Ask dapperQ: Clothes for Curves?

*Feature image of Majestic Legay via hey, fat chick.

A reader asks:

Dear dapperQ,

So thankful for your page. I’ve been trying to figure myself out and your page gave me the courage to accept who I am. Only problem is, how do you find men’s clothes when you have a curvy women’s body? Any advice?

Wait, what? Didn’t Ariel already answer this question?

Yup, she did! But, as they say, two heads are better than one. Ariel provided you with all the warm and fuzzy, glass-is-half-full pep talk you’ll need to be successful on your journey to finding “men’s” clothes that fit. She is that inspirational story that brings you to tears right before the Superbowl of shopping.

Ask dapperQ Clothes for CurvesImage via Dapper and Dandy

Now it’s my turn. Our team is the underdog in this showdown, and I’m sizing up our challengers to provide you with the real-deal, glass-is-half-empty rundown so that we can identify your obstacles and overcome them with solid solutions. Whichever way works for you, Ariel and I both want your glass to filleth over!

You see, from my perspective, questions/comments like these both bring me joy and break my heart. We are always so happy to hear that dapperQ is providing courage, inspiration, and support to the community. However, we sometimes also have to be the bearer of bad news; in this case, I have to tell you that finding “men’s” and menswear inspired women’s clothes that fit curvy women can sometimes be a struggle. But, the rewards are bountiful if you stay the course and are open to a new and exciting journey.

Here’s the thing with menswear. The fashion industry designs off-the-rack (as opposed to custom made) menswear AND womenswear to fit their image of “ideal” body types, most of which are not attainable and do not really represent average body types. I talked about how this results in the need for tailoring in a previous post.

Let’s imagine for a second that you’re a femme and looking to purchase a skirt for a cocktail party. You see one that’s in a size 2, which, in womenswear, could translate anywhere from a 26″ waist to a 28″ waist since there are no sizing standards for women’s clothing. Let’s imagine that you’re a 28″ waist and that this size 2 also happens to correspond to a 28″ waist. Great! But, what about the butt? Hips? Thighs? Length? That skirt was mass produced using a single proportion, which may or may not work for you. That same skirt is mass produced in larger sizes using the same proportions.

This scenario pretty much sums up the reality for menswear as well. Menswear blog posts and magazine articles addressing reader concerns that menswear doesn’t fit properly uncover common fit issues. Experts often advise that readers know their proportions, get clothing tailored, and/or invest in custom made (aka bespoke) apparel. In fact, James Sanders (also known as the Fat Fashion Guy), a fashion editor and writer on style and culture, recently published an article in the Huffington Post  discussing the dearth of plus-size specific men’s fashion blogs (usually there are only articles here and there offering the same, expensive solutions) at a time when menswear blogs are exponentially increasing in number and popularity. And, The Handbook of Style: A Man’s Guide to Looking Good by Esquire magazine writes, “Are you a ‘drop six’? If you are, you’re a suit maker’s dream: Your chest is six inches larger than your waist. You can wear anything. Sadly, most of us don’t live inside those ideal tailoring measurements.”

Before: GQ gives Actor/Comedian Horatio Sanz a “suit” make-over. His biggest issue: “One of the problems I have is with shirts: Getting my neck size to match my body size is difficult…”

After: Horatio Sanz in GQ’s $3,700 tailored suit makeover.

Well just grrrrrrrrrrreat! If the menswear fashion industry isn’t addressing the needs of larger, male bodied individuals, how do curvy, female bodied individuals stand a chance at finding menswear that fits?

Ready to throw in the towel? Don’t! Go back and read Ariel’s post. You CAN do this. How do I know? Well, because history has shown us that stylish people aren’t just those who fit outrageous ideals and expectations. In fact, stylish people are the rule breakers; they know what colors, fits, shapes, patterns, etc. look great on their own bodies, not the body of a model in a magazine. As Coco Chanel once said, “The best colour in the whole world is the one that looks good on you.” The key is knowing that all of this is a labor of love – it takes work, and for those who don’t like shopping, not finding their dream wardrobe in one day, one week, one month seems like torture. You are a work of art and your body is a canvas; you’re not going to produce a wardrobe masterpiece overnight.

So, let’s get ready for your life-long journey. (And, style IS a life long journey, just ask Ellen):

Start with these tips…

1. Know a few things about boys and menswear sizing.

Menswear sizing is usually stated in inch measurements, and Americans accustomed to shopping in womenswear departments often do not know their body measurements because womenswear sizes are typically denoted with arbitrary numbers (e.g., 2, 22, 14, 6, 26, etc.). First things first, let’s get you started with basic measurements. We’ll use advice from Ralph Lauren. (Use a fabric tape measure and wear little to no clothing):

Waist
Measure around your natural waistline, keeping the tape comfortably loose.

