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Menswear blogger Kelvin AKA Notoriously Dapper
Menswear blogger Kelvin AKA Notoriously Dapper@notoriouslydapper via Instagram

Where are all the plus-size men in fashion?

Body positivity has taken the world by storm – but the conversation never seems to extend to the boys

Much was said last year about the size and weight of female models. From France’s landmark bill banning ‘unhealthy-looking’ runway walkers to women like Charli Howard stepping forward to reveal their slender frames had been deemed too heavy for their agents’ exacting standards, the industry’s lack of body-inclusivity resulted in activist hashtags like #droptheplus and #effyourbeautystandards. These soon became movements, established to unite plus-size women and models tired with the rigid ideals propagated by the fashion industry, with models like Tess Holliday and Felicity Hayward quickly becoming emblematic of plus-size empowerment.

However, it seems that conversations surrounding body positivity in fashion begin and end with women. While womenswear designers face increasing pressure to represent body diversity, menswear largely faces little to no criticism for its depiction of skinny boys. Designers like Raf Simons and Hedi Slimane have been instrumental in the proliferation of the ‘skinny boy’ ideal, both proclaiming an infatuation with youth and citing it as a primary inspiration. While Raf cast waifish teenagers to front his visual explorations of youth subculture, Slimane used his influence at Dior Homme to pioneer the drainpipe-clad ‘skinny rock-star’ look based on the likes of Mick Jagger and David Bowie.

A cursory glance at any high-profile menswear runway – whether it be Prada, Saint Laurent or J.W. Anderson – reveals that this long, lean aesthetic is still favoured when it comes to menswear. Designers such as Galliano at Margiela have even started incorporating men into their womenswear shows to make a modern statement on the irrelevance of gender binaries, but again the same aesthetic is favoured. Of course the same can be said of womenswear – despite the amount of supposedly body-positive campaigns, the runways are still largely dominated by slim, tall white models – but the key difference is that women are beginning to discuss and rally against these norms – whereas men largely remain silent.

Slight change was initiated last year as the ‘dad-bod’ trend began to gain traction. For the first time, the mainstream media began to consider the idea that a male body beyond the usual ‘slim and toned’ or ‘overtly muscular’ ideals could be considered attractive. This trend was accompanied by various photos of a 40-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio shirtless and bearded on a beach, alongside other galleries of celebrities appearing to represent the ‘dad-bod’ at its best. Even websites like Men’s Fitness began to embrace the movement, publishing “How-To” guides on obtaining and maintaining the perfect ‘dude-gut’.

Additionally, Instagram star Josh Ostrovsky, AKA ‘The Fat Jew’, became part of the conversation when he was signed to One Management modelling agency (who also represent Bar Rafaeli and Karolina Kurkova) last year. Using this momentum to spark discussion, he even showed at New York Fashion Week for SS16, trolling the industry with his “Dad-bod catwalk” featuring real dads cast via Craigslist. Still, it felt more like a punchline than an attempt at activism. The ‘dadbod’ trend, despite acknowledging that male celebrities are not perfect, and that not all of us crave bulging biceps, does nothing to ease the body worries of young men, exposed to a rapidly-growing menswear industry their size might exclude them from.

“Insecurity itself is perhaps the most prominent reason for a lack of discussion – after all, a reluctance to discuss male insecurities stems from the social conditioning of men”

The delayed growth of menswear could actually be one of the main reasons that the lack of plus-size models hasn’t been addressed. Even the upcoming London Collections: Men only debuted back in June 2012, a notion which seems staggering considering the amount of progress that has since been made. The wide-ranging menswear schedule (which now includes New York alongside London, Milan and Paris) shines a spotlight on talent both young and established. Not every designer adopts the Slimane or Simons look of course; labels such as Versace offer an alternative to the lean androgyne in the form of tanned, muscular gods that usually walk the runway dressed in little more than trunks and a smile. This same aesthetic is favoured by Astrid Andersen, who casts muscular athletes to model tracksuits and kimonos with a feminine edge – another subtle way of overturning established codes of masculinity. Still, neither offer a very accessible vision for men.

