Tailoring for a Small Frame feat. Dennis Thompson

April 14th, 2014

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Similar to our friend Waraire Boswell, Philadelphia native Dennis Thompson got into custom tailoring out of necessity.

At 5’5″ 125 lbs, everything off-the-rack was way too big and provided no shape. Dennis studied fashion design at the Art Institute in Philadelphia, followed by fashion merchandising at LIM in NYC – “I thought it was important to understand both sides of the business”. He then started to dabble in the MTM tailoring business, and quickly found his niche.

“I got really interested in suiting when I was interviewing for jobs after college.  I could never find anything that fit me properly because of my size, so I thought, why not just make it myself? My first internship was with the stunning menswear-clad Amber Doyle at Doyle Mueser. As with any on-the-job training, they taught me many things that couldn’t be taught in the classroom.

One day I was leaving my internship and ran into designer Thom Browne himself (only in NYC, right?). I introduced myself, gave him my pitch, and a month later I was heading up the TB Made-To-Measure program. From there I eventually moved to Bond Street to work with My. Grayson Knight at Billy Reid.

More recently, I’ve decided to take the plunge and venture out on my own.  Starting my own label has always been a dream of mine, and now I have the opportunity and confidence to do it.”

With years of experience in MTM suiting, Dennis has certainly learned more than a thing or two about tailoring for a small frame. Here’s a taste of his sharply tailored personal style, along with some of his advice for flattering a smaller physique.

 NEXT LOOK >>

1. Trim the Fat

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“For a small guy it comes down to this: you need a good tailor. For someone like myself, at 5’5″, nothing will fit me off-the-rack. The only place that comes close is Thom Browne (his brand is geared toward small, slim guys).

The first rule is make sure it fits your shoulders, as that is the most expensive and difficult alteration. Next rule I have is slim your pant, considerably [like my boy Adam Lampell, who wears his suit trousers like skinny jeans - Dan].  This will elongate your physique and make you appear taller from a distance (nothing helps when you’re standing next to tall people).

When you’re smaller it’s all about proportion. You don’t need anything extra… Get the ‘fat’ out of your clothing.”

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Suiting tips for small guys:

  • Skinny ties are your friend.
  • Make sure the button-stance of your jacket hits at the smallest part of your midsection. This way you can cut the jacket as narrowly as possible with minimal fabric pulling.
  • It’s okay to wear a slightly cropped jacket that doesn’t quite hit the crotch line, and hardly covers the seat
  • Sleeve and pant length are critical. Show 1/2″ of cuff or more, and go with minimal break.
  • Dark colors are slimming, and slimming = lengthening.

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I love the subtlety of the colors in this charcoal glenplaid fabric.

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  • Charcoal Glenplaid 3-piece suit by Billy Reid Custom
  • Blue stripe shirt by Billy Reid Custom
  • Tie by Thom Browne
  • Vintage lapel pie (father’s)
  • Vintage ring (father’s)
  • Loafers by Cole Hann (Vintage)
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  • Alex Garcia

    I appreciate the article as well! I’m 5’5 and working my way down fromf 160 at the moment. The bulk of my body weight is at my waist unfortunately, but I’m working on it. I work in a business casual industry, I have the option for polo/khakis but that just isn’t my style. I’ve learned that my favorite business casual shirts are 16-32/33 and my pant size is 33/30. Right now my favorite pants are D1 Slim Fit Dockers. They are skinny at the legs which make me look a bit taller than I am. Great article, I’m going to start shopping for a good tailor.

  • http://www.themodestman.com/ Brock

    I LOVE this feature. Need to read it a few more times to mine all the gems. So cool to see a stylish shorter gent in the spotlight (represent!). Well done, Dan, and thank you, Dennis!

  • LouCaves

    Fit. Fit. Fit.

    On the other end of the spectrum TSB featured Esosa I. some time ago and he was 6’6″, 250 or something. You could not tell what his size was because the fit was spot on.

    Thanks, TSB.

  • sultan

    As someone on the short & slim side (5’7” and 125lbs) I really appreciate the article. I also have no choice but to go for custom tailoring for suits and my shirts. Pants I can get away with some basic alterations.
    Whatever you wear do it with confidence. Being tall is not the end of it.
    Short guys can look smart and dapper too :)

  • TO

    He has some killer tailoring going on here. Especially dope is the waistcoat+pants in look #2. Cool styling too- Esp. the socks in #1 and the frames in the topcoat bouttonniere in #3.

