Power of Porportions for Short Men

One out of three men in the U.S. is under 1.73 meters tall. You'd never guess the magnitude of the demographic from menswear.

"They have stores for big and tall men, so why not for shorter men?" asks Josh Lefkowitz, who describes his height as 1.61 meters. A New York public-relations executive, Mr. Lefkowitz likes to buy a jacket in size 36 short and take it to a tailor.

To make a U.S. size seven shoe fit, he buys inserts to fill out the extra space.

Yet when standard-size clothes are altered for a man like Mr. Lefkowitz, the final proportions can come out all wrong. Simply shortening a suit's hems and sleeves can leave the collar too broad, the pockets oversize, the armholes gargantuan, the elbow curves too low and the rear droopy.

All this can make a small man look even smaller. "Taller men can get away with having things look a little baggy," says Mr. Lefkowitz. But the wrong fit "can make us look schlumpy."

Height, for a man, is the ultimate power marker. An added centimeter of height is equivalent to an extra $12,000 year of salary, on average, when it comes to attracting a mate, says Andrew Trees, author of "Decoding Love," a book about the science of attraction. Height also affects earnings -- though less dramatically: Each centimeter earns you about $240 more a year in salary after controlling for variables such as education, he says.

Yet there is one thing that supersedes height: The perception of height. Men who got early growth spurts but wound up short are often perceived to be taller than they are, says Mr. Trees, suggesting that the reason lies in their carriage. The reverse is also true: Men who became tall later on are often perceived as shorter than they are -- possibly because they learned early to think of themselves as short.

This suggests that short men can seem taller or shorter, depending on how they present themselves. A key element is wearing clothes with the right proportions. A small man wearing oversize clothes risks looking like he's dressing up in Dad's clothes -- emphasizing his diminutive stature.

Tom Hevey, a real-estate investor in Massachusetts discovered the power of the right fit last August when he stumbled across one of the few stores in the U.S. that cuts clothes proportionately small for short men -- "Jimmy Au's For Men 5'8" and Under." Sizes at the store, which is located on a side street in Beverly Hills, start at 34 extra-short.

Jimmy Au's is a rarity -- a niche store that caters to the shorter one-third of the U.S. population. While small men can find suitable sizes online at places like Forthefit.com, most of the big retailers I spoke with -- including upscale Saks Fifth Avenue -- said it doesn't pay to cater to small men. It's more profitable to focus on the bulge in the bell curve, sending their shorter clients to tailors.

Moreover, it's hard to sell clothes to a group that some people prefer not to be identified with. Mr. Hevey, who is 47 years old, says he very nearly didn't go into Jimmy Au's because he resented the name's reference to height. At 1.65 meters, he says, he doesn't consider himself short. "I guess I'm sensitive about that, and I don't want to be labeled that way," Mr. Hevey says.

Mr. Au, who stands 1.57 meters, carries smaller sock sizes, shoes down to a men's size five and styles that run the gamut from jeans to tuxedos. His sizes take into consideration all sorts of body types, such as "Portly Short," "Athletic Short" and "Extra Short." The key, he says, is in the proportions -- his clothes are designed with smaller pockets, slightly narrower collars and sleeves, and higher crotches.

Racks in the store are five centimeters lower than they are in most stores, and shorter sizes are thoughtfully placed on bottom shelves. Many men's stores, oddly, place shorter sizes on top.

The bias against short men is apparent even in Mr. Au's store windows. Unable to buy shorter mannequins, Mr. Au turned to a Hollywood special-effects studio that makes crash dummies for action movies -- the kind that get blown up in chase scenes. I noticed a resemblance to one famous A-list action-movie star who is under 1.72 meters -- but Mr. Au wouldn't name names.

Mr. Au's clientele is a who's who of professionals from careers that favor the short of height, with jockeys, astronauts and jet pilots among them. The store's publicity materials list the stars it has dressed for film and television -- though the stars themselves aren't always comfortable with being publicly identified as short. On a recent day, Mr. Au and his son, Alan Au, were discussing outfits that they were sending over to participants at the Grammy awards.

After his visit to the store in August, Mr. Hevey left with a suit, three sport coats, five shirts, two pairs of jeans and seven pairs of khakis. Finally, he had clothes that "fit like clothes fit a (1.88-meter) guy," Mr. Hervey says. The difference was "huge," he adds. "When I tried on a pair of pants, my wife got teary-eyed."

Mr. Hevey has since ordered two more big shipments from Mr. Au, including having a winter wardrobe shipped to Massachusetts sight unseen. "I get compliments from people who say, 'Something's different about you.'"


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