Dressing the (Muscular)Man

Contrary to what most guys believe, dressing well is actually harder for muscular men than those with a more average build. While men’s clothing has gotten slimmer to accommodate us skinny guys, those of you with a bit more stature are still forced to choose between clothing that is too short and baggy, or too small and skinny. On top of that, the same things that can work in favor of many men (narrow lapel sizes, pleated pants, small patterns, etc.) will actually look goofy on a muscular guy.

As a result, a lot of body builders will dress like this.

post workout sweat suit

But obviously you can do better than sweat pants and a T-shirt, even if they are the easiest purchases to make that will fit you. Here are some tips:

  • Accept the fact that you are going to need a tailor and build a relationship with one. There are very few cons to being built the way you are and not having most clothes fit off the rack is a small one. The only difference between you and the rest of us is you have to have a tailor while we are better off if we have one. Look at it as extra motivation.
  • If you buy off-the-rack suits do so in places that sell them as separates. If you buy a suit from Men’s Warehouse or the suit department at Dillard’s you’re going to run into a major problem. If you have a 46R jacket, it’s most likely going to come with a pair of 36R pants – and you probably wear a 32 instead. Doesn’t matter how good your tailor is, he can’t take your pants in that much. Shopping at places that allow you to buy your jackets and pants separately gives you a lot more workability in your sizing. However, as addressed in a comment below, there will still be fit problems associated with the jacket.
  • Avoid narrow lapels and ties. These are popular with the revival of all things 60’s style but they will mess up your proportions. Instead of looking well-built, you’ll come across as hulkish or freakishly huge.
  • Make sure all your pants have little break or no break at all. While you don’t run the risk of having this make you appear scrawny, it does make you look stumpy because it gives the visual appearance of your legs being too short for your pants.
  • Swap out crew necks for V’s and polos. The opening will give you a little extra room in the chest and help you keep everything else the right size. You don’t want man cleavage, but showing some more skin keeps your face better framed as well.
  • Look for jeans from brands like Fidelity. They are made specifically for more muscular guys and have extra material in the seat and thighs to compensate for all the squats you do. They’re pricey but worth the investment.
  • When you find something that does fit well, buy multiples. Even if it’s a $10 T-shirt from H&M. Spend a little extra upfront and buy ten shirts so you’re set.
  • When buying chinos and dress pants, go with a pair that’s fuller in the leg and then have them altered. Most slim pants are going to be too small for you in the thighs. When I’ve worked with muscular clients in the past, this has been the largest hurdle to get over. Rather than buying slim pants, buy them in a fit that works in the butt and thighs, then have your tailor alter and taper them down from there. You’ll still get the right shape beneath the knee, but it won’t come with puckered pockets or stretched seems.
  • Go custom when you can. Thankfully the world of online custom clothing is really taking off and it’s getting to the point where you can have a custom shirt made for the same price you’d pay for something from Polo or J Crew.
  • Avoid shirts that are too tight. The idea of having shirts that drape is currently unpopular among a lot of men. This makes sense for guys who are rail thin because it gives the illusion of filling out your clothing. For you body builders, it ends up looking goofy to have a shirt or pants that look like they’re practically painted on. If a T-shirt or polo fits in the chest, back, and sleeves, it’s ok that it doesn’t perfectly hug your stomach. That little bit of drape actually ends up being flattering because it keeps your clothes from looking too stretched. Too tight is just as bad as too baggy when it comes to gauging proper fit.
  • Don’t wear gym clothes unless you’re on your way to the gym. Seriously though. I know the Underarmour stuff may fit better than anything else, but it makes you look singular. Let your body speak to your dedication to the gym and your clothing speak to the fact that you’re well-rounded. If all you wear are gym clothes, it looks like you don’t have a life outside of it.
  • Wear suit jackets with dual vents. The extreme taper from your shoulders to your waist can end up splitting a center vent – which makes your jacket look too small. A dual vent will help prevent the split and keeps things in proportion.
  • Wear larger patterns in all situations and bolder patterns in casual situations. Patterns that are too small will look wrong on you.
  • Opt for unstructured sport coats and suit jackets. If there’s any one who doesn’t need artificial shoulder padding, it’s you guys.

Stick with the guidelines above and you’ll be sure to communicate that you’re more than just a gym rat.

daniel craig cardigan

PS. Did you know I do private style consultations? I can help you dress better according to your budget and your needs.

Meet The Author

Tanner is the founder and primary author of Masculine Style. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah with his wife and two kids, and helps run Beckett & Robb - a men's clothing company built around custom suits and shirts.
  • theoak

    fwiw, your suit example of buying a 46 jacket with 32 pants still doesnt work. if a suit is made for 36 pants then the waist portion of the jacket is made for a 36 waist as well. this almost always results in too much material for the tailor to taper the jacket properly.

    • This is a good point (I’ll add it to the list) and another reason why going custom really is worth it. There’s no reason to pay for an off-the-rack suit or shirt that will require extensive tailoring when you can get a perfect fit for less.