    I love the tip about the buttonstance being at the narrowest point of the midsection. I never thought of it this way before. Being that the narrowest point is usually very low, it also helps elongate shorter guys– great tip!!

  • ChrisD

    I have many short friends and they’ll ask me advice, but I never have any worthwhile advice to give because we have such different proportions.
    I’d love to see another feature with him, but extended into weekend casual wear (no suits) and maybe a similar feature for muscular guys.
    I am neither short nor muscular, but that certainly is a pattern I see with many friends.

  • Sam

    Awesome post. This is why I love your website.

  • Tat

    Idk, great photog. and production as usual, but the fact of the matter is, if I owned a $10,000 wardrobe, I wouldn’t need to consult this blog. Things have been getting a little “lifestyles of the rich and famous” around here for awhile now. I just don’t see the point.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Why’s that? I know people who spend significantly more than $10,000 on their wardrobe, but they have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to style. Why does having money mean not reading a website to learn about style and fashion? Seams backwards to me.

      We want to bring you profiles on the most stylish people – and a lot of stylish people have spent money on good wardrobes.

      Nevertheless, we do have some good budget content coming up.

      • Tat

        Uh, hate to break it to you, but owning bespoke everything has nothing to do with style. Anyone could look good with infinite resources. I guess I don’t read this blog to refine my taste, I read it to learn how to shop for myself. I’m sure your advertisers see it the same way.

        • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

          Please, don’t break it to me man!! Haha.

          Firstly, I don’t think it’s fair to assume Dennis, or anyone, has “infinite resources”. That’s just silly. I also completely disagree with “anyone can look good with infinite resources”. Having money doesn’t mean having style. Look at silicon valley millionaires for example.

          As far as advertisers go – I’m not sure what your point is here – but trust me; they would much rather be positioned in front of an audience who has some disposable income to “refine their taste”…

          Cheers.

  • pgigliotti

    and shine your shoes

  • ThatManGilmore

    I enjoyed this article a lot. Me being 5’8 and pretty slim 128 in weight this was spot on. I know I see a lot of comments about Dennis’ jacket being too tight in the first outfit and I would have to say in my opinion it’s spot on and flattering. Sometimes people confuse snug or tight as a garment not flattering the wearer. Very difficult thing to taper the body in a blazer and make it drape smoothly. I’m all for cropped jackets as well but not too short for example like how a lot of Gant Rugger jackets are cut but my first bespoke suit I had cut a pinch shorter as Dennis mentioned in order to flatter my figure and extend the leg. We as short gents have to work the system to look even better. Overall great read and I hope to see more features from this guy soon.

  • Sal

    Dan, my man I must say I absolutely LOVE this post!!!! I’m standing at 5’4 or 5’5 myself and I feel that Dennis excellently demonstrated how badass a guy of shorter stature can look in a tailored suit!!! Fantastic job!!!

  • Andrew .Semaan

    Incredible outfits, but I still don’t get why these guys don’t spend money on their shoes! You have an impeccable tailor made suit, but you’re wearing beat up loafers? It brings the whole look down.

  • David

    Really enjoyed this article, though at 6’2″ it doesn’t really apply to me per say. I still think there are some great tips to be taken from it though, such as getting proportions right. I’m in love with that fur collar jacket in look two as well.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Can’t emphasize proportion enough…or how much I love fur.

  • taiwo

    absolutely spot on. I got away with wife’s flat sole wingtip shoe once. lol

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Haha #secrets

  • Jeanscuffed

    I think of myself as vertically challenged at 5’9″ and that’s with the right shoe. The dude has a mad suit game. Im envious. I would have liked to see some casual worked in with at least 1 of these looks, but I guess these tips were more geared for suiting which is understandable. Aside from his tailoring/suiting, his shoes caught my eye especially those Bragano’s. I love a woven texture in loafers. Also, the women’s chukka’s would have never been looked at as a women’s shoe until I saw the run down of the outfit. Great post and I’ll be an addition to the other comments to say I like the 5 outfits that you both gave the readers.

