Change Your Clothes, Change Your Body

Change Your Clothes, Change Your Body


The keys to having the body you want are, of course, working out and eating right. But how you dress can help—or hurt—your physique, too.

Sure, vertical stripes aren’t going to actually make you slimmer, but they can create the illusion of being pounds lighter. And until you flatten your belly yourself, what’s the harm in that?

Whether you’re trying to bulk up or lose weight, this advice will help you accentuate where you want people to look and de-emphasize your less-than-perfect parts. Best of all, no matter what shape you’re in, you’ll be one of the best dressed guys wherever you go.

Dress Taller
Muted, dark-toned ensembles blur your silhouette, creating a long look. Let pinstripes stretch your frame even further: They fool the eye. “When the eye is directed along the stripe, the body appears more vertical,” says Marilyn DeLong, Ph.D., who teaches design and aesthetics at the University of Minnesota.

Make sure your suit jacket covers your butt without extending much farther down: A shorter jacket will emphasize the line of your legs, making you appear taller. Conversely, a jacket that’s too long will shrink your legs. (Remember Tom Hanks’s character in that scene from Big.)

Dress Trimmer
Okay, you’ve logged the gym time, and you want to show off what you’ve built. Just don’t go too crazy flaunting your musculature. “It’s a turnoff for most people,” says Mark-Evan Blackman, chairman of menswear design at New York City’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “It’s the same reason Speedos aren’t popular and board shorts are: A little mystery goes a long way in a physique.”

DeLong suggests “supple textures that conform to the muscle shapes.” Fine-gauge fabrics such as linen knits, lightweight cashmere, and high-quality Egyptian or pima cotton will show off your upper torso; boot-cutjeans, which are slimmer through the seat and legs, are great for the lower body.

Dress Smaller
Imposing men can loom a bit less if they contrast colors on the top and bottom, visually splitting the body—the opposite of the single-color effect. So, unlike the man who’s trying to appear taller, you can effectively wear a white or colorful shirt with darker pants.

You can also create a wider frame with horizontal stripes or patterns, which add perpendicular lines to your verticals. Stay away from tops that button up high at the neck; you’ll look like the Washington Monument.

Dress Thinner
The strong contrast in a black-and-white outfit draws the eye to your face—and away from any out-of-control flesh that might be gathered around your middle.

“You can organize the viewer’s perceptual pattern—how she takes in the body—through the surfaces you place on your frame,” says DeLong. “A tuxedo is a good example of contrast at the upper torso—the body is covered in a dark value, and the contrasting white shirt makes the eyes skim the body and focus on the upper portion.”

To achieve the same effect every day, wear a white shirt under a black sweater or jacket, with black pants. Wearing a single dark color on top and bottom shaves off a few pounds and lengthens you. If you have a full face, wear open-collared shirts or V-necks, which add an angular look. Crew collars and turtlenecks only add to the jack-o’-lantern effect.

Dress Bigger
If, to paraphrase the song, your physique is less than Greek, create more mass on your upper body with layers. Wear a T-shirt under an open-collared dress shirt and vest, and put a sport coat on top of that. A range of jackets, including natural-shouldered tweeds in earthy colors, is also a must-have for the man who wants to look beefier.

Thin men tend to have very sharp shoulder pitch: “Their shoulders aren’t squared out—they slope a little more,” says Blackman. “So a blazer or suitjacket would help create the illusion of width and bulk where there isn’t any.” Also, if you have a narrow build, horizontal stripes will broaden your chest and shoulders and look good on you, adds DeLong.

But beware of baggy. “Do not think baggy clothing makes you look bigger,” warns Justin Shafran, cofounder of the Social Climber clothing label. “You just look like a pencil in a sleeping bag.”