several options for pants/ shorts with stretch material as well as some dress shirts. You may want to start here especially since comfort is not something that comes easily with dramatic proportions.
Luxire has a little bit of everything. You can get jeans, chinos, dress pants, polos, casual button downs, dress shirts, coats, jackets, ties, shoes, etc. The draw for me here are the polos and jeans. I wear a lot of these, and most MTM companies focus on more formal clothing like button downs and dress pants. Luxire will be a must for those of you who like a more casual wardrobe.
Oliver Wicks offers premium custom suits at an incredible price along with dress shirts at a reasonable price for the quality. I have ordered some sample swatches of cloth (for free, something you can do anytime) and have been impressed. I have an interview suit lined up to be purchased shortly from them. I wish I had more personal experience with them, but you can watch Jon’s videos on The Kavalier YouTube Channel to get a better feel for the quality of their suits and the experience from them. From what I can see this should be your go-to place for suiting.
Proper Cloth provides mainly dress shirts and casual button downs. If you are looking for the best customization options and the most significant range in quality of fabric, this will be your go-to place. I wear a lot of flannels and polos, so Woodies and Luxire speak more to me, but for those looking for premium level dress shirts in the $125-$300 range, this will be a better choice. A huge plus is their site is also the most user-friendly I have come across.
In reality, there are many more companies you could look at, but this should give you a solid start to improving your look. Between these four you should be able to buy anything you would need in your price range to look great! If you were a bit disappointed with how brief I was with each of these companies don't fret, I will be doing reviews of pieces from most of them shortly so keep a look out for those articles!
I hope you have come around to the idea that Made-to-Measure is the way you should purchase your clothes from now on. The ease and guarantee of getting a perfect fit have been enough for me to switch over, not to mention the prices are usually really close to what you would have spent anyway! Never again will you have to waste time trying on clothes or pay the ‘tailor tax’ to get clothes to fit. Once you have ordered your first article of clothing and dialed in the fit, you can shop online and sleep well at night knowing you will have perfectly fitting clothes on the way to your mailbox.
Being muscular should be a benefit to you in every part of your life. For the longest time, the lack of affordable custom clothing has made dressing well cost too much in time, money or both. After reading this, you should have three items to work on to build a nice personal uniform and a few places to get perfectly fitting clothing to fill your closet. Remember to start with your shoes, and to get quality, well-built shoes. Then explore made to measure for your pants and shirts to make sure you get a perfect fit and the quality you want. Doing these two things will save you a lot of time and will give you incredible results.
About the Author
I started sports at age 4, lifting weights at age 12 and have most recently been a competitive Olympic weightlifter in the 102kg class. I have had issues with finding clothes that fit well for as long as I can remember. In 2017 I stepped up my style game and realized there are few options for muscular men at the average online or brick and mortar store. I started writing about style with the intent to help you avoid all the wasted time and frustration I have encountered in my journey. I want you to be able to buy quality clothing that fits well without leaving your house and without a trip to the tailor.