The reason for this isn’t purely aesthetic – it’s also about economics. As Nasir Mazhar pointed out in a recent conversation with Dazed, incorporating size diversity can also be difficult from a business perspective. In essence, designers tend to stick to similarly-sized models so that samples can be made for the show and, for this reason, there are also costing issues to consider. Speaking in his studio, Mazhar admitted one problem that results from casting a variety of body shapes – “Not everyone is a size small, you can be healthy and be a medium. You can be really big and be healthy still, but we can’t make clothes for loads of different shapes. You’d have to sample so many different sizes that it would be kind of impossible, you’d need so much money.”

There are some catering to bigger guys, of course, including websites such as Chubstr, a site originated by Bruce Sturgell. Speaking to Dazed, Sturgell confirms that “You see one body type in the mainstream; the tall, thin, chiseled guy. He doesn't represent the majority of people buying clothes, and not everyone aspires to be that guy.” So he brought about change with his website, which stocks clothing up to size 6XL. He also underlined the importance of designing clothes specifically for the bodies of plus-size men – “When most companies offer extended sizes, they are simply up-sizing a piece of clothing that was made for a different type of body. This means that the clothes are more uncomfortable, and just don't fit well.”

This is a message echoed by Kelvin, founder of plus-size style blog Notoriously Dapper. Speaking to Dazed, Kelvin acknowledges that “bigger men sometimes struggle with body issues... overcoming that is tough on its own. Then you have the fashion industry that doesn't cater to bigger men. I usually end up getting a lot of my clothing altered or tailored to fit the way I want.” The fact that plus-size men currently have to tailor clothing to get them to fit properly is a clear sign that the industry is failing them, although both men do admit that they are optimistic. Sturgell alludes to the success of women like Tess Holliday in promoting acceptance, claiming that this attitude “is slowly trickling into menswear with more brands offering extended sizes, and a batch of small businesses catering exclusively to the style-conscious plus sized man.” Kelvin too goes on to acknowledge brands such as Chubbies Shorts – which recently ran a modeling competition to cast male models representative of its clientele. Kelvin was one of the ten selected to front the campaign.

Visibility is slowly rising for plus-size men, but it has yet to enter mainstream conversations within the fashion industry. It goes without saying that women’s bodies are policed far more heavily than those of men. We live in a society biased towards men, so while women in the public eye are regularly ripped to shreds over their outfits or bodies, those of their male counterparts are rarely discussed. For these reasons, male insecurities are rarely fuelled by the media in the same way those of women are, but the commercial invisibility of men of size speaks for itself. 

In fact, insecurity itself is perhaps the most prominent reason for a lack of discussion. Despite social progression regarding men and their attitudes toward fashion, male insecurities remain somewhat taboo. Rigid gender codes still dominate modern society, a fact noted and elaborated upon by feminist Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi who, in a TED talk, likens the narrow social view of masculinity to a “hard, small cage”. She goes on to explain that men are taught to be afraid of fear, weakness and vulnerability, forced to mask their emotions in order to assimilate with masculine stereotypes. The assumption still stands that men are afraid of emasculation, an argument exemplified by the fact that, despite years of effort by designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier (who spearheaded the design back in the 80s) and Marc Jacobs, the concept of the ‘man-skirt’ never caught on.

“Designers need to realise that the young men buying their clothes don’t fit into neat body types any more than women do”

It goes without saying that there are more than enough talented young menswear designers to change the status quo. There’s also a possibility that a young talent can push the discussion surrounding plus-size men – after all, designers such as Grace Wales Bonner have presented sartorial discussions of race and a new wave of NY talent is challenging pre-conceived notions of gender, so who’s to say that body diversity won’t be next? The exciting prospect is that menswear is an industry finally gaining recognition as a worthy and innovative accompaniment to womenswear, but designers need to realise that the young men buying their clothes don’t fit into neat body types any more than women do. Fashion has a huge presence in mainstream media and thus has a responsibility by default to represent people – it has the potential to loosen rigid social codes and push society forward. Most importantly, men need to actively voice their insecurities and prove there is a market for plus-size men in fashion, so that diversity within menswear can become a mainstream point of discussion.