Suits for Big Men: Fit and Style Tips for Big Bellies
Barrel-chested. Pot belly. Paunchy. Big. These are all words often used to weaponize the bodies that match them. Just because you aren’t sporting washer board abs doesn’t mean you are doomed to dress like a slob and don’t let anyone tell you any different! One of the founding principles of the Oliver Wicks collection is that every man deserves a suit that fits like he was born to wear it, and today we’re here to unpack the biggest fashion secret of them all- big guys can look great in a suit. In fact, with the right suit to back you, you can turn all those words into your fashionable secret weapon, leveraging your presence and stature to create a powerful look that brings the attention back where it belongs- the unique man wearing it. Today we’ll show you how.
As a heavy-set or hefty man, chances are you feel resigned to drab, unflattering, and boring clothing. Luckily, there’s no reason to stay there. While finding the right clothing for your body type can be a bit of a headache the minute you don’t tick the ‘default’ box, half of the art of dressing well is in knowing what works and what doesn’t for your unique quirks. Let’s walk step-by-step through some fashion tips and tricks for larger bellies that will help you easily conquer the world of sartorial elegance. And remember, if you're looking for great tips to help you dress well no matter your circumstances, the Oliver Wicks newsletter is crammed with useful info to help- and you can sign up in minutes from any page on our website, too.
The standard fashion advice for anyone heavier is to ‘de-emphasize bulk, emphasize length’. And it’s actually fantastic advice! The issue is that, for many of us with non-svelte physiques, we take that as ‘hide yourself as much as possible.’ If coverage is good, more coverage must be better, right?
Honestly, no. Remember the Oliver Wicks slogan? The fit that suits you. Excess fabric does no one any favors, and the effect worsens as you get bigger. While it’s tempting to pick the loosest fit possible and hide yourself in it, the baggy and oversized fabric actually adds bulk and girth rather than taking it away. So it draws attention where you least want it.
Today you’ll find three basic ‘cuts’ or ‘styles’ in men’s suits- slim, modern, and relaxed or classic. We’ve looked at each in greater depth in the articles linked, but in summary:
- Slim fits like a glove, with little room to maneuver
- Modern follows the contour of the body but with wriggle room to spare
- Relaxed is the cut most associated with the looser suits of the 50s
Do note that none of these cuts are baggy or unstyled.. Even the roomier cut of relaxed should still be well tailored and shaped to the body wearing it. Which you will choose does depend on other factors, including your taste and where you are wearing the suit, but most big men feel that it’s relaxed or nothing, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, most larger men are best suited by the roomy, but shaped, the look of the modern cut. This reduces the added bulk of excess fabric without making you feel like you’re going to bust out of your suit at any moment. So don’t be afraid to experiment with whichever you prefer.
If you’re packing a paunch, the ‘stance’, or position, of your buttons will be critical to looking good. You want the apex of the button closure to match your belly well so you don’t spill out on top or below the jacket. Worth noting - Our tailors will handle the button-stance height adjustments for you - We wouldn’t expect clients to have to work this out themselves. Remember, classic men’s single breasted suits will only ever fasten one or two buttons (on 3-button suits), and you don’t want to strain them. The jacket should fit neatly, closing easily without excess fabric causing wrinkles or stretching the fabric over your body. If you carry more of your weight in the chest than the belly, the same goes- you want an easy, comfortable closure that doesn’t leave your shirt and body spilling out of the jacket like it is too small for you. For barrel-chested men, look closely at your lapels- if they’re buckled or stretched, size the jacket up accordingly.
For larger men, vests are always worth considering. Not only are they neat, smart, and dapper, but they offer you the perfect opportunity to minimize the shirtfront on show. As shirts are typically lighter than the suit, having too much ‘real estate’ of the lighter color on the show often creates a paunchy effect, highlighting the front of the body too much. And that’s the last thing you want if you already have your own paunch! Opt for a single-breasted (front-fastening) vest. These classically have angular hems, which draw the eye and avoid bisecting you straight across, creating a pleasing visual line.
Talking about bisecting the body, it’s time for the big guy 101- dangling your pants under your belly does you no favors. It can feel strange wearing your pants at your ‘real’ waist if that’s the widest point of your body, but spilling out the top of your pants will always look worse and emphasize the wrong part of your physique. An artful pleat front adds some visual interest while also allowing you room to move, but bigger men can wear flat-front pants, too, if they prefer. Remember, tons of excess material don’t ‘hide’ anything and can do the opposite- bring attention straight where you don’t want it. A balanced taper, like in the modern fit, will leave you enough fabric in the calves and ankles to create a balanced silhouette without making you lose all your shape.
Your tie is probably the last thing you’re thinking of if you’re worried about a belly- but here’s where the subtle art of style will work very much in your favor. As a bigger guy, you want a broader tie to match. Why? Because a skinny and insipid tie will only emphasize your size. Balancing it out well with a broad tie (think 3” and over) will not only draw attention up the body to your face but also create a perfectly balanced and elegant silhouette. And if you have a heavy or broad face, that goes double. The right tie will slim you down in all the right ways. File that under good-to-know, right?
Did you know that belts aren’t the height of men’s elegant dressing? Suspenders are still the go-to choice for black tie eventing, and anywhere you are required to wear a tuxedo and are actually considered the more elegant of the pair. That’s great news for larger men, especially if your bulk lies in the belly area. Not only can you comfortably wear your pants exactly where they’re meant to sit, but you don’t have the constraint of a belt pressing on your belly, and you’ll look infinitely more elegant too. It’s a win-win.
Side tabs! If you’re not into belts or suspenders, then this is a brilliant, clean-looking option. A major plus here is that side tabs offer adjustability, so you can have a perfectly-fitting waist at all times.
Yes, you can! Vertical patterns help to elongate the body, and with a medium-to-wide spacing, can be a great way to add visual interest without being overwhelming. It’s time to stop hiding and let your personality shine.
Now you know more about styling a bigger belly or chest well, let’s finish off with some simple and practical tips that will help you elevate your style game even further.
- Dark colors: Not only are darker colors, like navy, charcoal, and black, super-slimming, but they’re also the most elegant and useful of men’s suit colors.
- Tailor Well: Excess material won’t hide your body but rather emphasize the wrong aspects. A well-tailored look will always make you feel great. Investing in a made-to-measure custom suit from Oliver Wicks rather than something that sort-of fits will be the single biggest game changer for anyone worried about looking their best. And you can see one of our suit offerings in action, too.
- No Baggage: Baggy clothes drag you down, making you look shorter and wider. Stick to clean lines that fit well.
- Breathing Room: Avoid fitting shirts too closely to your chest at the expense of your stomach if you’re heavier in that area. Your shirt should fit your body well and not be too loose over the chest, but you also want breathing room rather than to strain your buttons.
- Pick Your Weight: Of fabric that is! Lighter suit fabrics are often best for paunchy men, allowing you to stay comfortable without the heavier bulk.
- No Equators: Sharp horizontal cuts are unflattering at the widest point of any body, especially at the belly. Angled cuts and the simplicity of the single breasted suit design will help create lines that draw attention up to your face instead. They make you seem taller, too.
There’s no body that doesn’t deserve to look great- and no reason you need to hide from the world, either! Mall suits can be miserably difficult to size well for larger (or smaller) gentlemen, and opting for made-to-measure solves these issues, and gets you into a great suit at affordable pricing. Dressing well with a bigger belly is not only possible, but surprisingly simple to achieve if you know what works well on physiques like yours. Hopefully, you now feel a lot more confident about dressing well, no matter your size. And remember, our helpful team of expert tailors is always happy to hear from you, so don’t be shy to drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org either.