  • taiwo

    For someone short (and athletic) like myself, my issue is the part where you say “slim your pants considerably”. You see, i have huge muscled thighs and when you want a straight cut pant it becomes hard to taper it around the ankle and then that affects the break. Do you have any suggestions?

    slim your pant, considerably
    Next rule I have is slim your pant, considerably

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      As always, avoid tailoring anything to the point where it appears tight. If you need room in the thighs (like myself – or any former athletes), keep the room up top and gradually taper the pant from the knee-down to follow the shape of the leg. Cheers.

    • JBells

      i too have the same problem and have to settle for a straight cut pant. I find having these hemmed with no break looks a bit off to me so i agree with Dan about tapering from the knee down.

      Another problem I find is with shirts. I usually wear a small and the arms + body are long but the torso is a bit tight (usually in the lats). If I size down its way too tight and if I size up its a sloppy mess. If anyone also has this problem can you suggest a brand? The only luck i’ve had as far as lengths is from Uniqlo (in the philippines)…Does anybody know if their sizing is different in the US compared to asia?

      • Michael

        I think I have a similar problem; I’m 5’5″ and 135lbs with a 29in waist (small!) I found Penguin – Heritage Slim Fit (14.5) shirts are a great fit, and you can find them at almost every Nordstrom Rack around. Just the right length in the sleeve, long enough to be tucked in with my work suits, and good length left untucked with chinos or jeans on the weekend. Hope this helps!

  • Miguel

    Great article and range in the outfits. As a fellow short man, I feel the pain of the pant leg and jacket shoulder dilemma

  • John B

    I actually like the fit and the proportions on his clothes. If you haven’t mentioned it, I wouldn’t be able to guess his height to be honest. Also, if I hadn’t read the comments, I wouldn’t have seen the last two looks. I’m probably used to 3looks/post.

    Off-topic: Dan how was your experience with tailor4less? Thinking about ordering a shirt from them.

    • WideEyesTWBlog

      I got a blazer from T4L in the fall and was very pleasantly surprised – the fit was great right off the bat and the construction/fabrics were much better than I was expecting. I can’t speak for their shirts, but definitely enjoy my jacket.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Hmm…maybe we should make the “NEXT LOOK” button more prominent? – David, you listening? :)

      Shirt review coming up, includes Tailor4Less and 4 other custom shirt companies.

      Keep it real.

  • Sid

    I thoroughly enjoyed this article, albeit similar to other posts here for smaller frames (Adam Lampell’s one long ago for example). I’m from Mumbai, India and tailoring here is cheaper than anywhere else in the world. From being a relaxed, don’t-care-what-I-put-on-myself guy to being known as a dapper dude in office now, I only have Dan and the TSB team to thank for sharing info/tricks that has made my journey smooth. Look forward to more regular posts here :)

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      LOVE this. Can you speak more to the professional/social changes you experienced from going form the “I don’t care guy”, to the “Dapper guy” in the office…?

      Hope all is well in Mumbai! We’ll be out there one day…working on scheduling the TSBmen World Tour where we throw reader events in different cities and set-up shoots with the local menswear style stars…

      • Sid

        So good to hear from you, Dan! Things are good here, thanks. And would be great seeing you and your team in India.
        I started working for a bank right out of college and formal dressing only included the basics (comfy, off the rack pants, shirts with a lot of room and pairing them with anything that could be called formal shoes). About two years later, I started to work for a luxury magazine as an ad sales and marketing executive and was told that business formals was appropriate (everything I mentioned above). Soon, I was the joke in the office (all elegantly dressed women, I was the only guy back then… someone even posted a picture of my shoes on Facebook). That’s when I started my research online and stumbled upon TSB (2012). I worked hard, both at my job and trying to find my own sense of style (obviously, took your advice and found myself a good tailor). In no time, I started getting noticed for my work and my representation of the publication at events and among clients. Now I head the marketing division, have bookmarked TSB everywhere and am investing further into my wardrobe…haha
        So much “investing in yourself” can do!

    • Rohan

      Hi, Sid! I moved to Mumbai a few months back from Pune, and have had a hard time finding a decent tailor here. Do you think you could perhaps tell me who your guy(s) is/are? It’d be a huge help. Thanks, mate!

