Where can I read up on suits for heavy men?
June 8, 2013 12:39 PM   Subscribe

I'm in China and I can get any suit custom made. That's great because I'm tall and heavy. That's also daunting because I have to show up with pictures of what I want. I find it tough to find good links to websites with tips for people like me. What modern suit would look good on me?
posted by krautland to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total)
I have no knowledge of a man's version of this book, but "David Kibbe's Metamorphosis" did wonders for my ability as a not petite woman to dress well and be psychologically comfortable in my clothes. I learned that shawl collars and a couple of other styles looked wonderfully elegant on me, even though normal/standard lapel jackets are terribly unflattering to me, so much so that I used to loathe suits/jackets.

I was able to mentally translate the info to tips for my husband and help him dress better. So although it is a book aimed at women only, perhaps doing the exercises and identifying your "type" would be useful for you.

And hopefully you will get like 500 other, better answers after this one.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 1:19 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

To get ideas and convey them to tailors, perhaps you can google celebrities with a similar body type to find movie stills and photos of them walking the red carpet, making talk show appearances, etc. IMDB nearly always includes photos from the premiers as well as from the films themselves. John Goodman, for example, is 6'2" and has been photographed at a range of weights, one of which might correspond to you.
posted by carmicha at 1:28 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Catalogues, GQ or pictures on the Internet work well. Trust your tailor to fit you well. My mom was spoiled in Korea with bespoke clothing. Have fun! Get a pink dinner jacket
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:31 PM on June 8, 2013

Best answer: "... What modern suit would look good on me?"

Eh, you might need to revise your idea of "modern" considerably, depending on your physique. The stuff you see Jimmy Fallon wearing is not your stuff (and personally, I'd also suggest to Jimmy that it shouldn't be his stuff, either, but, hey, he's got stylists and handlers out the yaya, so who am I to suggest at all?)

You say you're "tall and heavy" but to get to the root of the issue, you and we need to know your "drop" if we're to have any real specific recommendations to make. "Drop" is the difference between your chest measurement, and your waist measurement. Most American ready-to-wear suits are made up to have a 6 inch negative "drop," meaning a suit coat sized 42 will have pants with a 36 inch waist. Most ready-to-wear suits will provide about 1 to 1 &1/2 inches of extra material in the waistband and seat seam, to allow for alterations to fit men with a 37 or perhaps even a 38 inch waist. But at that alteration level, the coat is going to begin to be severely strained, when buttoned, particularly if it is a 3 or 4 button style, and a man with a 42 chest and a 38 inch waist may look better in a 44 suit coat.

Now, if you're very heavy, you might not have any drop between your chest and waist, or you may even have a negative drop, meaning your waist is bigger than your chest measurement. If that's the case, best you face it square on, and think more Chris Christie than Jimmy Fallon. A suit tailored for a man with negative drop will have significant adjustments to the coat in the grading below the chest measurement, but will still have armholes, neckline, lapels, and shoulders that are in proportion to the man's smaller upper chest, unless you are carrying so much weight you need more room in the armholes, and shoulders for movement, as Chris Christie seems to prefer. Similarly, the pants for such a suit will be graded differently at the waist, and it will be more important for you, as a heavy man, to have the correct rise measurement (the distance from your crotch to your waist) for your build, in conjunction with waist and hip measurments, for proper tailoring of your pants. Depending on where you carry your weight (belly, butt, thighs), it's a matter of some art to fit the heavy man in pants, properly. And for fabrics like pinstripes, some additional tailoring options like front pleats, double darts above the back pockets, and multipart "action waistbands" may need to be incorporated, to get a good standard of fit and comfort, that still follows the pattern and weave of the fabric appropriately, and of course such tailoring costs more, and may take longer.

Generally speaking, I think you'll be happiest with a traditional two button coat pattern, properly tailored for your measurements. If you can get internal upgrades like full floating or half floating canvas chest pieces, your clothes will generally look better and last longer. And pay a little more for good linings, and have them fully floated with blindstitch finish at the lower hem (prevents or reduces jacket rise when sitting). Armhole finish should be soft, indicative of hand felling; the harder finish of machine done lock stitched armholes is quite durable, but tends to cut a man at the front of his armpit, whenever he leans forward while seated.

Finally, a tailor that is telling you to bring in pictures of suits to be made for you isn't much of a tailor; a good man making bespoke clothing should have shop samples to show you, fit shells you can try on, and should make suggestions of tailoring features and adjustments to make you look as good as you can look, in his wares. These may vary according to your choices of shell fabric, and the desire you have for wearing the garments. For example, it would be overkill to include a full canvas construction in a tropical weight seersucker or poplin summer lawn suit; you're going to be wearing the thing outside, in the summer, and sweating it through sometimes, and dry cleaning it frequently, so a simpler fully fused construction that allows you to afford 2 or 3 of them, against the price of one better made, is in your interest. OTOH, if you're selecting 100% worsted wool shell fabrics for classic winter suits, better make will mean you get a lot more wear out of the suit, and look better in it, the whole time.
posted by paulsc at 9:45 PM on June 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

"... Now, if you're very heavy, you might not have any drop between your chest and waist, or you may even have a negative positive drop, meaning your waist is bigger than your chest measurement. ...

And please reverse "negative" to "positive" wherever "drop" refers to waist size larger than chest size.

