We’ve all been exposed to the idea that a large majority of our communication is non-verbal and seen how this checks out against our own common sense. It’s easy and good to judge a book by its cover.
Not only are we biologically programmed to do so, but we’re not even unique within the animal kingdom for this. Lions have large manes, male peacocks have massive feathers, puffer fish can make themselves larger when in danger, and there are species of caterpillar that can fold themselves up to look just like a snake.
The two most fundamental things the animal kingdom can communicate visually are “danger” and “sex.” Now, because Man is so much greater than beast we are not limited to either of these expressions, nor are we only capable of doing so with the tools our bodies have naturally developed.
We can and do create new signals based on clothing, grooming, scars, tattoos, and so much more. We’ve created vastly complicated systems of visual communication – old battle regalia from the British empire makes no sense if you understand what each tassel, medal, and knot signify. The same goes for the robes worn at college graduations, feathers worn by various native American tribes, masks worn in parts of Africa, and even the body paint worn by mostly naked men in parts of Australia.
Like the spoken and written word, a certain level of fluency and familiarity with given symbols, and their meaning, is required to understand what is being expressed. But, just like a gasp, scream, or yell of frustration are universal and cross all language barriers, there are certain things we can all express with our clothing – regardless of where we live, what we do, or with whom we interact.
This takes us back to our more primal methods of communication and one of the things a man should always be displaying is a body that is physically healthy and capable. Obviously the ideal way to do this is by having a body that is physically healthy and capable. However, the way we dress can either minimize the appearance of health – even if we’re already there – or maximize it – even if we’re not.
On a fundamental level, the ideal shape for a man’s upper body is a V. Wide shoulders and a narrow waist indicate a level of athleticism that comes from both well-developed muscles and also a low body fat percentage. And, whenever we have a shirt on, it should visually denote that ideal V shape.
So how is that accomplished? Does this mean we have to start adding shoulder pads into T-shirts if we don’t have perfectly capped delts? Or that we have to start wearing a spandex girdle like postpartum women do if we’re carrying a bit too much belly around with us?
Of course not, but there are ways to visually create the desired effect – even in a garment as simple as a T-shirt.
The ideal fit of a shirt is fairly simple. It should be snug in the chest, shoulders and traps. If it is short-sleeved, the sleeves should come down to the middle of the bicep and hug the arms fairly tightly. By being slim in these key areas, we visually create the idea that the upper body is so developed that it is only just contained by the shirt – that the muscles are so large that they’re creating some tension against the cloth.
And as we move down to to the waist and seat of the shirt this is where things should open up. The ideal here is a little bit of drape – even if you’re absolutely shredded – because not being able to see your body pressed against the cloth here implies a narrowness that juxtaposes well against the tightness in your upper body.
Now, it shouldn’t hang off of you like a box. You still want some taper from the chest to the waist and seat but a well-fitting shirt isn’t tight everywhere. It’s slim in the right places and for the right reasons.
Just like animals can use fur, wings, and air to imply size and strength, we can use our clothing to do so. And just like a lion isn’t lying or pretending about his strength because he has a large mane, wearing clothing that maximizes our visual potential isn’t disingenuous either.
As I said before, this fit is ideal irrespective of whether you’re smaller, larger, or exactly where you want to be in terms of your build and physique. It is all too common to see men with less-than-ideal builds try to compensate for this by going too far in the other direction.
Small men who wear extra large clothing don’t hide their size, they exacerbate it further and end up looking scrawny and boyish. Overweight men who wear baggy clothes in an attempt to compensate for their extra fat end up looking both fat and sloppy, rather than at least being fat and dignified.
Skinny men who rely on hyper-tight clothes start to look as if the slightest gust of wind will blow them away and large men who do the same give the impression of stuffed sausages.
Even for those with the ideal physique – clothing that is too baggy hides all their progress and minimizes many of the benefits of having built a powerful body and clothing that is too tight makes them appear vain and one dimensional – as if the only good thing they have going for them is their physique and they’re desperate to show it off as often as possible for the approval of others.
Because each man’s body is slightly different, there are no universal brand recommendations to make for shirts that fit the right way. You’ll have to experiment with multiple – especially because a Large from one company may fit like a box, a Large in another may be cartoonishly tight on you, and the third (or fifth, or seventh) one you try on may be the one that fits just right.
Yes, this means you’ll likely have to go out of your way to try new brands, rather than just size up or down from the same store you’ve always bought your shirts from. However, once you find the brand that works for you, it becomes just as easy to continue to buy from them as it’s been to buy from whomever it is you are now.
A little bit of upfront work can lead to some massive improvements in your appearance and then the maintenance of those benefits becomes just as easy as whatever you were doing before.