      • Sid

        Hi Rohan, good to know that more people from India read this awesome website!
        You could try Gabbana in Khar if quality is key for you (they have fabrics from all major luxury brands, use material that Dan and the team talk about here). Else, you may try Paris Tailors (cheaper tailoring) at King’s Circle, though you may want to buy your own fabric and lining, I don’t like the material they use. I’m exploring more options around the city.

        • Rahil

          Hi Sid, I’m from Bombay as well. I already have a tailor that I’m comfortable with but he doesn’t have a great range of fabrics. Where would you recommend getting good quality fabric similar to the ones on this site in Bombay? And how much would a bespoke suit from Gabanna cost me, in case you have any experience with that?

          • Sid

            Hi Rahil, Gabbana would charge about INR 13k for a two-piece suit (cost of fabric additional), they stock fabric from brands like Ariston, Zegna, Scabal etc. Then there’s Thakur (Hill Road, Bandra) which stocks smuggled fabrics from Indian and Italian brands, though you’ll have to emphasise on your requirements ( worsted/100% wool/cashmere, 120 – 130s etc as suggested by Dan here). You’ll be surprised how well they’re stocked and at discounted prices, I started out with them and people still compliment the suits I got made then. There’s also Century Bazaar from Aditya Birla Group in Dadar and Saroj (used mostly by designers) in Khar and Juhu. Too many options for all budgets. Lemme know if you need any other information.

            • Rahil

              Thanks a lot, Sid. Need quite a few suits stitched this year. Will definitely try Gabbana for one. Never thought I’d get Ariston, Zegna, etc in Bombay. Any idea what fabric Thakur stocks? I’ve heard of Thakur from a few friends too so keen to try that first. Also, does Century Bazaar stock woolen fabric as well? I’ve always thought it was mainly cotton.

              Thanks again, btw!

      • Rahil

        Hi Rohan, I’m another one of TSB’s Indian reader. I have been personally going to a tailor in my neighborhood, for the past year or two – R.D.Goel in Matunga. Fabrics aren’t that great, but his tailoring is top notch once he understands what you need and the best part is that he will continuously alter it for you until you’re satisfied. Relatively inexpensive as well. Must try.

  • Miguel

    Great article, again for us the short guys is hard to find a suit that fits on both ends, usually you have to get suit separates and becomes more expensive or custom tailor and that’s another ball game (at least for me) since I don’t have that kind of money to spend.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Fake it till you make it my man, we give plenty of tips for dressing sharp on a budget. Dress for the type of money you want player!

  • Amelia

    As a girl with the exact height and weight as him, this article was a nice change in pace from all the six foot plus guys usually featured. It is extraordinarily hard to find menswear that will fit people on the smaller end of the scale. And is it just me, or does his tie bar in the fifth slide seem way too small?

    • cam

      @amelia – the purpose of the tie clip/bar is simply to hold the tie in place. That being said, it’s perfectly ok that it be narrower than the tie. You simply would not want it to be wider.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Love hearing from our female readers! Do you find style inspiration here for your personal wardrobe?

      Cheers Amelia.

      • Amelia

        This blog is a huge inspiration for what I wear. Every post teaches me something different about new things I can do!

    • Krystyn

      As a female reader of an even shorter stature, I feel your struggle too! This blog has also been a tremendous inspiration to me, but I still struggle finding shoes small enough (other than Antonio Maruzui, no one makes them my size). Any luck in that regard?

      • Amelia

        Well I personally don’t own any high end shoes (I’m a sneakers kind of gal), but even if I started down that path I think I wouldn’t have much trouble. See, I may only be five foot five, but I have a size nine mens shoe, which most places stock. I wish you luck in your shoe finding endeavor!

  • Shawn

    Love the suit fabric in look # 1 even though it looks a tad tight. I love the ensemble in look # 2, especially the use of fur on the jacket (ethical debate aside). I think that tips for small men (and big and tall men as well), is to be aware of your physical limitations, and work around them. No matter your size or frame, fit is critical and in no way you should hide that, simply accentuate your more prized features.

    • AdamE

      That’s pretty much the key for every guy, know what suits you and what doesn’t. There are height factors, build factors (both overall build, but also in certain areas), etc. that all affect the types of things that look good and don’t look good on you. For example, because of my runner/cyclist legs, I can’t wear skinny jeans, or super slim pants, I tend to have to go with a fuller fit, and have them brought in. That was one of the biggest advantages with going MTM for suiting for me, when I had the tailor taking my measurements, I was able to flag my problem areas (pant taper, specifically my quads and calves, where pants tend to be either too tight or too loose) and have them take that into account.

