It is no secret that I have proportions on the heavier side of the norm, and certainly a lot heavier than the ready-to-wear world would deem worthy of accomodating. I stand a not particularly tall 181cm, my weight fluctuates between 100 to 105 kilograms, and I am usually about a 46" chest on a 39" waist. I tend to be a tailors nightmare, as I have a broad chest and thick arms, but still with a large drop. Only one tailor I know has ever said that my proportions are good for tailoring - Yuhei Yamamoto of Caid Tailors. I suspect my heavy build conjures images of a 50’s New Yorker for him - well fed on a diet of burgers and pie, and as American as a Japanese Ivy League fanatic could imagine.
What I have learnt, however, is that for all the things the heavy set man cannot wear, from ankle choking jeans that afflict the early 20’s crowd lately to bermudas and tee shirts, there are some things that almost demand the extra weight to properly effect.
There are some garments that I think benefit from a larger frame to carry them, chief amongst them being the traditional 3 piece suit. With the full leg and high waist of the trouser, the shorter and trim girdle of a waistcoat, and the soft roll of a draped chest coat. Properly tailored, and that is tantamount to the bigger gent, a three piece in a dark formal cloth can amplify the gravitas a bigger man will often possess.
The secret here, although it is no secret to anyone that has studied the likes of Jackie Gleason or James Robertson Justice later in their careers, is that drape and depth are an imperative. And while it is the coat that most men remark upon, and where the significant attention the novice bespoke client lies, a well cut trouser is to a bigger man of the greatest significance. A few tips I have found that have aided me in all my significant girth are as follows;
Depth of rise - The tendency for skimpy, hip riding trousers is an abomination that any man hoping to be viewed as such and not the opposite sex should avoid. This is never more true than in a man built properly through the hips and seat.
As the hips and seat fill out, they also tend to draw upwards. The slim man has hips that begin at the shelf of the hipbone, while the bigger man will find it extending upwards towards the natural waist. The hips grow in proportion and the waist shortens.
Those of us that have put any real thought and study into dressing well are aware that a man cannot look good without looking elegant, and he cannot be elegant unless he is comfortable. Hitching at a low slung trouser and fearing the exposure of a creased shirt tail every time you sit severely inhibits the chances of looking elegant.
The depth of rise should be sufficient that you can sit and stand without the trouser needing to be adjusted each time. If your shirt tails are billowing from the back of your waistband after sitting, you can afford a higher back rise.
Personally I have found that a fishtail trouser worn beneath a waistcoat is an elegant, if slightly archaic option. When I am in three pieces, however, the waistcoat stays on, so the exposure of my braces and fishtail back is unlikely.
Braces - On that point, the trouser is built to hang from the shoulder. I know the proportions of my waist, much like my thigh, tends to shift between sitting and standing, so a slightly looser waist - 2/3 of an inch while standing is usually a safe allowance - and braces to keep the trousers at the correct position makes for a far more comfortable experience.
The brace over belt argument is also supported by the back rise issue - a longer back rise needs to be anchored higher than a belt could usually allow. Hung from the shoulder, however, the trouser falls clean from waistband through the seat and thigh, and there is no unsightly roping to break the vertical line of the leg.
Stride - Seemingly a factor misunderstood by most ready to wear manufacturers is the principle of stride - the difference in volume of the thigh between standing straight to leg crooked. What tends to happen here is twofold - the distribution of weight in the leg shifts, and the back rise through to the knee lengthens as the leg bends. This causes the thigh to occupy all of the extra rise height we have offered in the back of the trouser, and shift forward and down in the front of the trouser leg. Here, without the extra allowance in volume at the thigh, the trouser grips the fronts of the legs, strains the back rise, and leaves a trouser with sharp creases splaying out from the inside leg.
Taper in a trouser is important, especially for a big man - we don’t want to look like we are in oxford bags - but taper it is. There must be enough room in the upper leg to justify the gradual narrowing to the cuff.
Pleats - Hand in hand with the above, and an unpopular choice for nearly all men of my generation, are pleated trousers. The perception of 80’s era chinos with pintuck like pleats cascading from a low riding waistband has poisoned the minds of many from common sense.
Pleats are for medium to high waisted trousers, not low. Pleats should have enough volume, and the waistband not be so tight, that the pleats can accordion open when needed, and fall closed again when standing straight.
The other need for pleats for us bigger men is the visual break it gives the expanse of lap that a full hip creates. Broken evenly with one or two pleats, the trouser fronts are seemingly quartered and diminished. The clean, flat front on a rounder lower torso and hip begins looking like a globe of the earth in its unbroken fullness.