  • Jon M

    Great post Tanner.

    I’ll add that Express makes a solid V neck tee for muscular guys as well. You’ll definitely have to buy a size up from your true size but it will still fit well in the waist.

  • Ad rock

    I was hoping to see this post soon. I just went to a wedding and was tempted to go with a slim tie. But got talked out of it by a tailor and shop owner. I struggle with shirts that fit right and even thought about dropping some weight to find better fitting clothes.

  • someguy

    I’ve never thought of myself as being that “built” and have always worn off the rack, but I guess I’m just fit enough to slide into that category – these are all problems that I have regularly!
    Thank you so much!

  • someguy

    Holy crap! Just clicked the jeans link – $189?!?
    If they last long enough…
    (I had a Boss shirt that lasted me twenty years of regular abuse).
    Anybody know how long Fidelity jeans last?

    • someguy

      Since there’s no answer on Fidelity durability and I’ve been on a quest foor the toughest most comfortable pants I can find because I tend to kill all jeans (even Carhartt) in <1yr, I'll report back here that I've just discovered Duluth Trading Company and their assortment of jeans and "firehose" pants. Got one of each in to try out and I love them already! The best part? Lifetime warranty on wear-through; and the price can't be beat either at <$70.

      • How’s the fit? I’ve heard their quality is awesome.

        • someguy

          Fit is excellent, better than any other jeans I’ve owned. Front pockets are a little deeper than most people would need but I don’t see that as a strike. Front pockets are also much easier to access than usual, even when sitting – enough so that I worried things might fall out but my work has me in odd positions sometimes and I’ve yet to lose anything from them. Pretty much everywhere I ever wished a pair of jeans had a little more give, (crotch, leg, pockets, whatever), these have just enough extra material to make it right, without being so much that it bunches or does anything odd. I’ve also gotten to test the firehose pants on the bike in the rain and the water just beads right off. (Now I just need a few more pair for when these are in the wash – Christmas wishlist time! 🙂

  • Ck

    Can you recommend a photoblog specifically for skinny guys? Love your tumblr; I’ve been looking for something like that with that focus.

    • You know, I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that’s geared specifically towards skinnier guys. That being said, most of men’s fashion is aimed at us right now.

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  • Carl Sagan

    As a muscular guy (5’11.5 @ 190lbs and lean) I’m literally SHOCKED at the extent and magnitude of vanity sizing.

    Case in point: I went out last weekend to pickup a grey shawl collared cardigan (very similar to the one Daniel Craig is wearing). I ended up going with a SMALL. Yes, a small.

    While I was out, I saw a wicked quilted jacket by Tommy Hilfiger. I decided to scoop one up. I started off trying the large. Waay too big. I was swimming in it. Then I tried on the medium. It was better, but was still a bit too big. Tried on the small and the fit was perfect.

    So, to all the guys out there that are in shape and hit the gym on the regular, don’t think automatically that you will never fit into a medium or small. Seriously, try shit on. It’s the only way to know what will fit you.

    • slumchop

      your stats arent “big guy” or even muscled they IMHO average for your height. try being 5’9″ 215 pounds at 5 or 6% body fat. LOL

      • araldo

        Exactly. These peoplee replying are normal sized lean guys that think they are big. Im 240 at 10%. People dont have to ask me if I workout. I have to buy xxl for my shoulders chest and arms but its huge in the waist.

    • coolstonerdude

      5’11 190 is small lol

      • jomo

        It depends, it depends, it depends. Like everything in life its relative. If a man is 5’11 and 190 but a 27 or 28 inch waist, a well developed and symmetrical chest with upper as well as lower pec development, sweeping quads and large butt and calves at 10% bodyfat then I will show u a frustrated man.
        Most natural bbers like myself appear much larger than we are and are also much stronger than we look. Its still a hassle to find clothes because shit nowadays and made for men that are built like little 15 yr old girls.

      • disqus_zaH3F8sr5E

        That’s actually average size for a man. You’re just fat dude.

  • disqus_FJnkpxGsAY

    Hey guys, try abercrombies muscular line. Awesome fit on big chests and arms. They are v-neck with 2 buttons, slim around the waist, solid colors, high quality. My husband looks very good in them and you will have them for a long time.

  • ArrrB

    My husband is 6’3″, 240lb, and built like an athlete. His problem is finding clothes that fit his arms. But then if he tries the “big and tall” sizes, they are too “tent-like” around the stomach and make it look like he’s wearing a smock. Most everything in stores is cut to the hipster, with skinny little arms. It’s sad, but perhaps this is what it’s like for larger women–all the cute things are in smaller sizes.

  • Marcus Broden

    lol at all mega-swole guys dissin 5’11 190 pounds and lean. Thats possibly bigger than Frank Zane in his prime, depending on how lean. If you’re fat as fuck, finding clothes is much easier. It’s being really asymmetrical with a tiny waist and swole muscles that makes finding clothes hard.