Why ‘Plus Size’ Men Aren’t Just “Fat”

 

Ever tried on an XL T-shirt in Zara so tight it came up like a crop top? Or attempted to pull on a pair of Topman jeans you couldn’t get past your calves?

I have. And I’m not “fat”. I’m 6 foot tall, weigh 209 pounds and have a healthy body fat percentage of just under 20 per cent. (Not that that matters much when you’re trying to button-up a restrictively tight XL Christopher Shannon shirt in such a way that it doesn’t strain like a sports bra.)

Still, according to the rules set out by an article recently published by a leading men’s magazine I read and respect, if I can’t squeeze into certain brands’ size ranges, then “fat” is exactly what I am. Which doesn’t seem fair considering most of my weekday evenings are spent squatting in a gym, not scoffing burgers.

Of course, I’m not alone in my trials with fit. According to a recent YouGov survey, 34 per cent of men in the UK struggle to find clothes to suit their body shape, whether because they’re too big, small, round, narrow, whatever. Which isn’t hugely surprising when you think about the fact that, owing to biological diversity, we really do come in all shapes and sizes – something most clothing manufacturers who produce on a huge scale simply don’t take into account. Or perhaps more accurately, can’t afford to if they want to make a profit.

The average menswear brand takes a rudimentary approach to size diversity. They start out by designing a garment, let’s say a Medium (typically a 38-40-inch chest), based on the measurements of their fit model – the real-life mannequin whose dimensions are as close to what the brand believes its customer’s are in real life. Then, in order to design bigger and smaller sizes to complete a size range, most manufacturers will simply add or subtract inches while maintaining the ratio, failing to consider the fact that that’s not really how our bodies work.

American Eagle #AerieMan CampaignMen come in all shapes and sizesPHOTO: AMERICAN EAGLE #AERIEMAN CAMPAIGN

“Most brands design off of a block, and scale measurements up to make larger sizes,” says Ed Watson, Creative Director at N Brown, the parent company of menswear retailer Jacamo, which stocks sizes Small to 5XL.

“But while that might take dimensions into account, it doesn’t allow for subtle differences in overall body shape as you get larger. Size and fit are two very different things, and not all brands and retailers have the expertise [or the money – Ed.] to design with that in mind. At Jacamo, we use several different fit models to build our bigger sizes to ensure that fit is optimised across the scale.”

The idea, then – considering most of us buy off-the-peg rather than have our entire wardrobes made for us bespoke – that the reason some brands’ standard size ranges don’t fit someone well is because they’re, well, too fat, kind of misses the point.

Look at Zach Miko for example, the very first ‘Brawn’ model to be signed to major model agency IMG, and the man who has sparked so much of the debate around male size diversity so far (including the article I mentioned earlier) – mostly for being the first ‘plus size’ male model to appear on American retailer Target’s online store.

At 6 foot 6 inches and 240 pounds, Miko’s definitely ‘big and tall’. And while, yes, a few HIIT sessions might shave an inch or two off his 40-inch waist, his detractors seem to be missing the fact that standing at a whopping 8.5 inches taller than the average US male, no amount of sweating it out on a treadmill is going to make him any shorter. Or make it any easier for him to find jeans that won’t look like three-quarter lengths.

Plus Size/Brawn Model Zach MikoIMG’s first ‘Brawn’ model, Zach MikoPHOTO: LEONARDO CORREDOR

“People are, in evolutionary terms, physically getting bigger,” says Watson. Just look at the stats: the average height of a man in the UK has risen by over four inches since the 1870s, while the average male chest in the UK now measures 42 inches, and the average male waist clocks in at 40 inches. Which all suggests brands still tailoring their product to a guy with a 38-inch chest and a 30-inch waist are probably missing a trick.

“There’s a tonne of income being lost over archaic ideas of ‘brand perception’,” says Corbin Chamberlin, New York Times journalist and contributor to Chubstr, a website providing fashion and style tips for bigger guys. “Brands like DXL and KingSize are trying their best, but they really need to get some young blood in to freshen things up – they’re not trying hard enough.”

But while still relatively untapped, the plus size men’s market isn’t entirely underserved – Chamberlin cites Michael Kors and Ralph Lauren as brands worth a punt and, here in the UK, retailers like High & Mighty (which offers sizes up to 6XL) and Jacamo have been catering for larger guys for 60 years and seven years, respectively, while household names like ASOS and Marks & Spencer now offer styles in sizes up to 3XL.

No, you won’t find anything above a 2XL at brands like Reiss. Nor will you find much sized bigger than an XL at high-end stores such as Harvey Nichols and Selfridges. But premium and luxury fashion have always marched to the beat of their own drum, taking pride in their inaccessibility – whether in terms of sizing or price.

The concept of style

Shades Of The Seventies

You’re going to be outside most of the time, and – with any luck – not in the shade. So you should also ensure that you’re in your shades.

“They’re a must-have for being out in the sun all day and even better at covering those dark circles after a night of partying,” agrees James Lawrence, Head of Menswear Design at ASOS.