Taper - The taper in the leg depends on two main measurements - that of the hip and of the shoe. None of us want to look like overgrown Oompa-Loompas, shortened to a pear shape with tiny feet beneath a massive waist. At least I hope none of my audience here wants that. Nor do we want to look like Daffy Duck with rail thin ankles and paddles of feet beneath, so the last of our shoe, its size, and how we taper the trouser is important.
I have big feet myself - about a 44 European, so I favour shorter, rounder toed shoes with narrow waists and slightly taller heels and thicker soles. It makes for a shoe that isn’t overly long on my already big feet, but has enough weight at the sole to carry my build, while the narrow waist keeps it looking elegant rather than clumsy.
Conversely, someone with a small foot relative to their height might choose a longer, chiseled last that helps extend the length of foot below the trouser cuff. Or a heavy, gunboat style that will overall add visual weight to the foot.
The taper of the trouser needs to follow the same rules - we neither want to look unbalanced by an extreme taper, nor missing our feet by trousers that flap around too full and long. A good rule of thumb for the bigger gent is that the trouser should fall to the shoe with the gentlest of breaks in the front, and cover the top two or three eyelets of the shoe. A cuff of some depth will help keep the trouser stationed on the foot, and provide the visual weight to balance our, ahem, generous waists.
Much can be said about pattern and colour, their visual weights and how they affect the appearance of a bigger man, but for every rule there is someone whose style and panache is able to squash said rules entirely. I try to remind myself that I am accentuating the vertical as much as possible, especially in the lower body, and setting elegance as the marker of success.
There are some other points that Us bigger folk can carry that a more diminutive build cannot - lapels that look generous on a bigger man can come across as overwhelming on a smaller man. The classical full overlap of a double breasted suit that can look straight jacket like on a small man is entirely appropriate over a fuller girth. And the softer, longer extension of shoulder that is loved by the Northern tailors often balances a larger waist and creates the appearance of a drop from chest to waist, while the smaller man can end up looking like a scarecrow in it.
The soft drape of chest that was the hallmark of the Scholte cut gives a louche elegance to the bigger man, and adds the feel of generosity and ease that elegance demands.
And that brings us back to the original tenet of this piece - Gravitas. Picture Babe Ruth in his bigger years wearing a vested suit with all the softness and comfort as he did his baseball uniform. And in it he commanded respect by his very physicality. He had a gravitas to take something severe and humble it.
But the best example of a bigger man that could put to shame any more regularly proportioned clotheshorse is Jackie Gleason. His portrayal as Minnesota Fats in the 1961 classic “The Hustler”, he epitomizes elegance and gravitas, next to a fidgeting, sweaty and disheveled Paul Newman.
Gleason, a renowned clotheshorse in his personal life, spends the film in a three piece suit with a carnation in his buttonhole. With every shot he takes, his 270 pound figure looks as graceful as sometimes only a big man can be.
ohh do you have some of the quotes and references to sexuality that johnny makes in his book please?
‘They were lively nights, and I sat on the floor, watching and listening to handsome men and pretty women rocking as the night got more raucous and the bottle caps flew off.’ (p. 14)
‘If it’s not exactly 100 per cent true that ‘clothes maketh the man,’ then it’s definitely a fact that clothes can maketh the man look a bit more interesting to girls and to other boys too.’ (p. 26)
‘Marc Bolan became my idol. I collected every poster and photo of him I could find, usually from girls’ magazines like Jackie, and I went to the cinema to see his film Born to Boogie. Like George Best and Bruce Lee, Marc Bolan was small, audacious and good-looking, but best of all he was a pop star who played the guitar.’ (p. 28 - 29)
‘Buying ‘Jeepster’ as my first record was a total fluke. It could have worked out differently had it not been for the picture of Bolan and Mickey Finn on the label.’ (p. 29)
‘My friend Tony was a beautiful creature, another Bowie fan, with a blonde Ziggy haircut, high cheekbones, and green eyes like a Siamese cat. He wore red Oxford bags with white platforms and a black harrington jacket. Tony was three years older than me and was the first guy I knew who was openly gay.’ (p. 43 - 44)
‘We were together a lot, and it got some people talking, which didn’t bother me at all - we had a lot of things in common and plenty to talk about. The two of us were in Piccadilly Gardens one Saturday afternoon just after I’d had my hair cut. We were waiting at the bus stop when two big uglies with north Manchester accents came over and started making cooing noises and blowing kisses. I looked at Tony’s face as he continued talking to me, and I could see he was aware of the situation. ‘Eh,’ said one of the lads, ‘are you queers?’ They were obviously up for a fight. I readied myself for the inevitable as Tony continued to talk to me with his back to the goons and appeared to be ignoring their remarks until one pushed him in the back and said, ‘Eh, y’fuckin’ queer.’ With that, Tony grabbed my head and kissed me on the lips for what seemed like a very long time, then spun around and attacked the biggest of the two with really hard punches to the face until the lad went on to his knees. He then grabbed the other guy, who was backing off, punched him very hard in the face and threw him down into the road full of traffic. I thought the guy was going to be killed, and as we ran off towards the train station Tony turned to me and said, ‘That was nice’ and then, laughing, he added, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t do it again.’ On the train home in my platforms and Budgie jacket, I looked at Tony and thought about ‘All The Young Dudes’: ‘Now Lucy looks sweet ‘cause he dresses like a queen. But he can kick like a mule, it’s a real mean team.’ I loved the song, and there was no doubting it, pop music was for me and my friends.’ (p. 44 - 45)
‘John’s hair was always tinted some shade of blue, red or green, and unusually for the times he was very ‘out’ as a young gay man, in a way that was brave and inspiring.’ (p. 123)
‘[The Smiths, for their first gig] also planned to do a song by the girl group The Cookies, called ‘I Want a Boy for My Birthday’, which I realised would send out a message that not only didn’t bother me but which I was fairly amused by and quite excited about.’ (p. 132 - 133) (You can listen to a demo of I Want a Boy for My Birthday that Morrissey and Johnny recorded in Johnny’s bedroom in 1982 here!)
