What do Lewis Hamilton, Al Pacino and Jon Stewart have in common?
Sure, they're big talents in their respective fields. But in terms of body size, they're actually on the shorter side. And like most men 5'9" (175cm) and under, they likely would have trouble finding clothes to fit them off the rack.
We've had grown men cry because they can't believe for the first time in their life that someone cares deeply about how they look and feel.Peter Manning
Unless opting for made-to-measure or bespoke garments, men that don't fit the 6'2" (188cm) fashion brand archetype have been forced to buy oversized shirts and have them tailored, or simply wear them a size or two too large, with excess fabric tucked into their pants.
Now a new wave of fashion labels is providing tailored comfort for short men everywhere – and making big bucks from smaller men's clothing.
The typical male body type today is shorter and leaner than we might expect. The average American male is 5'8" (172.5cm) and the average Australian male, according to the most recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, is 5"76' (171.7 cm).
Healthier lifestyles have also led to slimmer profiles in recent years, and immigration has also played a role. There are far more Hispanic and Asian men living in the US today than there were 10 years ago, for example, and they tend to be shorter in stature than the American footballer archetype many brands design for.
No clothes for short men
The idea for eponymous New York-based label Jaden Lam stemmed from the Vietnamese designer's exasperation in finding clothes for his build. "I always had trouble finding clothes that fit me," the 5'6" (168cm) designer says, adding he was even told at department store Neiman Marcus that there were "no clothes for me here".
While luxury brands including Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana and Ralph Lauren do sell items for smaller men, (Lauren himself is 5'6", after all), these brands are not accessible to everyone. Lam wanted to create a label that sold luxurious, well-fitted garments at reasonable prices. By cutting out the middle-man (department stores) he is able to sell his Italian cotton shirts directly to consumers online (although he currently does not ship directly to Australia).
President of the brand, and one of Lam's former clients, Roger Kissin, says: "These men have always been there, they've just been ignored or overlooked in men's fashion. Our customer isn't offended by the word short; he's offended to wear oversized clothes which don't fit, which take away from your confidence. When you feel good about yourself and good about what you wear, you project an image of success."
Peter Manning agrees. He founded his online store Peter Manning Five Eight/New York in 2012 for the simple reason that he could never find trousers that fit. "I spent my whole life getting things tailored and I'm not that short: I'm 5'8"," he says. "I thought, 'if I can't ever find a pair of pants that fit off the rack, there must be others out there like me'."
More than just a cut above
Creating shirts for a smaller body requires a certain art. It's not simply about taking up the hem and bringing in the sides of a shirt. Everything from the cuffs to the size of the pocket is altered, including the space between the buttons and the width of the arm on shirts.
Checks are made smaller as large checks can drown a man, and the fly is altered proportionally so when a wallet is added to the back pocket of pants, they don't fall down. Ties are reduced to 142cm long instead of the standard 156cm.
"Everything has to be rethought or rescaled," says Manning. "But it has to be done in a way that still feels adult and masculine, and not like you're making kiddy clothes. There are shorter men who shop in the boys department," he explains.
With sales doubling every year since he launched, the feedback speaks for itself. "We've had grown men in our fit shop cry, because they can't believe for the first time in their life that someone cares deeply about how they look and feel."
Manning, who ships to 17 countries including Australia, says some of his best customers are Aussie gents. Even before he started shipping internationally he received enquiries from Australian men interested in his designs.
Meanwhile, back home
Marco Siracusa, who has been the Harrolds Melbourne store manager for 20 years, confirms there's definitely a market here. He says demand for Caruso and Brioni – brands that make smaller sizes – has grown in recent years.
Harrolds also developed its own brands - Harrolds French for tall, slim men, and Harrolds British for stockier men with broad shoulders and slimmer waists. "We developed our own two fits probably about six years ago, to cater for different shapes that we couldn't buy … the short guy back then, we would have to make it for him. He had to do bespoke."
Siracusa says men in general are looking for a closer fit these days. "With health awareness and people getting fitter, we're noticing our smaller sizes tend to go quite quickly."
The large number of Asian consumers now living in and visiting Australia has also affected demand. "Five or six years ago we wouldn't have even been talking about the Asian market, but now we always have it in mind when we do our buys.
"We've picked up some brands to suit that market … Tom Ford introduced the O'Connor [collection] to suit the body shape – the one Daniel Craig wears in the Bond movies. All the brands have had to evolve over the years and create something to fit their customer base around the world."