Also, I didn't make it really clear about the importance of measurement, and pattern adjustment, in bespoke clothing manufacture. The whole point of bespoke clothing is that the patterns used to cut the cloth and ultimately make up your clothing are going to be adjusted, or even custom drafted, by the tailor, from your measurements and his measurement notes, before your clothing is cut and made up. Very little of what you may think of as "tailoring," if you've been wearing off-the-rack, should be needed, once the clothing is finished, (maybe final hemming of trousers). The real tailoring expertise involved in bespoke clothing is the knowledge needed to make and adjust patterns, and suggest make differences that accommodate your needs up front, and then to get these incorporated in your garments.

Generally most tailors start with patterns they know, in sizes near your likely coat and trouser size; they then alter these patterns, as needed, for your exact measurements. Only the most skilled men will draft patterns for you from scratch, but if you vary greatly from the standard sizes, drafting new patterns is better than trying to adjust patterns from standard sizes. If you're 6' 5" and 310 pounds, and the tailor you are working with does 95% of his business on ready-to-wear pattern adjustments in the range of 38 to 46 chest size, for men of average height, you're not likely to get a great standard of fit from him, as he tries to adjust standard patterns. At 6' 5" and 310 pounds, you're outside of his practice, and he's got new problems of fabric hand and drape, as well as your measurements, to factor in, when making patterns for your clothing.

When working with a new tailor, it's often best to go for measurement, commission a middle-weight suit in worsted/polyester blend, follow up with any subsequent fittings, and see the result, after some wear. If you like it, buy more. If not, move on to other shops.
posted by paulsc at 10:37 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm 6"4 and roughly 260lbs. I think I wear suit jackets size 46 to 48 and pants size 36.

and you are right, the tailors here all do have lots of images in books to look at and pick suits from — but the models don't really look like me. I have large shoulders and chest and carry the rest around my belly. the legs are in pretty good shape thanks to running. as far as comparisons go, dean norris and I do seem similar.

I have a tailor who made me a duffel coat I am very happy with (the only thing bothering me is that the hood is too large for my head). I noticed that I don't really like the shirts she does, so I let another tailor make them, but I saw a suit she made for a coworker and want to give her a try.

there are a lot of great tips and links in your answer and I want to thank you for it. I think I am not as fat as chris christie (thanks in part to the lapband surgery that he and I have) but somewhere in the middle between a normal dude and him.
posted by krautland at 1:04 AM on June 9, 2013

Google images of Robbie Coltrane.
posted by BenPens at 5:30 AM on June 9, 2013

Best answer: "I'm 6"4 and roughly 260lbs. I think I wear suit jackets size 46 to 48 and pants size 36. ..."

Based on this, and your further description of your physique, you're indicating you have an 8" to 10" drop, which is significant. I'm going to guess that you, like me, have a Dunlap abdomen, meaning your belly fat "has done lapped over your belt" as the old joke goes. It happens to lots of us older guys, and it might well mean that you've become accustomed to wearing pants with a lower rise than that which would put the waistband properly at your natural waist; you may have even forgot where your natural waist is, in the habit of fit you've built scrunching your trousers down below your belly, to stay in size 36 trousers.

But that's a bad foundation for a good look, especially for a tall guy, that is going to be, really, in 46 Long or 48 Long coats. You're exposing more shirt across your midriff, which generally draws attention to your stomach, particularly when your coat is unbuttoned, and your trousers probably wrinkle in the front, more and faster than they should. Your belts may even be taking a set of weird curves, instead of staying straight, as they try to hold your pants up, underneath your belly, and yet rise across your back to something like your natural waist.

A better solution might be to have your tailor help you rediscover your natural waist, and to make your trousers for this. Yes, you'll be in a larger waist trouser size, maybe 38 or even 40, and your zippers will seem incredibly long, because of the greater rise, but you'll get used to it. You may need to buy new belts, too, if the old ones are deformed in wear, or too short to buckle properly at your natural waist. Or, you might want to go beltless awhile, and rely on suspenders/braces as you relearn trouser fit at your natural waist.

Be honest with your tailor about your body, more so than you might be even with your doctors. The doctors might be able to alter your body, but your tailor has to hang clothes on it, which is, sometimes, a far tougher job.

I'm also going to suggest that you specify a "natural" shoulder profile, for your coats. This will have minimal padding in the shoulders, and the shoulders will not be carried out past your shoulder joint. You have enough chest size and height naturally to be an impressive profile in a well fitted suit. In contrast, Jimmy Fallon is wearing big shoulder pads in his suits these days, because his real chest and shoulders aren't that impressive. It takes a lot of padding up at his shoulders to make him look like he has a more trim waist than he actually does, but you don't have his problems. And for you, a natural shoulder profile will rise a lot less when you move your arms, particularly above your head, than poor Jimmy's do, for when he raises even one arm, his whole stiff padded jacket goes kind of cockeyed on him.
posted by paulsc at 9:41 AM on June 9, 2013

Response by poster: yes to dunlap and to wearing below the belly. I don't think I can wear them higher. it just doesn't feel comfortable with breathing. I got measured yesterday but it's tough to decipher the measurements from the chinese form. here are two photos of the form just in case the numbers alone make it clear and a jacket I ordered. (my intention is to use this as a casual jacket to wear with jeans. I think the right column is pant size and the left column is for jackets.

you are spot on about the belts curving, btw. — it's almost eerie that you can tell that from my brief descriptions :-)
posted by krautland at 10:06 PM on June 9, 2013

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