Big guys dont want to be treated like freaks: the plus-sized menswear revolution

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British humankinds are getting taller, larger and broader and the high street is eventually catching up

The energy at online garment store Asos hits you as soon as you enter its art deco London headquarters. The place is youthful , noisy, overwhelming. It is also proudly democratic in the sense that it wants to offer fashionable clothes for everyone. Not, I suppose, because it is on some great mission to change “the worlds”, but because its not just perfectly honed young men and women who will pay to look good.

I am getting a guided tour from the companys brand creative administrator, John Mooney. He is spearheading Asoss drive to improve its offering to what might euphemistically be called the bigger boy. I am keen on this euphemism because I am one of those bigger men: 6ft 4in tall; 40 in-plus waist; carrying a lot of extra poundage. My mom kindly describes me as big-boned; others would say fat.

Either way, for me shopping has always been an disagreeable and often pointless experience a procession of garments that, even when they exclaimed themselves large-scale, came nowhere near fitting me. I gave up shopping for clothes about 20 years ago, apart from the occasional desperate raid to find something that would just about do. If I did find something( a pair of M& S XL stretch jeans, a black XL top from Lands End) I would buy half a dozen and hope theyd ascertain me through. They were, in every appreciation, distress purchases, and I had adopted a uniform: all black, uninspired, unchanging, shapeless, boring.

Hence this visit to Asos, which over the past couple of months has been widening its menswear scopes up to 6XL, to indicate the size that many blokes actually are, rather than what high-end designers might opt them to be. Its been catering for bigger women for the past five years( the curve sector reports for 20% of Asoss womenswear marketings) but now bigger men are get the same care. The key, says head of menswear design Nick Eley, is to offer plus-sized customers exactly what is available to everyone else, but cut in such a way that it caters for different torso shapes tall and skinny, broad-spectrum and athletic, big and tubby. Its amazing how poorly this market has been catered for in the past, he says.

One problem has been receiving simulates for the new sizes. Were having to teach simulate agencies eyes, tells Jordan Shiel, who books the menswear models at Asos. We also have to go out there and find our own.

One of its frameworks, 23 -year-old Nemar Parchment, was spotted in-house operating as a buyers administrative helper. Parchment initially hated the idea of modelling, but eventually arrived round, and has now switched careers. He reckons he is part of a major transformation in demonstrating mens torsoes as they are, rather than as designers fetishise them, and says that can only be for the very best: Determining other big and tall guys might help people accept themselves more.

Another Asos plus-sized framework, Scott Bayliss, was spotted by Shiel at a music festival in Bristol. We ensure him from afar, mentions Shiel. He had a really cool outfit on and was personable and confident, and that always translates into marketings. Bayliss, who was acting before abruptly being pitched into modelling, has now been signed up by a plus-sized agency in Germany, where the curve marketplace is ahead of the UKs.

One UK agency has already got the message Bridge, which has induced plus-sized models its USP. We launched two and a half years ago, initially just for the curve marketplace, says administrator Charlotte Griffiths. A years ago it introduced a mens divide, with chunky, bearded personal trainer Ben Whit as its first simulate. Ben is incredibly healthy, but he has a bit of a paunch and a broad-spectrum chest, mentions Griffiths. He represents the 21 st-century human who wants to shop for clothes and doesnt want to have to go into a different section to buy them. Bridge has just signed up Olympic discus thrower Brett Morse, who vied for Team GB at London 2012.

There is an acceptance now that bigger guys can also be cool, says Mooney, at Asos. Its a terrible thing to have to say, because why werent they allowed to celebrate it before? You require people out there as figureheads to be able to say, Its OK to wear clothes like this. You can also look good. He mentions Brit award-winner RagnBone Man and singer MNEK as big guys who dress stylishly. You dont have to look like Harry Styles any more to get a break in music or, indeed, fashion.

In truth, I probably wont be wearing Asos, despite its admirable is committed to garmenting all shapes and sizes: the hoodies, sweatshirts, rent jeans and floral shirts are aimed at twentysomethings, and I left my 20 s behind some time deep in the past century. But I can( just about) imagine myself wearing River Island, where I once bought some XL T-shirts that virtually fitted. In future, I will have more choice, because last month it also launched a Big and Tall range, extending its sizes across 117 lines. It will offer every size up to 4XL, which equates to a 55 in chest and a 48 in waist, more than big enough even for me.

There ought to have retailers offering plus sizes, but what is offered is quite dull, tells Nick Tahir, River Islands head of menswear buying. Where we realize the possibilities of is to offer manner. Research suggests that one in five men “re looking for a” broader give of bigger sizes.

The median male waist sizing in the UK has been rising over the past decades and is currently just under 38 in. If that is the average, quite a few humen will be well above it, but you wouldnt know that when you shop. At Bentalls department store there is a large part dwelling designer clothes for men, but find any waist sizings above 38 in in jeans or moderately chic trousers is well-nigh impossible.

