Vintage menswear: How your clothes can make you look stouter or slimmer, taller or shorter (1916)
From the Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, Neb.) January 30, 1916
Polite society never introduces the question of weight in the presence of Mr Spare or Mr Stout. Each of these gentlemen, though extreme opposites in most respects, has one thing in common — a distinct antipathy for the mention of the word “scales.”
Of course, when considered superlatively, it is only natural for Messrs Spare and Stout to envy the happy medium and to decry the old proverb about, “To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even than which he hath.”
The human anatomy, however, sometimes strives to follow out this parable in the most exasperating way.
Fortunately, there are mitigating circumstances. If the scales cannot be deceived about the amount of flesh and bone a man carries about with him, there is one thing that can – the human eye.
Both Mr Stout and Mr Spare can literally hoodwink this critical organ by wearing the proper kind of clothes.
If they are acquainted with the wonders that can be wrought by the sartorial art, whether it be practiced among the piles of readymades on the clothier’s counters or among the fabrics of the custom tailor, they can visibly lose or gain weight, just as they choose. It all depends upon the color, fit and pattern of the clothes they wear.
Antique menswear for the larger gentleman
For instance, let us take the fat man first, since he is more firmly anchored to this mundane sphere than his ethereal brother. Here we have a medium for the optical illusion which should call forth the highest form of the tailor’s art.
In such a case, color is generally the most important consideration. This should always be chosen from the darker shades, if possible, and the less conspicuous the pattern is, the better. There should certainly be no plaids or overplaids, at least.
If decoration of the pronounced sort is desired, then a fine hair-line stripe can be employed very effectively to impart added height and thereby lessen the apparent breadth of things.
There are some tailors and clothing dealers who will tell you that it’s all in the fit and cut of the clothes — that they can put a check suit on a stout man without accentuating his stoutness.
Certainly the style and snugness of fit have a lot to do with it, just as the quality and finish of the material used play so prominent a part.
But color is the first thing that catches the eye, and if a man chooses a checker-board pattern he will have a hard time in minimizing the size of the body it covers.
Generally speaking, the man of aldermanic proportions should favor the suit made of some smooth, hard worsted.
Naturally, it should be cut snugly, and the coat of the suit may well have the long-roll English lapel, with collar made as narrow as possible. It should have a slight cutaway, but not so as to reveal too much rotundity.
A double-breasted coat should never be worn by a fat man. Such a coat augments the equatorial dimensions, and, unless it is on the Norfolk order, takes away all semblance of style or shape from a suit of clothes.
Of course, there are many varieties of stout men, but the most difficult of any to fit, say the tailors, is the short, rotund individual, with the short, thick neck.
To fashion raiment about human architecture of this type is a difficult task, usually relieved only by the inherent good humor of the victim himself.
The trousers can be made with little difficulty, and the vest can generally be fashioned suitably, but the coat requires consummate art in its fit about the shoulders and neck.
When a man of this build persists in wearing one of those very low, turnover collars, it is almost impossible to make the coat collar and lapel fit as they should. In the case of the vest, there should be no lapel or vest collar at all.