When selected and paired strategically, clothes are more than simply stylish; they can make a man look even better than he naturally does, playing up his best features. But what are some of the best techniques to illustrate this principle?
At the heart of it, clothes are designed to make us look good. Unlike other creatures in the animal kingdom, we, the largely hairless apes, have little ornamentation on us. We don’t have colorful feathers, no iridescent scales or lush fur (at least not until genetic modification becomes a thing); our decoration is pretty much limited to how we style whatever hair we have on our heads and faces.
So, clothes are the best option we have to elevate our looks, whether for a romantic partner or for corporate success. Every article of clothing and many accessories can impact how your physical features are perceived. Now, while it’s certainly important to be happy with the way you look, you can use classic men’s style to enhance your physical appearance. Let’s examine the possibilities from head to toe.
1. Brimmed Hats to Complement Your Head/Face Shape
While Yul Brynner and Professor X are just a couple of men who make bald sexy, if your hair is spare, the fact is you have fewer styling options for the top of your head. That’s why a brimmed hat is an excellent choice to embellish your dome. Baseball caps won’t earn you style points, and a knit cap is great to keep your noggin warm, but only a brimmed hat, like a fedora or flat cap in winter and a Panama hat in summer, will measure up to a tailored outfit. If you have a head that is long and narrow, the width of a brim can help counterbalance it, and any hat will create the perception that your head is shorter because it essentially splits your head height at the forehead. Shorter men, by contrast, can use a hat with a taller or pinched and pointed crown to create an impression of greater height. It’s amazing how many ways a hat can affect the perception of your face–from the size of your nose and chin to how prominent your ears are–and even your body size depending on the color and height of the hat band or the width of the brim, among other things. Check out our article on choosing the right hat for your face and body type for more details.
2. Glasses to Suit Your Face and Head Shape
As with a hat, it’s important to consider which glasses look good on you depending on the shape of your face, whether you wear a prescription or plain old sunglasses. However, the reverse is definitely true too: you can emphasize the best features of your face with the right shape of glasses and de-emphasize others. Of course, if you make a mistake, you can call negative attention to less flattering facial features. If one has a big nose, for example, large glasses will only make it look bigger. On the other hand, if you’ve got a narrow face (or a small nose), avoid small glasses and go big. Though it may seem counter-intuitive, with glasses the rule of thumb is to choose the opposite proportions to your features.
3. The Best Shirt Collars for Your Face Shape
When buying shirts, most men don’t consider the importance of the collar. Either you have a favorite you prefer, like the classic button down, or you buy whatever is available. However, the collar you choose affects the impression of your face. To optimize your appearance, you want to take the same approach you would with glasses and get a collar that counterbalances the shape of your face. When you think about it, collar points are like arrows; where they point is where they direct the eyes. So, if you have a round or wide face, it’s best to avoid a spread-collared dress shirt, because the width and open points enhances the impression of width. The better choice is something like a narrow spear-point collar. If your face is lean, then go with the spread to draw the viewer’s eyes outward.
4. The Right Shirt Colors for Your Skin Tone
Because it’s directly next to your face, the color of a dress shirt is another factor that affects your appearance. In general, the two things to avoid are shirt colors that closely resemble your skin tone and those that create too much contrast. If you’re brown-skinned and wear a brown or olive shirt, your face may make less of an impression, while those with pink or yellow tones in their skin should usually avoid these colors. They will either make you look blotchy or take these colors out of your skin, leaving you looking faded. A similar negative effect is created if you wear a high-contrast color, especially if you’re pale. Nothing makes a light-skinned person look more like a ghost than a black shirt or even a navy one. If you’re tan, the contrast is reduced, which is why navy shirts may work better in the summer. Therefore, those with mid-tone and darker skin have a more range of color options available to them because there will be less contrast.