‘Morrissey had suggested that for the gig we invite his friend James Maker to introduce us. I didn’t know James, but I thought that being introduced for our first show sounded good, and when I discovered that he would be wearing high-heeled stiletto shoes while he did it, I liked the idea even more.’ (p. 136)
‘I stood with Marilyn, the so-called gender-bending pop prince, who was on before us. I couldn’t work out if he was nervous or aloof; he seemed to be both. We were looking at each other, but we didn’t speak. Maybe he thought we were provincial nobodies. I couldn’t tell. What I did know was that his record wasn’t very good but he looked totally gorgeous.’ (p. 188)
‘I liked living in Earls Court. It was good being able to walk around the streets at all hours, and it was good that I liked being around Australians and gay guys too, as Earls Court in 1984 was swarming with backpacks and leather vests.’ (p. 201)
‘There was a whole generation of American boys who were dissatisfied with the model of masculinity they had been expected to conform to and that was irrelevant and totally out of date. They saw in the British bands a way of being that was anti-macho and pro-androgyny, where the question of whether you were gay or straight didn’t matter at all.’ (p. 222 - 223)
‘[Billy Bragg] came to my studio and liked the track [Johnny had been working on], and over the next few days we made the single ‘Sexuality’, with me producing. It was a great pop song with brilliant lyrics.’ (p. 310)
I think there are actually a few more, but those are the ones I tabbed!
At Cambridge University, Cecil Beaton drew a similar crowd of aesthetes, including Stephen Tennant. Beaton, who described himself as ‘really a terrible, terrible homosexualist and [I] try so hard not to be’, was often to be seen on the streets of Cambridge wearing ‘an evening jacket, red shoes, black-and-white trousers, and a huge blue cravat’; and as the weather got colder ‘he brightened the Cambridge scene with an outfit comprising fur gauntlet gloves, a cloth-of-gold tie, a scarlet jersey and Oxford bags’.
was the time of jazz, prohibition and silent-movie era of Hollywood. Rudolph Valentino was the super star of
the decade. What ever he wore in his movies was the fashion statement that all
man followed world-wide. In the early 1920 ties high-wasted jackets were
in, lapels on suit jackets were not very wide as they tended to be buttoned up
high influenced by the style of military uniforms. But as time went on and
party time flourished, men’s fashion also relaxed and got the elegant, more
relaxed flavor. In the years of 1925-1929, wider trousers commonly
known as Oxford bags came into fashion, while double-breasted suit jackets
with stripes returned to a normal waist and lapels became wider and were
often worn peaked.
the time of working with Mr. Karl Lagerfeld we often went trough the old black
and white photos of the time of 20-ties. Karl especially loved to
show me photos of Rudolf Valentino as the reference for our photo shoots.
Photos above are those photos and you can see the final results; Editorial for Interview magazine and Men’s campaign for Vogue, designed and photographed by Karl Lagerfeld and me as the model. I hope you
will enjoy this photo spread.”
Morning runs under the bridge. I accidentally slept in this morning but I still went on my usual run. I ran to the war memorial and back home which is about 12km, right beside the river. I spent sometime taking in my surroundings and appreciating the magic of the world. I did come across a rather strange scene, which involved a pile of discarded clothing (and nice looking clothing at that), an empty Oxford shopping bag, a drink bottle and Woolworth shopping. Now it’s time for the long awaited breakfast, my fav meal if the day.