If you want to keep your eyewear bang up to date, the trend forecast for this festival season’s opticals is bright. “The 1970s resurgence has made sunglasses fun again,” adds Lawrence. “Coloured or mirrored lenses in retro frames are key for spring/summer 2016.”

 

Men's Bold Sunglasses Lookbook

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Key Pieces

  • RECLAIMED VINTAGE ROUND SUNGLASSESReclaimed Vintage Round Sunglasses
  • RAY-BAN ROUND SUNGLASSES WITH FLASH LENS 0RB3447Ray-ban Round Sunglasses With Flash Lens 0rb3447
  • ASOS AVIATOR SUNGLASSES IN GOLD WITH REVO LENSAsos Aviator Sunglasses In Gold With Revo Lens
  • RIVER ISLAND BLUE MIRROR FLAT TOP SUNGLASSESRiver Island Blue Mirror Flat Top Sunglasses
  • DICK MOBY CPT SUNGLASSESDick Moby Cpt Sunglasses
  • RAY BAN ERIKA SUNGLASSESRay Ban Erika Sunglasses
  • URBAN OUTFITTERS CLASSIC DEMI TORTOISE SQUARE SUNGLASSESUrban Outfitters Classic Demi Tortoise Square Sunglasses
  • HE BY MANGO ACETATE FRAME SUNGLASSESHe By Mango Acetate Frame Sunglasses
  • ILLESTEVA LEONARD ROUND-FRAME ACETATE SUNGLASSESIllesteva Leonard Round-frame Acetate Sunglasses

A (Dark) Floral Shirt

Put your earplugs in, or rather your sunglasses on (see above), because it might get loud.

“It’s all about making a strong statement at a festival and a floral print shirt is the perfect way to do it, says Giles Farnham, head of River Island Style Studio (not a music label, but rather the retailer’s complimentary personal shopping service). “But avoid novelty or Hawaiian styles and go with something more sophisticated in a dark floral, which has been embraced from catwalk to high street.”

Want to be really on point? Turn to a revere or Cuban collar: that is, the kind that lies flat, like on a bowling shirt. “It’s the shirt shape of the season,” says ASOS’ Lawrence, who also adds that a floral shirt will make it easier for your friends to find you.

No shrinking violet? Match your patterned shirt to your shorts, AKA the “co-ord”, says Farnham: “But stick to darker florals to avoid looking camper than a row of tents.”

Men's Floral Shirts Festival Fashion Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

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Why Is ‘Sustainability’ Such A Dirty Word?

Last month, two garment factories burned to the ground in Bangladesh and China, claiming the lives of at least 12 workers. The latest in a long line of tragedies, these fires are the result of poor working conditions in often structurally unsound, overcrowded factories – factories where workers earning as little as £25 per month toil relentlessly to churn out trend-driven clothing and accessories which, all too often, end up in landfill just months after they’re unwrapped.

Fashion’s colossal impact both on the environment and human lives is why some designers are choosing to turn the tide. Spurred on by the harrowing effects of the fast-fashion model, a growing number of brands are making changes to their process to slow the fashion cycle.

There are, however, misconceptions; that sustainable brands’ wares are made from (and look like) recycled bin bags or lack the unbridled creativity of less socially and environmentally conscious brands. But, as designers like Ada + Nik are proving, that’s far from the truth.

Founded in 2013, the London label fuses a Goth sensibility with Greco-Roman influences, which roughly translates as slick, punky all-black looks. Far from the hemp-led aesthetic that’s often unfairly attributed to sustainable brands, their modernist collections are made locally from by-product materials and are testament to the fact that it’s possible to create clothing that doesn’t sacrifice style for sustainability.

We caught up with Ada + Nik co-founder, Ada Zanditon, to talk clothes-swapping, eco-friendly tech and why designers should ditch the ‘all or nothing’ approach.

Ada Zanditon Interview

Ada Zanditon InterviewFashionBeans: When designing for Ada + Nik, how do you think about your brand’s sustainability?
Ada Zanditon: For us, designing always begins with the concept. I think people get confused and think that the final look of your product and [its sustainability] are linked, whereas in reality they aren’t.

When we’re designing, we come up with a concept about who our intended man is. So there’ll be a punk influence; there’ll be a rebel influence; there’ll be the influence of warriors and gladiators. It’s about exploring our ideas. We [talk] about the form and the silhouette, and we’ll base designs around words like ‘tension’ or ‘architecture’.

The sustainable part is in the nuts and bolts of everything. That element comes from the production process, the fabric-sourcing. So you can have an incredible-looking jacket that’s sustainable, but it has nothing to do with the way it looks.

A common misconception is that making things in a conscious way is more difficult, but the process of sourcing materials and transporting them is always challenging. If you think about it, using local manufacturing may cost a bit more, but it means it’s all designed and made in the same postcode. I think that’s a really important part of [Ada + Nik’s] story.

