A lot of things become easier when you add muscle to your frame—like pushing through the last 20 seconds of a sprint, carrying your bike up a flight of steps, or dragging a tire through the mud. But getting dressed in the morning? That can be a challenge.
The problem with most clothing is that it seems to fall into one of two categories: close-fit to flatter skinny people, or balloon-like for the overweight. And some bodies just don’t fall into either category. While guys like LeBron and Brady have stylists to do their dirty work, the rest of us have to take our sartorial journeys alone.
So we tapped sports stylist Cindy Whitehead, who keeps athletes like Tiger Woods, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning looking great. The formula for making brawny bodies presentable is actually pretty simple, she says. You just need to follow few basic rules.
1. Avoid bold trends
Clothing that the average person can use to make a statement turns into a deafening cry for help on a big, athletic build, says Whitehead. It’s not that you can’t experiment with colors, patterns, and silhouettes—just make it a whisper instead of a shout. Keep the volume at a reasonable level. One subtle pattern or interesting color is probably okay, but make it just that—one at a time. Generally speaking, you’ll look better if you default to classic styles, cut in ways that flatter your build.
2. Look for stretch
“Most men think of their girlfriend’s jeans when they see the word stretch,” says Whitehead. “But a little bit of give can make things more comfortable for athletic guys.” Thankfully brands are increasingly aware of active lifestyles, so even traditionally stiff materials like denim and wool are now being infused with stretchy fibers. Look for pieces blended with elastane, which goes by the brand names Spandex or Lycra. You’ll still get the fitted look, but you’ll also get the added perk of being able to move around without feeling restrained.
3. Pick a suit that slims
Throw a boxy suit on a bulky body and you risk looking like SpongeBob SquarePants. Dark colors (black, charcoal, navy) and a single-breasted, one- or two-button jacket is the most slimming, but if you carry most of your weight on your bottom half, a more structured, double-breasted suit can even out your proportions, says Whitehead. Or if you’re working with more than a standard six-inch drop—that’s the difference between the jacket and pant size (a 38 jacket and 32 pant, for instance)—consider buying from a store that sells separates.
4. Get tight with your tailor
The bane of those with brawny builds is that shirts that fit in the chest are often long in the arms, or pants that feel right in the thighs are baggy from the knee down. So you want to buddy up with a pro who’s handy with a sewing machine and careful with measurements, says Whitehead. “Good style is just good fit,” she says. A reliable tailor will keep your dimensions on file so you won’t have to spend more than a few minutes in the shop. And tailoring isn’t just for suits—think collared shirts, jeans, even nice T-shirts. Most basic tailoring jobs are relatively inexpensive, but they make even cheap garments look like designer clothing.
5. Think “fitted,” not tight
Sounds obvious, but the crewneck tee you wear on the weekends shouldn’t fit like your cycling jersey or bib, says Whitehead. If you’re going for a casual look, slim-fit knits and henleys are a strong way to show off your gym gains without looking like you’re prepping for WrestleMania. And aim for pants with a little bit of room: The skinny jeans that some people get away with look like jeggings around your bulky legs.
6. Shop the department stores
Your colleague who fits into a 32/32 at J. Crew could probably purchase his entire wardrobe in that one store, but odds are you’ll need to pull from different brands to find a full-body fit. A button-down from one shop might hug your shoulders perfectly, while chinos from that same store squeeze your quads like shrinkwrap. So you want to sift through multiple brands at once, and department stores like Nordstrom or Macy’s make it easy, says Whitehead.