Shopping can be challenging for shorter-than-average men. Buying clothing off the rack all too often means loose sleeves, too-long pants, or ill-fitting blazers. The average man in the US is 5-foot-9, and few retailers serve men who are smaller in stature. And while the market is certainly there, some of the few retailers that do specialize in this niche market, like Silas Jackson, are going out of business.
The fashion industry has, albeit imperfectly, started to cater to petite and plus women as well as big and tall men, so why not their shorter counterparts? The lack of retail establishments for men 5-foot-8 and under, said to number roughly 30 million consumers in the United States, may be tangled up in gender stereotypes.
“It’s not considered cool or masculine to be short,” Steven Mazur, the co-founder and CEO of the retailer Ash & Erie, told Vox. “That doesn’t have the most positive stigma.”
Clearly, short men need clothes just like any other shopper does. The body positivity movement, however, has focused far more on women and weight than on men of small stature, allowing mainstream retailers to continue to mostly ignore this segment of male shoppers.
“No matter what category of shopper, people should know they’re perfect the way they are,” Mazur said. “Everybody should feel welcome and included and feel great about how they look.”
Short men face a number of barriers in mainstream clothing stores
Men 5-foot-8 and shorter may run into several roadblocks while trying on clothes at a mainstream retailer. Shirts may hang too low, sleeves too long, and shorts that fall below the knee may result in a somewhat stumpy appearance, Peter Manning, who started an eponymous clothing line for short men, has contended. Belts and ties should also not be too wide, and patterns not overwhelming. Outerwear is another concern, as puffy jackets can swallow a shorter man, according to Manning.
Men who happen to be short and stocky face even more barriers trying to shop at mainstream retailers since many retailers have options for men who are “big and tall” rather than big and short. And clothes made for shorter men may not come in a wide range of sizes.
So where can they go to find clothes? Ash and & Erie, which launched three years ago, announced in May that it had surpassed the $1 million mark in sales, selling more than 11,000 shirts and 1,100 pairs of jeans over the past year. Selections at the Detroit-based brand, which range from $78 to $158, include fancier clothes like dress shirts, but there are far more casual shirts and jeans available. Customers looking for dressier options might find what they’re looking for at Jimmy Au’s, which has served this customer base since 1982. Brands like For the Fit, Jax Everett, and Express, which offer casual clothing and business attire, have also been highlighted for their options for short men.
But many short men simply don’t know where or how to shop, Mazur said. Instead, some tailor as much of their off-the-rack apparel as possible or just constantly roll up their too-long sleeves. “You live with it because it’s your only option,” Mazur said. “If you’re skinny, you can also shop in the kids’ section. That’s not something that any man wants to do, but we’ve had quite a lot of customers who shopped in the kids’ section.”
Mass retailers tend to produce average sizes as a cost-saving measure
Mazur acknowledges that mass retailers likely don’t offer specialty sizes to cut costs.
“For major retailers, it makes sense that brands don’t care as much about fit,” he said. “There are more people in the average range, so it makes sense.”
As a smaller company with a defined business model, Ash & Erie can depart from the norm when it comes to clothing manufacturing. While major retailers often have blamed their lack of plus-size options on the fact that larger clothes require more material and incur more costs, short men’s clothing requires less fabric and should therefore cost less to produce. But any deviation from average can affect the production chain.
That said, the amount of material used to make a garment may not necessarily make much of a difference in cost. Using high-quality fabrics, on the other hand, is typically what drives up production prices, Mazur said.
“You do use less fabric, which is cheaper to make, but fabric is just a small part of our manufacturing process,” he said. “It’s much more about the volume and labor that goes into our very high standards for our clothes.”
Featured on the TV show Shark Tank, the brand has received a mostly positive response from consumers, though some people chuckle at the concept of a clothing brand for short guys, Mazur admitted.
“It’s an interesting dynamic,” he said. “They’ll laugh and think it’s a funny idea. We can take a step back and laugh too, but at the end of the day, we do hope shorter guys have more options. It’s impossible for them to find clothes that fit well, and we definitely want to lead the way where shorter men have just as many options as others. We want to define this new category in apparel.”