You might find this hard to believe based on my marathon braggadocio, but I am actually a tiny, little man. I have been since I was tiny. And little. I must have had a growth spurt at some point, but I don’t remember it. I am still the same size since I was when I was a ninth grader: 5 feet 4 inches tall (and three quarters of an inch!), 125 pounds (rounding up, while fully clothed). I know what you’re thinking: “How in the world did you fend off the ladies back in high school?” It was not easy, folks, let me tell you.
My lovely wife Jen and I have a comfy oversized chair in our family room. Once while we were sitting in it together, Jen said, “We are crowded in this thing because you are bigger than me. But not by height, obviously. Or weight; we’re about the same.” I said, “Is there another measure of size I’m not aware of by which I would be considered larger than you?” She said, “Density. You are denser than me.” I cannot really argue with that one.
Her point, I hope, is that although I am a tiny guy, I am a little wider in the chest area than one might expect for how skinny I am. That combined with my height makes it difficult to shop for clothes. Let me clue you in on a little secret: the fashion world is biased against short people. Up until a few years ago, when the topic of designing clothes for short people came up, the fashion industry stuck their collective fingers in their ears and hummed a few bars of Randy Newman’s “Short People” (“I don’t want no short people, I don’t want no short people round here,” and so forth).
So it’s up to me to stand up for short people. Wait, I am standing up.
Sometime in the late 1990s, Jen and I were visiting a friend in San Francisco. She worked in the Financial District, and while walking to her office, Jen and I stumbled upon a store called The Short Shop (Fashion Clothing for the Shorter Man). I thought it was hilarious. We went inside to see what kinds of magical shorter-man clothes they sold. It was mostly dress shirts, suit coats, and slacks. One of the employees asked me, “What size coat do you wear?” I said, “I’m a 38 Short.” He said, “But in here, you’re a 38 Regular!” Frankly, the “you’re one of us!” vibe spooked me, and I left without buying anything. In the ensuing years, when it dawned on me that I was never going to grow to 6 feet tall, I wished I had supported their efforts with a purchase or two. I’ve been to San Francisco since then, but I haven’t been able to find the store and I think it’s gone.
Seeing as there aren’t short-man stores in every community (someone get on this, pronto!), where is a short man to shop? I was wondering when you’d ask; otherwise, the 3 minutes I spent doing research for this blog post were a complete waste. First and foremost, I want to thank the fashion industry for removing those collective fingers from their ears long enough to introduce the term “slim fit” to the American man’s style palette. Before slim fit was common (I’m talking 2 years ago), many guys, and short guys especially, had to wear shirts that were blousy and pants that were baggy. We all walked around looking like Seth Green in “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Nowadays, thankfully, you can’t swing a short guy around by his tiny feet in a men’s store without hitting a slim-fit item of clothing. (Please, do not try this.)
Before I mention my go-to places for stylish short-man clothes, I should say that you can always use a tailor to make clothes from whole cloth for you. I assume you are rich if you go this route.
Also, if you have no shame, you can shop in the young men’s section of a department store. I have done this, and I will continue to do this, and I will continue to claim that I am looking for something for my son (even though he is currently 6 inches taller than me and still growing). Then again, I have no shame.
Which is why I have also on rare occasions shopped in the women’s section of clothing stores. Specifically, I bought a women’s windbreaker/rain jacket from Eddie Bauer that has come in handy over the years; I wear it all the time, but most importantly when I run in cold or inclement weather. It is black, so no one can tell that it is for the ladies (except, of course, I just told everyone, so if you see me wearing it, pretend things are normal, okay?). Now, when I mention “women’s clothing,” I’m not talking about walking around in stilettos wearing a pencil skirt. (But if you’re a guy and that is your thing, hey, I don’t judge.) I’m mostly thinking of outerwear.
For pants and sweaters, the Gap is very friendly to short men. (Wait, is it The Gap or just Gap? I’m old enough to remember when they had an ad jingle that went, “Fall into the Gap.” But they seem to downplay the “The” these days.) They carry jeans and other pants with a waist of 28 and, very rarely in stores, you can find an inseam of 28, although usually 30 is their smallest inseam; I could go down to a 26 or 27 on the inseam. The 30-inch waist is the cruel cutoff at most stores; I’d like Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, and some other stores a lot more if they went lower than 30. Anyway, Gap clothes have traditionally run slimmer than clothes at other retailers, it seems to me. I do wish they had shorter sleeves on their dress shirts.
This is probably redundant, but Gap’s partner store Banana Republic is another great short-man store. They carry a little higher-end merchandise than Gap (and it shows on the price tag), but it’s where I go for suits, V-neck sweaters, and dress pants. (Again, you’re more likely to find shorter inseams online than in stores.)
I love Levi’s. Stores with extensive Levi’s collections will carry narrower waists. I wish they were made with a shorter inseam, but I’ll still buy Levi’s jeans and hem them myself, although the knee break is off then. (I don’t know if “knee break” is a real term, but I do know that the proportion of the leg is thrown off when you cut several inches off the bottom and hem the pants. I made up “knee break” to shorten the length of my explanation, but now I just screwed it up by explaining anyway.)
J. Crew, like Gap and Banana Republic, slims it up and shortens it for the little fellas out there. They are also pricey. (When I say “pricey,” I mean that their jeans cost over $100, in some instances well over it. I understand that you get what you pay for, but I don’t really like paying that much for a pair of pants.)
If I’m feeling lucky, I will go to a Nordstrom Rack and look for Ben Sherman polo shirts. I love Ben Sherman. If you can believe it, Ben Sherman sizes their polos down to extra small; that’s awesome because it makes me feel gigantic when the extra small is too small for me and I have to move up a size to the actual small. Whereas the Gaps and Banana Republics are more classic American in their style and color scheme, Ben Sherman spices things up more. I have a sweet black and bright pink striped polo and another purple and black polo that are not as garish as the colors suggest. Plus, I like their fitted sleeves; they show off my guns. (By “guns,” I mean “tiny biceps the size of a ripe plum when flexed.” [I had Jen read this blog entry before I posted it, and when I asked her if I should use another metaphor for my biceps, she said, “No, they are about the size of a ripe plum.”])
Truly, however, the short man’s savior for clothes with appropriate proportions and comfortable fit while retaining the style that I love is a guy named Peter Manning. Mr. Manning is someone in the fashion industry who recently saw a need for clothing aimed at the 25% of the population 5 feet 8 inches and under who didn’t want to drown in blousy clothes or shop in the teen section. The first time I ordered a pair of American-made denim jeans from Peter Manning with a 29 waist and a 27 inseam, I was in love. No cuffing necessary, no hemming required. Where has this been all my life? I also own a sweater that fit right out of the box, a button-down with sleeves the right length, and a comfy weekend sweatshirt that doesn’t hang below my rear. Mr. Manning, if you are reading this (and I’m pretty sure you’re not because you’re busy making clothes and solving other short-man problems like how to reach the top shelf of the kitchen cupboards), I salute you, sir.
For more in-depth (and probably more accurate) info about fashion for short guys, go to The Modest Man, written by an Actual Fashion Blogger named Brock. He knows way more about style than I do. Plus he’s taller than me, and I know that matters to some of you out there. He’s probably also smarter than me. But I’m pretty sure I’m denser.