Destroy the notion that it’s just a shirt or just a pair of pants. Style is an introduction to you and a declaration of how you want the world to see you. I’m not being overly-grand. It matters.
“Hello, I’m Mr. Fat” was my introduction for a long time, announcing to the world that I liked baggy tee shirts with dumb messages on them. But only because that’s all that seemed available to me at the time.
The fact is, there are obstacles that can keep you from expressing yourself through fashion. Money is one. Apathy or a crippling sense of self-seriousness also comes to mind. Or you may really hate shopping. I’ve encountered all of these in my life, but most of them can be toppled with creativity (a knock-off here, a bargain there). The thing that kept me in shitty tee shirts was not as easily destroyed: Mainstream stores didn’t see me as a viable consumer because I didn’t fit into the sizes they had on the rack. I was too big; too tall; too outsized.
So for a long time, it was just a shirt and just a pair of pants to me. I didn’t really know where to look for clothes and didn’t really want to search, endlessly, for only nominal upgrades. Whatever cast-aside and oddly-sized thing I could pick (sometimes literally) from a disorganized (and sometimes filthy) closeout store rack is what I’d wear, my heart breaking every time I pulled a too-good-too-be-true shirt off the rack only to realize it was tagged with the wrong size. Shopping was generally joyless and boring.
You feel like you’re suffocating a little when you can’t find clothes that suit your personality — the result of risk averse and unimaginative buyers who failed to realize that there are, as big man’s fashion guru Michael-Anthony Spearman says to me, “a lot of big guys out there and we are willing to shop.”
Now things are shifting. With brands scrapping to stay alive and the fashion world atomizing (along with the wave of body positivity across genders) it feels like companies are getting the message. Big and tall has gone mainstream. Finally.
Spearman — a personal stylist, designer, blogger, and Instagram presence out of Detroit — is familiar with the quest that every big guy has endured to find well-fitting and stylish clothes. He knows what it feels like to go from store to store only to come away empty handed and annoyed. But he’s excited about this new wave.
“It definitely has gotten a lot better within the past three or four years,” Spearman tells me. “You’re starting to see up and coming designers produce. You have current designers and current companies putting more emphasis on clothing for big and tall guys.”
Big and tall sizes that were previously relegated to specialty stores, are showing up in places we all recognize. Online, ASOS and Macy’s have big and tall options that are in-trend or trend-adjacent, while JC Penney and Target’s websites have a hint of the same, along with stylish office-casual offerings. In-store, Destination XL is moving past the idea that big and tall should be primarily represented by dad-wear.
None of these outlets are perfect, of course, but there are possibilities and options now. Style, versatility, and fit are no longer rare blessings. The fat guy uniforms — the ill-fitting suit, the uninspiring tee and saggy blue jeans, and the loud panama shirt — are no longer necessary evils. And the old, often justifiable, excuses for dressing sloppily or limiting your wardrobe don’t stand up in 2017.
I don’t know what I expected the big guy style renaissance to look like, but I’ll happily accept mainstream love for the XXXL fellow as close enough. The whole thing is very exciting if you’ve been a eunuch at a fashion orgy your whole life.
It takes a lot to condition folks to feel a little hope when they set out to build a wardrobe after they’ve only known disappointment. Spearman wants to help ease that transition and act as a resource. He wants to tell guys where they can shop and to show them what thoughtfully curated big and tall style might look like. He also believes that the unique experience of trying (and failing… repeatedly) to find clothes has conditioned big guys to be ready to hone in on what they want to wear with greater ease than others.
“It helped me develop a taste or mind to know what I like [and] what I don’t like,” he says.
With that skill and these opportunities, big guys are now empowered to experiment and find our own unique interpretations of a trend or established style. Spearman’s Instagram is filled with examples of that, reflecting his unique POV. You don’t have to copy it (but if you want to he’ll help guide you), you just have to see it and be confident in the possibility that you can go on your own shopping adventure and find treasure instead of a steady parade of cast offs.
Talking with Spearman, one thing becomes clear: Confidence is what style is all about for us big fellas. Being that version of yourself you see in your head — even if the mirror doesn’t always stack up.
“If you look good, of course you’re going to feel good,” Spearman says. “Once you have that self confidence, once you compare yourself to the next person and say, ‘Okay, I look just as neat and put together as them — its like 9 times out of 10 I may look better than them.’ That is a confidence booster in and of itself.”
At the end of our conversation, I ask Spearman about don’ts (he’s not feeling the romper as an option for big guys and I am fervent in my agreement) and tips for summer. He suggests pairing a linen blazer with shorts and finding out one’s true shirt size, too. But it’s another bit from the closing moments of our conversation that sticks with me after hanging up. Not a tip, more like a guiding philosophy as I try to continue to elevate my style game.
“We’re already big, so eyes are gonna be on you. Why not give them something to look at, you know? Dress it up, make it look good, make it captivating.”
I’ve never dressed like someone who was able to hold people’s attention for the right reasons or make them remember me. I never wanted to because I never felt truly comfortable or like myself. But now, with the fashion industry changing to accommodate its customers, I can.
Never again just a shirt. Never again just a pair of pants. “Hello, I’m whoever the f*ck I want to be.”