Nemar
Asoss Nemar Parchment was spotted in-house working as a buyers admin deputy. Photo: Asos plus at Asos.com

I stray down Regent Street in central London one evening to appreciate what I can find in my sizing in some well-known storages. In H& M, where I feel like an alien, there is nothing bigger than XL. In Desigual I do find an XXL shirt, which is white, semi-transparent, has only one ugly pattern, barely fits and constructs me feel like a third-rate crooner on a cruise ship. Gap has nothing bigger than an XL; an assistant tells me I should look online. In the Levis storage I do, to my astonish, find jeans up to a 44 in waist, but “they il be” horribly broad in the leg bearing out the phase make use of Eley that clothes for larger humankinds have to be carefully tailored. In J Crew the biggest waist sizing is 38in and the biggest chest sizing 46 in; again, an helper tells I should go online for bigger size( up to 40 in waist and 50 in chest ). Calvin Klein has nothing bigger than a 38 in waist in jeans and an XL in sweatshirts. An assistant goes forlornly in search of an XXL sweatshirt, which at least gives me time to watch thin, pale frameworks writhing around on a huge TV screen set into the wall of the store.

Despite the reluctance of some retailers to change, something is definitely stirring. The buzzword now is inclusivity: big guys dont want to be treated like freaks. It is symptomatic of the style the market is moving that the N Brown Group is putting resources into its Jacamo brand which caters for all sizes but is best known for clothes for bigger men, and is modelled by former cricketer Freddie Flintoff rather than its long-established specialist store High And Mighty, which is saddled with a fusty, older-man image. I am the only client in High And Mightys flagship store when I visit Discover stylish clothes in hard-to-find sizings, exclaims a sign in the window and you wonder whether it has any long-term future.

We try to induce way easy and enjoyable regardless of size or shape, tells Ed Watson, communications director at Jacamo. We will go from small right up to 5XL. Previously youd have to have gone to a specialist retailer for those sizes. In many cases a plus-sized shop would be hidden away, or the clothes were in the back of the storage and people would be a bit embarrassed about it, or theyd merely be available online. Its about being as inclusive as possible, an give where someone who is small and someone who is a 5XL can shop in the same place.

Shopping should be as friendly and stress-free for a taller or broader guy as it is for any other, agrees Dave Binns, M& Ss head of design. The chain is also widening its Big& Tall range, and using the tree-like England rugby musician George Kruis as its public face. But why, I complain, have bigger sizes at M& S traditionally been are restricted to online? Thats something we are becoming more aware of, mentions Binns, without quite promising it will change. I will only believe it when trousers with a 35 in leg are routinely available in stores. I dont want to have to operate a sub-post office to buy clothes.

I am at M& Ss HQ in Paddington in part because its dark-blue XXL jeans are the cornerstone of my personal makeover, guided by Helen Seamons, menswear editor at the Guardian and Observer. She has called in lots of clothes for me in these new, bigger sizes denim coats, striped T-shirts, chic shoes, neat coats with furry collars. She is big on colour, layers, panache. Clothes maketh “the mens” even the big, instead ungainly man.

Stephen
Before: Stephen Moss in his usual attire. Photo: Karen Robinson for the Guardian

The M& S XXL jeans just about big enough in the waist but narrow in the leg induce me feel briefly stylish, and Im inspired to snap up two pairs from the storage in Marble Arch. There is just one difficulty: they diminish when I cleanse them. Its possible they will stretching again when I wear them, but for the moment, sitting down is painful.This deals a major blow to my manner drive, forcing me back into my traditional black stretch jeans( likewise M& S ). My XXL buttoned-down shirt from River Island also demonstrates a little tight in the arms, which intends I have to revert to the Lands End black top. A fortnight into the new me, I am back in the horrible uniform of the old me.

Seamons gives me some useful style tips, one of which is, A well-tailored coat pulls a look together. I would always invest more on a coating than the jumper/ shirt underneath. I take this to heart and expend 500 on an Aquascutum camel-hair coating. Initially I feel really good about this the sheer act of spending a lot of money does give you an ego boost but then I catch sight of myself in profile in a mirror, and seem I endure an uncanny similarity to Oscar Wilde, but after his spell in jail: barrel-shaped and worryingly clapped out. I also invest in an expensive pair of pointy black suede shoes from Russell& Bromley, but when I wear them they scratch my heels and I end up hobbling around looking ludicrous. This fashion business is not easy.

Prospects are improving for bigger men, and in fact all men are demonstrating a greater interest in fashion, leading to more demand. Menswear is now growing at a faster rate than womenswear, tells Tamara Sender, senior way analyst at Mintel. A plenty of retailers are expanding their menswear offer, theres more choice, and as part of that choice plus sizes are now being added.

Stephen
After: Stephen Moss wears jacket by Folk, from mrporter.com; sweatshirt, asos.com; shirt, riverisland.com; trousers, asos.com; boots, dunelondon.com. Photograph: Karen Robinson for the Guardian

Sender mentions obesity is also increasing faster among humen than girls, especially among young men. Her research indicates 40% of young men are overweight or obese. You meditate where the latter are shopping before, she tells. In womenswear we started see it now change a couple of years ago, and now menswear is catching up.

