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With Online Shopping, Not-So-Tall Guys Get the Short End of the Stick

As buying online becomes the norm, menswear brands need to find a way to serve the millions of customers they’re currently missing. Namely: short kings

For Stephen, who lives in Biloxi, Mississippi, shopping for clothes means driving 50 to 100 miles to get anything that fits. As a 5-foot-8 retired investment advisor, online shopping had little to offer as the virus has changed the world’s shopping habits. “I still find the need for suits and ties. One of my biggest challenges is finding my size,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to find a store with an old-fashioned tailor where they custom-fit things. Unfortunately, that’s becoming harder and harder to find during a pandemic. Now that retail has taken such a financial hit it’s going to be worse in the future.”

Around 80 million U.S. men fall under 5-foot-9, the average height for an American guy. Yet almost every item of clothing is catered for men in the 5-foot-8 and above range. Matt, 24, a 5-foot-5 graphic designer, faces the same struggles during coronavirus, saying it’s hard to find anything online outside of the “solid or gingham blue dress shirts that have made up the majority of mainstream men’s fashion for decades.” Even T-shirts are a shot in the dark. He admires Peter Manning NYC, but as a young adult, “it’s really the top of what” he can afford. (Peter Manning was created exclusively for short men, and was among the first brands to create a full line for smaller guys’ closets — everything from suits and outerwear to jeans and T-shirts to ties that are four inches shorter.)

Hemming and alterations have never solved the problem. Per this Jezebel article from 2009, for a dress to look the same on a petite, standard and plus size woman requires three totally different paper patterns, each with a separate development process. The same should also apply for men. “If your pants are too long, it’s not always a simple matter of hemming. Take too much off and you’ll kill the taper, the back pockets will hang too low. Suit jackets will fall almost to the knee, and you can’t adequately tailor outerwear,” says Jeff Hansen, CEO of Peter Manning. 

During COVID-19, their proprietary size system — based on height, weight and body type — has been a huge relief for short kings, especially the site’s simple size calculator, which allows you to punch in a couple of numbers and get your accurate size. Following suit (pun unavoidable), many other brands, such as Proper Cloth, have upped their online game by offering full customization through a UX design that anyone can control. “From an easy quiz that will create custom sizing for every garment, to detailed instructions on how to measure your body, measure your garments, or the option to send us the garments to measure, guys can now shop online with the confidence that they will get clothing that actually fits them,” says Daniel Zisman, a representative for Proper Cloth. 

Most men don’t think about going custom because they believe it’s a lengthy and expensive process. “By the time you buy something off-the-rack and get it tailored, you’ve already spent the same amount of money and time that you would have if you went custom,” says Zisman. Most men also don’t think of style options being something that pertains to men of different sizes, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. As just one example, according to Zisman, shorter men will need a collar (for which Proper Cloth offers over 30 options) with a shorter collar point length, such as its Franklin Spread.

“Big brands like Michael Kors and Alfani don’t have shorter sizes in stock,” says Stephen. When looking at luxury brands while shopping online, he has only found Ralph Lauren to be helpful, although Hansen disagrees on that point. “Ralph Lauren is a massive, long-standing business, but ironically, Ralph (who is 5-foot-6) produces absolutely nothing that he himself could ever wear! He needs to shop with us!” he says.

But it’s not only the luxury sector that needs to change. If department stores had a men’s equivalent to the ‘petite clothes for women,’ it would really help, Matt points out. “I’m sure they’d have to think of some masculine-sounding label for it, but big department stores clearly want to be perceived as a one-stop shop, so that’s just one more thing they could capitalize on without us having to go to specialty stores.”

Since Proper Cloth has been helping men buy online for over a decade now, it was pretty well set up for the current need for online-only clothes shopping. In an attempt to make a more personal shopping experience, it’s developed Virtual Consultation Fittings, which offer a showroom-like experience with agents. “This is a virtual call where customers can get advice about fabrics, sizing, customization and more. Physically being able to see a person, whether it’s assistance with measuring a garment or understanding fit, has elevated the shopping experience to something much more personal and premium,” Zisman points out.

Stephen and Matt both wish that more retail brands take notice of the needs of short kings (while staying affordable), rather than ignoring them altogether. “I sure hope that someday we’ll have an alternative to chasing all around just for nice clothes,” says Stephen.