Jeff — a former software engineer who is now a lawyer specializing in startups — got dumped on the eve of his wedding. He hadn’t been taking care of himself physically and mentally, and this wake-up call was just the motivation he needed to make a change. “I got a hair transplant, started working out, and completely rebuilt my image,” Jeff, who prefers to not use his last name for professional reasons, tells The Manual. “I found it difficult, though, to find off-the-rack clothing that fit me.”
Jeff lives in New York City, and at 41 years old has a successful career. Why should finding clothes be an issue? Jeff is also 5’1”.
He’s not alone. According to U.S. census data, around 30% of men between the ages of 20 and 60 are under 5’8”. “If the population is a bell curve, the majority of men—around 40 percent—fall between 5’8” to 6’1”,” says Alan Au of Jimmy Au’s, a Sherman Oaks, Calif., retailer that specializes in apparel for men 5’8” and under. “That means 60 percent of the population are either shorter are taller. Further, there are twice as many guys who are ‘short’ — less than 5’5” — than there are tall men 6’3” and over.”
But in the past decade, a surge of ready-to-wear clothing lines tailored for shorter people has made it easier for guys like Jeff to update their wardrobes without constantly resorting to tailoring.
“I tried to find styles that would be tighter-fitting on anybody else, but would end up normal on me,” Jeff says of his shopping woes. “I [ended up] getting all my clothes custom-made.”
Jeff buys his underwear and T-shirts at H&M to save money for those custom-made splurges, but can’t buy regular T-shirts off the rack because they’re too baggy.
According to Au, many shorter men end up shopping in the boys’ department. “The quality is not the same,” he points out. “Men can afford — and want — quality. Parents are not going to spend the same amount on clothing that they know their kid is going to outgrow … Also, even though the length is right, the proportions are still not. A tailor can’t fix a lapel or a chest pocket that lands in the wrong place. The spacing of buttons on a jacket won’t be right.”
And it’s even more more difficult to alter men’s regular-sized clothing. For example, with jeans, you’d have to watch out for the wash since the wear is never in the right place, Au notes. Even with regular dress pants, the knees aren’t usually in the right place, and the rise is too full.
From a fashion standpoint, the last 15 years or so haven’t been so bad; as cropped, slim-fit looks have allowed shorter men to find some looks that work, “but the proportions are still off and can make you look like an adolescent,” says Au. He echoes what Jeffrey says about denim, that so much of what is available is extremely basic, coming only in black, charcoal, and navy. “Shorter men are often forced to settle.”
Luckily an increasing number of shops, like Au’s, are geared to help this demographic.
“My father (Jimmy) has been keeping track of measurements from his custom business for years,” says Au. “We now use that data to create a complete collection, from suits to casual clothes.” The shop is designed to make shorter men feel comfortable, complete with proportional furniture and displays. Even during the pandemic business shutdown, Jimmy Au’s was busy mailing out a jogger jean in a summer-weight denim to its regular clients.
Online clothing stores like The Modest Man and Short Guy Central offer everything from styling and alterations advice to dating and image inspiration. Especially handy are their links to shopping opportunities.
A relatively recent addition to the shopping lists; Detroit, Michigan-based Ash and Erie offers a complete online shopping experience. Started by Steven Mazur and Eric Huang, the site was started to “solve a personal problem. We couldn’t find clothes that fit right, so we decided to make them ourselves.”
They interviewed and fitted hundreds of guys who are 5’8” and below, and designed from the ground up, creating shorter lengths in sleeves and pants. They also make sure shirts’ collar lengths are shorter so the proportions are right. The rise in our trousers is shorter. Pockets land in the right place. Arm holes are designed to be more comfortable.”
Ash and Erie even address the denim problem, offering jeans where the wash is proportioned correctly and fading lands in the right place.
The duo’s appeal goes beyond shorter men. They also scored an appearance on Shark Tank, landing a $150,000 investment from billionaire Mark Cuban.
“Our customers have been very vocal, talking about the positive impact our clothes have had on first dates and job interviews,” Huang says. “Having clothes that fit right provides them with the confidence they deserve.”
Other brands offering a focus for shorter guys are New York-based Peter Manning, which offers a Trunk Club or Warby Parker-style service where men can try clothes on at home before purchasing. Bonobos also offers some short-fit trouser options.
Au points out that his Beverly Hills-adjacent store also serves a celebrity clientele, including Danny Devito, keeping a four-season wardrobe available at all times for costume designers. “We offer a range for short men of all sizes, too; fitting men who are not portly, but big,” he says. “Yet we also dress a lot of jockeys.”
Jeff, does offer one word of caution to his fellow shoppers who still like made-to-measure. “It’s hard to keep it cost-effective. Just remember that a lot of these newer custom places are all backed by venture capitalists. They are, in effect, subsidizing the cost of your suit. Once that money runs out, prices will creep back up. Still, a ‘cheap’ custom suit is way better looking than a ‘tailored’ regular suit.”
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