Some might wonder whether retailers should be catering for people like me, given the rampant rise in obesity the Peterborough-based corporation Bad Rhino proudly goes up to 8XL and specialist suppliers in the US go up to 15 XL. Are they acting like fizzy beverages manufacturers and feeding our craving? All are adamant that it isnt their undertaking to nudge people into diet regimes; they are just filling a gap in the market.

It is a good thing that suppliers are offering larger sizes for men, says Lesley McCormack, founder of the charity Hoop( Helping Overcome Obesity Problems ). Obese people face being stigmatised and fat-shamed on a daily basis. This can negatively impact person or persons wellbeing and in many cases lead to low confidence, anxiety, depression and social exclusion. By offering larger sizes and choice, suppliers are not normalising obesity but enabling obese people to wear fashionable, well-fitting clothes and to feel better about themselves.

In any case, much of the increase in mankinds size is either natural the response to better diet or the result of men bulking up. Eric Down, senior style editor at Mens Health magazine, tells gym culture is forcing manner retailers to increase sizes and to introduce ranges specifically targeted at young men who work out. He also belief social media is changing positions. Its dedicated people an opportunity to speak to brands in real hour, he explains, and to say, Ive just been in your store and you dont have anything to fit me. The flow of information now is very immediate, and with online browse you can see instantly whats selling. Its a lot more customer-focused. Nobody wants to feel omitted. Just because a humankind has size 15 feet doesnt mean he doesnt want a nice pair of shoes.

In terms of social media fostering retailers to offer more choice, the UK is following the pattern in the US. In 2010 Bruce Sturgell founded Chubstr, a website that aims to help big humankinds dress well and feel good about themselves. When I set up Chubstr I was living in the midwest and there only werent a lot of options for bigger men, mentions the bearded, boundlessly upbeat Sturgell. You could go to the big and tall storages, but they didnt give much choice.

Ben
Personal coach Ben Whit was the first model for the mens division of the agency Bridge. Photo: Bridgemodels.co.uk

He set out to find places where big men could shop fashionably and put them online, alongside tips for confident living.

Sturgell, who is not scared to embrace the word fat( Im a fat guy and thats OK, he mentions) reckons he is winning the fight for adoption. The scenery is changing. Corporations are popping up that offering extended-size clothing that people actually want to wear. What began as a consumer blog has become something close to a crusade. We recently had our sixth anniversary party, he remembers, and it was interesting to talk to people to get their take on how the community has helped them deal with the racisms they get in daily life. I feel really lucky that this thing that started out as a blog to call out brands for not offering bigger sizes turned into something useful.

For the moment, the new me is on hold. As well as fatness, I realise, part of my difficulty has been laziness, about both seeming in stores and being willing to browse online. It is hard for bigger boys to dress well, and only those willing to work at it will succeed. My distress purchases were in part a rationalisation of my own indolence.

I had asked Seamons for 10 tips-off, but it was pretty obvious to me what the 11 th should be: make a bleedin effort. In the past, world markets has let big blokes down, but this particular big bloke applied that as an excuse to give up entirely. The change begins today. Possibly.

Stephen
Stephen Moss wears jacket, T-shirt, both by PS By Paul Smith from mrporter.com; Jeans, marksandspencer.com; boots, zara.com. Photo: Karen Robinson for the Guardian

Helen Seamons fashion tips for bigger blokes

1 Put aside a morning to go into stores and try things on. Start with a department store that stocks a wide range of brands, from high street to designer. Its useful for purposes of determining brands you do and dont like; this will assist you filter faster when you shop online. If the storage doesnt have a certain size, the internet likely will. Imagine of this as the groundwork to a long-term operation.

2 Be prepared to return stuff you buy online. If youre trying a new brand, buy two sizings to ensure the best fit: you may think youre XXXL but perhaps XXL fits better. The extra admin is offset by the saving on delivery( often higher spends equal free delivery ).

3 Dont be afraid of colouring. A bold T-shirt or sweatshirt shatters up black. Wearing all black wont convince anyone that you are a generous medium.

4 Stripes dont need to be avoided.

5 Its a manner cliche but its true-life: spend the most you are able to render on the things you wear the most coating, jeans, boots/ shoes. You can tell the difference.

6 Layering is a useful styling trick and practical in a climate like ours. Overshirts are great at this time of time; heavier than a shirt but less structured than a coat, they work over jersey, shirts and thin knittings and under a denim coat. Wear open( ideal if something is slightly too snug ).

7 Tonal dres( wearing the same shade head-to-toe) makes for an easy, smart appear. Navy blue ever appears chic, whatever sizing you wear.

8 Get good jeans. Prefer a dark rinse, on a selvedge denim. No faux-faded worn spots: they dont make anyones thighs appear slimmer. A straight leg is more slimming( never bootcut ). Skinny is out. And to avoid shrinkage, dont clean them for the first three months( an overnight spell in the freezer kills odour, or spritz with Mr Black denim freshen spray ).

9 A well-tailored coat draws a look together. I would ever spend more on a coating than on the jumper/ shirt underneath.

10 Learn to enjoy shopping. Check out the latest fashions, spend time browsing, and dont just buy the first item that nearly fits. Bigger humankinds have never had more options.

Read more here: http :// www.theguardian.com/ us