Do you think the definition of ‘sustainable fashion’ is too narrow?
The definition can be too narrow, not in terms of what is available but in terms of awareness around sustainable fashion and how sustainable fashion is portrayed.

I do think though, that this is beginning to change. I don’t think we should be communicating about sustainability as if it is a trend – it is instead how the industry should operate going forward and the negative stereotype around the aesthetics of sustainable fashion need to be shaken off.

Can you tell us a bit about your ‘narrative jacket’?
It [a leather jacket with a built-in Narrative Clip camera] was an Ekocycle collaboration that was sold in Harrods.

To create it, we used a material that was made from recycled plastic bottles, then combined that with our leather. It transpired that this recycled textile was showerproof and wind-resistant. It also featured this fine herringbone pattern, so it was a cool technical fabric that just happened to be made using post-consumer waste.

Of The Most Versatile Summer

Denim Jacket + Tee + Jeans

Think you can’t wear denim in summer? Think again.

Okay, sure, squeezing yourself into a pair of raw jeans isn’t the smartest move on summer’s most brow-drenchingly sweaty days, but lose the weight and you’ll keep your cool. Lightweight denim (that’s under 12 ounces a yard) is more flexible and breathable than its heavier counterpart, letting you keep that rock edge without overheating.

Team a washed denim jacket with a tee and distressed jeans for an off-duty look you can wear everywhere. (Pro tip: button the jacket all the way up for a slightly smarter finish.)

 

AllSaints June 2016ALLSAINTS

Leather Bomber + Breton Shirt + Chinos

A naval staple at heart, there’s no arguing the Breton shirt is a menswear classic that skews more casual than smart. But there’s something about its French heritage that makes it so much more refined than a mere piece of fisherman’s kit.

 

A Breton shirt works just as well for a dinner date as it does a stroll to ease the hangover the next day. Dress it up with a buttery soft leather jacket in the evening or keep your look to just one layer in the midday heat.

Mango Man 2016MANGO MAN

Blazer + Shirt + Cropped Trousers

Feeling the heat in the office? Cut loose with a look that’ll let you breathe.

Small tweaks like choosing a trouser that lets you feel the breeze on your ankles, losing the collar on your shirt, or simply undoing a couple of buttons, helps keep sweat at bay without getting your boss’ finger wagging.

What’s more, you won’t need to pack a change of clothes for the post-work round either.

Reiss SS16REISS

Linen Blazer + Polo Shirt + Trousers

There’s no disputing the fact that T-shirts work with tailoring, but sometimes you need a little more structure to your silhouette.

A polo offers the best of both worlds: it’s lightweight and breathable like a tee, but – crucially – comes with a collar, helping you cut a slightly smarter figure. (Without having to resort a stuffy button-down shirt.)

The beauty of this look is you get all of the polo’s sportswear appeal when worn solo with some trousers, but can leverage its more sartorial side by slipping into an airy blazer. Riviera style made simple.

 

Brunello Cucinelli SS17BRUNELLO CUCINELLI

All-White + Bomber Jacket

Got tan? Bronzed like demi-god David Gandy? No? Then you’d better start catching rays (or faking it), because all-white isn’t going anywhere.

Once the preserve of 1990s boybands, head-to-toe white has been topping the menswear trends charts for a few seasons now, and for good reason: it’s easy, it’s light-reflecting (and therefore sweat-preventing) and it works everywhere – you just need to switch up the pieces in the mix depending on where you’re headed.

Sure, a white vest and shorts might come off a bit Chippendales at your in-laws’ family barbecue, but change tack with a white short-sleeved shirt and chinos and you’re onto a winner.

If you’re not alright with a white-out approach, spike your look with a piece in darker colour for contrast. Especially useful if you’re nearly as pale as the whites you’re wearing.

Primark SS16PRIMARK

Mac + Tee + Jeans

A typical British ‘summer’ might best be described as grey and sweaty, but on the rare occasion it’s bright and breezy, you want something that looks like summer but still stops a chill in its tracks.

Cue the mac. Lightweight and cut slim, it promises coverage without the cumbersome bulk. Opt for one in a brighter colour like cobalt blue, tan or burgundy and you’ll steer a staple that’s traditionally reserved for the rainy season into something more summer-ready.

Here, ripped jeans and a T-shirt roughen up the mac’s clean lines, but you can just as easily team it with a linen shirt and cropped trouser for an equally versatile, albeit more squeaky clean take.

Selected Homme 2016SELECTED HOMME

Field Jacket + Polo Shirt + Cropped Trouser

Like all menswear pieces lifted from the military, the field jacket comes packed full of the versatility a man needs to meet the demands of modern life. (As well as generously sized pockets for pretty much everything you’ll need this summer: sunglasses, a bottle of SPF, that can of Red Stripe…)

Give it a look that’s more smart-casual than desert squad by flanking it with pieces that skew slightly more sartorial – like a polo shirt and tailored cropped trouser.

Rounded out with a pair of minimal trainers, it’s your new go-to for city breaks and country getaways.