      I like a lot of the elements in the looks (especially the suede double monks in look #5), in general I tend not to go that slim on most items, but I’m also 6′ with a more athletic build so I have to worry less about lengthening…

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      What looks tight about look 1? That’s damn near perfect fit, in my opinion.

      • Shawn

        Maybe it’s because I’m on the hefty side of the scale, but I’ve always erred on the side of the relaxed cut vs the tight fit. Picture 2 in look # 1 looks a little bit unconfortable to me, showing some pulling on the jacket buttons and the sleeves look a little tight. It may be an impression but it looks like he’s squeezed in the robot pose.

        Then again, if I was lean and/or athletic, you’d probably see me wearing much slimmer stuff, I’m just dressing according to my body type!

        Take care!

      • Shawn

        In fact, I never noticed there were looks 4 and 5, I’m used to 3! I will say that I’m rectifying my though, only look # 1 looks a little tight in my book, others look okay! I especially love his roped shoulders!

  • cam

    Hopefully this is a sign that you are going back to 5 looks per editorial. Although this particular feature excludes me, great tips for the short guys.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      This is actually a combination of two 3-look shoots (if you look closely you can tell the change of season). I think 5 looks is too much – especially from a shooting and production standpoint, but also drags a little from a user experience. Short and sweet – show the best and as Dennis put it “cut the fat”.

      Cheers Cam!

      • Brooks

        I totally get the cleanliness and ease of the staple three-look post, but I yearn for a four- or five-look one sometimes. Thanks for throwing us a bone once in a while!

  • Nate

    Fantastic article. I’m not a short guy, but I still think a lot of the principles Dennis discusses here are transferrable. What’s striking is how much he understands the importance of proportions. And to such great effect! You often see small dudes sizing up to try and look bigger, but they just get swamped by fabric.
    I can take a lot from this, even as someone who is 6′. Seems like a cool guy too.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      Agreed. Big clothes don’t make you looks bigger. They make you look smaller.

  • Tom

    Really? That just looks uncomfortable. Too small and tight like he can’t move his arms and the shoes are not polished? This is really the look for young men? The slim fit look has gone to extremes where guys don’t even look comfortable in their clothes and they are leaving a whole generation of men completely out of the picture.

    • Jeanscuffed

      He’s waiting for you to polish his shoes :)

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      This is not “the look for young men”, this is the look for Dennis Thompson.

      Can you be more specific about which pieces look tight? Several people have said this, and I’m trying to figure out where it’s coming from.

      Cheerio.

      • Toby

        My guess would be that it’s the creasing around the button in look #1 (visible in the second picture for this look). It doesn’t seem to drape properly, in my opinion, and if it was a tad fuller it wouldn’t make it look so suffocating.

    • http://www.lucidlingo.com.au/ Gazman

      I agree with you that too many men confuse tight with fit. I see it on #menswear on the internet all the time. Tell-tale signs of tightness include massive wrinkling in the sleeves around the elbow, tension creases at the back, shoulders and biceps and especially radiating out from the button. A tight jacket and pants on a suit takes away the drape, which is what makes a suit look especially smart. That’s my view, anyway. Dennis’ suit jacket in pic #1, while a bit snug, isn’t too bad. The ‘tightness’ is accentuated by the heaviness of the fabric.

  • tuba

    Does the cropped jacket rule apply for someone 5′ 9″? Im not too short and not tall. I’ve tried both sizes (40r and 40s). Most 40s sleeve length are right on the money but the jacket length is similar to the picture above- falls around the joint where the palm meets the thumb. Thanks in advance.

    • Miguel

      I’m 5’8 and I usually buy the jackets 40R, I think it’s better to have an extra inch that can be remove than the being too short and not be able to fix it.

      Also it depends on the jacket, brand and finish, I have a couple of 40S that were on point and had 40R that had so much extra material.

    • http://www.TSBmen.com/ Dan Trepanier

      I wouldn’t measure the length of a jacket by where it hits on your hand (everybody has different arm lengths/proportions). Focus on where it falls on your body – just below the seat (back) and at crotch level (front) is the sweetspot for most guys of average height, in my opinion.