5. The Right Jacket Shoulder for Your Anatomy
Since its origins with Beau Brummell, the features of a suit have been tweaked and adjusted with the express purpose of enhancing the male physique. In fact, fashion historian Anne Hollander has explained that the suit developed with the goal of making men look like ancient Greek statues. It does this by using cloth to create the impression of broad shoulders and slim hips–no need to go to the gym! This can start with the structured shoulder on suits made in the British style, where padding is used to make the shoulders appear larger. You can also see this on high-end French suits, most famously the “Cifonelli shoulder.”
The additional padding in the shoulder area is specifically designed to make one look more physically imposing, perfect for the battlegrounds of business but best on lean men. Those who have athletic builds or otherwise bulky shoulders would end up with an exaggerated look if they stuck to structured suits. The best option in this case is the natural shoulder, without padding, exemplified by Neapolitan style suit jackets. These fit like shirts and allow your own shoulders to shine without enhancement.
Another possibility for those who want to widen their upper bodies is to look for an extended jacket shoulder, where there isn’t heavy structure as in British suits, but instead a sleeve head that begins further out beyond where your shoulders end. This “cheats” by adding an inch or two to your width, giving you an impression of greater shoulder width. Ring Jacket and Liverano & Liverano feature these among high-end brands.
6. Jacket Patterns That Can Slim You Down or Bulk You Up
The pattern you wear on a suit jacket or sport coat can trick the eye to make others see you in a different light. If you’re broad chested, stripes are your best friend, because their vertical lines are slimming, whereas a man who is stocky and built like a brick wall wearing a bold windowpane-pattern sport coat will only look even wider. Meanwhile, if you’re thin, wearing a windowpane or a large grid makes your upper body appear broad because the horizontal lines are widening.
7. Lapels Affect Chest (and Shoulder) Width
Suit jacket and sport coat lapels vary in width depending on the era. It’s usually said that a moderate width of around 3-3.5″ at the widest point is preferable. However, the choice boils down to your anatomy. A guideline related to lapel width and physical shape is that thin guys should err toward narrower lapels while big guys should go larger. This is to so your jacket matches with the overall impression of your size. However, this does serve to accentuate your physique. If you’re skinny and wear skinny lapels, your thin build will be even more apparent, and the same is true on the other end of the spectrum.
So, whether you want to do this depends on the physical impression you wish to create. You could very well do the opposite and create the sense that you have a bigger chest by wearing broader lapels if you are built like a stick, for example. Peak lapels, as opposed to the more common notched versions, can also can achieve the effect of widening the chest; like the points on a shirt collar, a peak lapel is really a large arrow pointing outwards. Keep in mind though that peak lapels have an “alpha male” and may not be appropriate for all workplaces unless you’re a high-ranking individual.
It’s also worth stating that wider lapels broaden the chest at the expense of narrowing the shoulders, since they cover more of the shoulder area, so you have to decide which area of your upper body you prefer to emphasize based on your physique.
8. Suit Jacket Features will Affect How Tall You Look
On a notch lapel jacket, the mouth or v-shaped notch of the lapel is known as the gorge. Where this gorge sits on the lapel can vary from the upper chest to nearly at the top of the shoulder. Suits from the early to mid-20th century (for example, the 1930s) tend to have a lower gorge, but it has migrated upwards on contemporary jackets, especially in Italian tailoring. Conventional wisdom is that a higher gorge placement creates the impression of a broader chest and greater height because the lapel line is longer and uninterrupted.
Alongside gorge height, buttoning point–where you close the button on the front of your suit jacket–also impacts the sense of the wearer’s height (and mass). When the buttoning point is lower, the V-area of exposed shirt and tie is larger, elongating the perceived size of your torso, which is why many men also prefer a 3-roll-2 jacket to a standard 2-button. This is especially useful if you have longer legs and a shorter torso: making the upper body seem longer balances things out. If your legs are short, a higher button point can be advantageous because it makes your upper body appear shorter and your legs longer.
