How Men Can Dress According to Body Type

May 13, 2020 Updated: May 13, 2020

Last week, I introduced the art of dressing according to your body type and featured five talented female designers. This week, let’s look at men and get sporty with four exceptional athletes as examples. 

Unlike the alphabet letters that characterize women’s body shapes, we can use geometric forms to identify men’s body shapes: the inverted triangle, the trapezoid, the oval, and the rectangle.

michael phelps
Michael Phelps. (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for LA28)

Inverted Triangle: Michael Phelps

The inverted triangle body shape is characterized by the shoulders and chest being significantly broader than the waist and hips. This body type is seen in athletes who do bodybuilding or swimming; Michael Phelps is the perfect example. To enhance this type of silhouette, men have to shop smart: the goal is to add a bit of volume at the waist to balance the whole torso.

Tops: Look for V-neck tops or T-shirts; the neckline gives the illusion of a slimmer chest. For shirts, slim fits or semi-slim fits are best. Different brands have different slim-fit standards, so remember to try on the shirt before buying it. Make sure it has enough room or stretch for your arms.

shirt
Brad Pitt Short Sleeves Shirt by Alexander McQueen.
(Courtesy of Matchesfashion)
suit
Single Breasted Blazer by Dolce & Gabbana. (Courtesy of Matchesfashion)
pants
Twill Chino Pants by Noon Goons. (Courtesy of Matchesfashion)

Suits: The most important thing to look for in a suit is that it fits your shoulder span perfectly. Now, you might get the perfect fit on your shoulders and chest, but find that it’s loose around the waist. The only solution is to have it trimmed. This alteration is essential for this body shape. Try to choose jackets that have a regular lapel. Lapels that are too thin will give the illusion that your shoulders are disproportionate.

Pants: For athletic builds, the quads need room, so the best option is the straight cut. It has a relaxed feel and is slightly tapered at the bottom, providing comfort and mobility.

What to Avoid: For tops, avoid too many details, such as large prints, obvious patch pockets (with contrast stitching), horizontal stripes, and jackets with shoulder pads. These accentuate your chest and shoulders—you have no need for that. As for the bottom, avoid skinny pants.

Russell Wilson
Russell Wilson. (Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

Trapezoid: Russell Wilson

The trapezoid body shape is the most balanced one, and is used the most as a model when manufacturing clothing. So, yes, Russell Wilson is lucky in that he can wear pretty anything he wants. The shoulders and chest are rather large and the silhouette is slightly tapered at the waist and hips, but the definition between the chest and the waist is more harmonious and balanced than the inverted triangle shape. Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man illustrates this body shape perfectly.

Epoch Times Photo
Cotton Pique Polo Shirt by Frescobol Carioca. (Courtesy of Matchesfashion)
jacket
Suede Bomber Jacket by The Row. (Courtesy of Matchesfashion)
jeans
Straight Leg Washed Jeans by The Row. (Courtesy of Matchesfashion)

Tops: The stretch is your friend. When choosing a polo top, don’t hesitate to pick one that has some stretch. The same goes for shirts. Go for slim-fits; they will accentuate your perfect shape. If you want to appear taller, opt for vertical stripes on your shirts. If you want to give the illusion of a bigger torso, go for checkered shirts. For casual jackets, choose ones that sit at the waist or at the hips; they will define your silhouette more.

Suits: Look for a slim fit. Again, it will fit you like a glove. And if you want to make your waist slimmer and accentuate your chest, a single-button blazer will do the trick.

Pants: You can wear slim-fitted pants, since your legs are not too bulky, or you can go with a straight cut that sits at the waist and is tapered at the bottom. If you want to get noticed, go for printed bottoms—jacquard in the winter and plaid or stripes in the summer.

What to Avoid. You can pretty much wear anything but baggy clothes. Stick to clothes with a closer fit for a clean and sophisticated look.

shaquille o'neal
Shaquille O’Neal (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Carnival Cruise Line)

Oval Shape: Shaquille O’Neal

Regardless of your height, if your shoulders and hips are aligned while your chest is larger, then you have an oval body shape. The goal is to highlight your silhouette.

Tops: People with an oval body shape often look for clothes that are a size or two bigger, or fit loosely. The idea that the garment has a billowing effect and doesn’t stick to the body is comforting. But a loose garment doesn’t actually hide your curves; it just emphasizes them. On the other hand, a too-small, super tight top won’t define anything; it will just make you look bigger. The key is to choose a top in your size and play with the style, motifs, and fit. Shirts and sweaters are the most structured pieces of clothing for this body shape. Tops with clean shoulders, a structured collar, and a good fit are your best allies.

Don’t be afraid to wear well-fitted garments, as they will highlight the shoulders and make your figure look slimmer. Opt for solid colors for knits, and fine stripes or delicate prints for shirts.

shirt
Chest Pocket Striped Shirt by Comme Des Garçons.
(Courtesy of Matchesfashion)
jacket
Single Breasted Jacket by Polo Ralph Lauren. (Courtesy of Matchesfashion)
pants
Tonga Cotton Twill Pants by The Gigi. (Courtesy of Matchesfashion)

Suits: Choose a fitted suit that accentuates the volume of your shoulders to balance out the volume of your chest and waist. Basically, you are looking for a V shape to create the illusion of a slimmer waist. Finally, look for a single-breasted blazer with three buttons. Always button the top one to keep the illusion of a smaller waist.

Pants: Remember that the thighs are usually bigger than the calves, so go with straight-cut or semi-fitted pants. Both styles should be worn at the waist. If worn below the waist, the stomach will fall over the belt, making it appear larger.

What to Avoid. Avoid both extremes—baggy clothes and super tight clothes. Make the following switches in your wardrobe: Opt for suspenders instead of belts, try overalls instead of jeans, and pick out a few hats—fedoras are the best.

tom brady
Tom Brady. (Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Rectangle: Tom Brady

This shape typically describes men who are tall, slim, and lean. Tom Brady isn’t slim but his body proportions are all well-aligned: the shoulders, waist, and hips are on the same line. To avoid a “block shape” effect, it’s best to create some contrast. Men in this category should choose garments that make the shoulders look wider and the waist slimmer.

striped top
Long Sleeve Striped Top by Brunello Cucinelli. (Courtesy of Matchesfashion)
Epoch Times Photo
Cotton Blend Slim Pants by Incotex. (Courtesy of Matchesfashion)
Epoch Times Photo
Reversible Wool and Cotton Overcoat by Mackintosh.
(Courtesy of Matchesfashion)

Tops: Nautical tops are perfect for the rectangle shape. Horizontal stripes will give the illusion of a wider torso. Go for mock necks and turtlenecks, as they appear to make the chest look wider. For shirts, choose ones with chest pockets or shoulder tabs. For T-shirts, have fun with different prints: try block prints or thick horizontal stripes.  

Suits: Look for a slim fit. It will define your shoulders and give shape to your waist. Aside from the suit, try a longer, knee-length coat. It will create equilibrium and balance from your shoulders to your knees.

Pants: If your legs are slim, wear straight-leg or semi-fitted pants. Semi-fitted pants will be roomy at the hips and slimmer at the ankles, creating a nice harmony.

What to Avoid: Any vertical stripes, whether on tops or bottoms, are not recommended. Also avoid super skinny pants, the ones that are so tight that they look like leggings. Overall, too-tight pants and vertical stripes give the illusion of a longer body.