a.k.a – Plus Size v Fat? The Great Debate
We take a look at the latest trend in male models, the “Brawn model”, and why it’s relevant to the future of men’s clothing.
If you’ve ever tried on an XL T-shirt and found it’s so tight it comes up like a cropped top, or attempted to pull on a pair of jeans that you couldn’t get past your calves then it turns out you’re not alone. But are you “fat”? Surprisingly, according to the rules recently set out in an article published by a leading men’s magazine which thousands of men including myself read and have come to respect, then if you can’t squeeze into certain brands’ size ranges, then “fat” is exactly you are.
But is this the truth of it? I’ve been in that changing room, but I don’t consider myself fat. I’m 6 foot 2 tall, weigh 215 pounds and have a relatively healthy body fat percentage of just under 22 per cent. Being labelled as “fat” doesn’t somehow seem fair considering that I spend most of my weekday evenings squatting in a gym, and not scoffing burgers.
But none of this matters as I try to squeeze into that restrictively tight XL shirt in such a way that it doesn’t strain like a sports bra! Getting the picture here!
Of course, I’m not alone in my trials with fit. According to a recent YouGov survey, 34 per cent of men in the UK struggle to find clothes to suit their body shape, whether because they’re too big, small, round, narrow, whatever.
But why is this surprising? When you consider biological diversity is it so unexpected that as a species we should come in all shapes and sizes?
Have you heard of Zach Miko for example – labelled as the first ‘Brawn’ model he’s the first ‘plus’ size male model to be signed to a major US model agency and is the man who has sparked much of the debate around male size diversity as well as being the subject of the article mentioned previously.
At 6 foot 6 inches and 240 pounds, Miko’s definitely both ‘big and tall’. And whilst you could argue that he could shave an inch or two off his 40-inch waist, you can’t argue with the fact that he’s over 8 inches taller than the average US male, and no amount of sweating it out on a treadmill is going to make him any shorter. (and therefore make it any easier for him to find jeans that won’t look like three-quarter lengths).
Mass production of clothing means that manufacturers cannot afford to approach size diversity if they want to make a profit.
The average menswear brand start out by designing a garment, let’s say a Medium (typically a 38-40-inch chest), based on the measurements of their fit model. This is their real-life mannequin whose dimensions are as close to what the brand believes is its “real” customer. Then, to design bigger and smaller sizes to complete a size range, most manufacturers will simply add or subtract inches while maintaining the ratio. However, this rudimentary approach fails to consider the fact that that’s not really how our bodies work and certainly cannot account for the subtle differences in overall body shape as you get larger.
It seems therefore that Size and Fit are two very different things. So the idea that because an off-the-peg garment doesn’t fit well is because they are too fat simply misses the point. The whole debate comes close on the heels of a UK survey which estimates 40 per cent of men in the UK now say they’re dissatisfied with their body shape, and a worryingly 1 in 4 eating disorders are now occurring in males.
But the future is not completely black! Most of us can’t afford to have our entire wardrobe made for us bespoke, but it seems that some manufacturers have seen the light and are now intending to use several different fit models to ensure that fit is optimised across the range of larger sizes.