A similar effect can be had with a shorter overall jacket length. Longer jackets will make your upper body appear longer. Though no population is uniform, Southern Italians are statistically shorter than Northern Europeans, so it is perhaps not surprising that Neapolitan style is marked by high gorge placement and shorter jackets that elongate the legs. Neapolitan jackets also have open quarters–the front flaps–revealing more of your pants, which further shortens the appearance of the jacket while lengthening the look of your legs. Depending on how tall or short you are and how much you want to compensate for your excess or lack of height, you can find jackets with favorable features to suit your situation.
9. Trouser Rise and Cuffs Impact the Impression of Height
Ultimately, manipulating the features of a suit jacket represents a balancing act between making either the torso or the legs seem longer based on the wearer’s proportions. As mentioned directly above, playing with the lapels, jacket length and buttoning point can accomplish this, but it can also be done with pants. Specifically by altering the trouser rise, you can make your legs seem shorter or longer. Rise refers to the area of the pants between the crotch and the waistband. High-rise pants are also called high-waisted pants, because the waistband sits higher–around where your natural waist is, not at the hips. This makes your legs seem considerably longer and so is desirable for those with long torsos or shorter legs.
On the other hand, if you have long legs, high-rise pants would not be a good style choice. Since low-rise should never be an option if you want to keep a classic style, a mid-rise trouser along with a longer jacket would work. Another possibility is adding cuffs to your pant legs, as the horizontal line they form makes your legs look shorter by the height of the cuffs. Again, you can play with a combination of jacket and pants features to achieve the optimal balance between your top and bottom halves.
10. Pleated Pants will Affect Leg Width and Body Mass
Though we may think of pants solely in terms of leg length, they also play a part in the sense of lower body mass. Pleated pants add more volume to the lower belly area, especially if they are combined with a higher waistline, so those who carry weight there may want to avoid them in favor of flat-front pants, which can be more flattering though also more confining. Volume also comes into play with the width of pant legs. During the Golden Age of menswear, pant legs tended to be quite large, as can be seen in the photo of Gary Cooper earlier in the article. This served to make the legs seem bigger and lend an overall sense of stature to the wearer.
While wearing pants that wide today would look dated, classic fit or full-cut trousers remain the best choice for most men. Slim-cut trousers should not be worn by those with big thighs, lest they create the appearance of being stuffed into sausage casings. Men with thin legs can pull off slim (though never skinny) fit pants if they prefer a young and lean look, but a wider leg will add girth and create an impression of maturity. Whatever the choice, make sure what you wear on your upper body is the same sort of fit; wearing full-cut pants with a slim fit jacket or vice versa just looks disproportional.
11. Shoe Toe Shape to Complement Your Foot Size
Last in our top-to-bottom guide is footwear. You may be surprised that shoes can affect the way your body is perceived, but toe shape on a pair of shoes is important in creating a balanced finish to your look. If your feet are average or small, you may want to avoid shoes with rounded toes because they make your feet appear even smaller. Instead, seek out shoes with chiseled toes or lasts that are longer in the toe area to elongate your feet. Do bear in mind that longer and more pointed shoes look strange with slim fit pants, however, so if you have long feet or shoes with a longer toe shape, make sure the leg openings of your pants are wide enough to balance them out.
Conclusion: Be Mindful of Proportions to Play up Your Features
Humans have had a sense of the ideal proportions of the body since from Ancient Greek sculpture to da Vinci’s Vitruvian man. Classic menswear worn today remains intimately tied to these ideals. We often hear the advice that the best way to look good in tailored clothes is simply to exercise, get fit, and follow the advice of your doctor. While this is important not only for style but for health, even without doing so, you can make certain style choices to accentuate your best physical qualities and disguise flaws.
There are an infinite variety of body types out there, from tall and thin (Jeff Goldblum), to tall and broad (Dwayne Johnson), tall with weight in the torso (Stephen Fry), short and thin (Daniel Radcliffe), short and stocky (Joe Pesci), and many others. Each can be addressed by making the right combination of stylistic choices that will bring every man closer to the ideal physique.