Hips
Stand with your heels together and measure around the fullest part of your hips.

Chest
Wrap the tape around the fullest part of your chest or bust, including your shoulder blades, then drop your arms to your sides to measure.

Neck
Measure around the middle of neck (at the Adam’s apple). Allow room for your index finger to fit between the tape and your neck for a comfortable fit.

Inseam
With the appropriate shoes on, measure from your crotch to your desired pant length.

This instructional video on how to measure for menswear dress shirts may also be helpful:

 

Good job! Now that you know your measurements, take a look at the boys and menswear sizing chart we put together, keeping in mind that brands and styles within brands have some variability, which brings us to our next piece of advice…

2. If first you don’t succeed, try on and try on again

As Ariel mentioned in her post on troubleshooting button-down fit issues, and in her original post addressing this question, you must try on LOTS of clothes before you find brands that best fit your unique shape. Brands vary widely in their fit. Keep at it and experiment. I recommend looking for button-down dress shirts and oxfords at Brooks Brothers, Thomas Pink, L.L. Bean, Lands End, Jones New York, Ralph Lauren, and Eddie Bauer. Many of these “women’s” brands are made to fit female bodied individuals with curves. However, be sure to read the fine print on some of the styles, as many have bust darts on sizes over 18. Do not fear the back dart; this is a very Euro-chic menswear detail.

As far as jeans and trousers are concerned, check out our “Jeans 101 post” and our “Trousers for Curves” post. We also made some recommendations for pants to fit curvyQs in these posts.

3. Invest, Invest, Invest

Whether you’re masculine or feminine or anywhere in between, a good – no GREAT – suit is a wardrobe staple. You will be wearing that sucker to job interviews, work/work events, weddings, holiday gatherings, etc. And, if you’re smart, you’ll learn how to dress it down and wear it multiple ways, like Rachel Tutera and The Style Blogger DO NOT SKIMP ON THE SUIT.

I advise purchasing at least 1-2 great suits and having them tailored. (If you can afford two, get one in a lightweight fabric for warm weather and one in a heavier fabric for the cooler months.) Then, get them TAILORED. Details Men’s Style Manual: The Ultimate Guide for Making Your Clothes Work for You states, “Just because you’re buying a suit off the rack, doesn’t mean it won’t require a fair bit of tailoring.” The first commandment in GQ’s “10 Commandments of Style” is to “honor thy tailor.”

Even the best suits need altering. Pants need to be shortened, jackets need to be brought in, sleeves need to be narrowed (yes, you can ask your tailor to slim down your sleeves), and buttons need to be realigned with buttonholes (most guys’ shoulders aren’t entirely even, meaning your jacket often sits a bit askew). You should always buy your correct size, but you then need to have a tailor customize it to your body.”– GQ’s “10 Commandments of Style”

If you work at a company that requires business attire, invest in a few blazers, dress shirts, and pairs of dress trousers and have them TAILORED. You’ll also need a few pair of nice jeans (not the ones you paint or hike in), which is a whole other can of worms that I opened in our Jeans 101. Read it! You’ll need the support.

Your budget for investment pieces should include an amount for tailoring and alterations. There are ways to save. I published a post on clothing stores that offer free basic alterations. Further, you can also find cool gems at thrift stores and have inexpensive finds tailored, if need be.

For suits, our readers swear by J-Crew’s Ludlow line, the Butch Clothing Company, Saint Harridan, and Men’s Warehouse. You may also find great menswear dress classics at Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, Ratio, and our pals over at Marimacho, who are rumored to be launching made-to-measure services.

Another fantastic resource on suits: Our three part suit manual on Autostraddle. Here’s Part I, Part II, and Part III.

4. Get some inspiration 

Sometimes finding fit is only half the battle. Sometimes people just don’t know how to put things together. You can buy clothes, but you can’t necessarily buy style…unless you can afford a stylist. Mixing colors, patterns, textures, accessories, etc. is an art form in and of itself. When I get overwhelmed, I look for style inspiration. Our Style Icons database is here to help with images of our favorite mainstream media dapperQs and tips on how to pull of their looks. You may also find How to Find and Refine Your Personal Style helpful.

5. Emotional Support

Some of the most frustrating and painful shopping experiences that dapperQs commonly report are that sales staff are disrespectful, unhelpful, and dismissive and that other customers give cold stares and evil eyes. When answering a reader question about which dressing rooms dapperQs should use, I recommended a few helpful tips, including bringing along emotional support. Your buddies will not only help you with fashion advice and keep you company during the daunting task of finding a pair of jeans, but can provide emotional support when shopping situations are less than ideal.

 Now, onward and upward, brave dapperQ!

 

 

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