British men are get taller, larger and broader and the high street is ultimately catching up
The energy at online attire storage Asos makes you as soon as you enter its artwork deco London headquarters. The place is youthful , noisy, overwhelming. It is also proudly democratic in the sense that it wants to offer fashionable clothes for everyone. Not, I suppose, because it is on some great mission to change “the worlds”, but because its not just perfectly honed young men and women who will pay to look good.
I am getting a guided tour from the companys brand creative director, John Mooney. He is spearheading Asoss drive to improve its offering to what might euphemistically be called the bigger humankind. I am keen on this euphemism because I am one of those bigger men: 6ft 4in tall; 40 in-plus waist; carrying a lot of extra poundage. My mother kindly describes me as big-boned; others would say fat.
Either way, for me shopping has always been an disagreeable and often pointless experience a procession of garments that, even when they exclaimed themselves large-scale, went nowhere near fitting me. I gave up shopping for clothes about 20 years ago, apart from the occasional desperate raid to find something that would just about do. If I did find something( a pair of M& S XL stretch jeans, a black XL top from Lands End) I would buy half a dozen and hope theyd realise me through. They were, in every sense, distress acquisitions, and I had adopted a uniform: all black, uninspired, unchanging, shapeless, boring.
Hence this visit to Asos, which over the past couple of months has been widening its menswear ranges up to 6XL, to reflect the sizing that many blokes actually are, rather than what high-end designers might favor them to be. Its been catering for bigger women for the past five years( the curve sector reports for 20% of Asoss womenswear sales) but now bigger men are get the same care. The key, says head of menswear intend Nick Eley, is to offer plus-sized customers exactly what is available to everyone else, but cut in such a way that it caters for different body shapes tall and skinny, broad-spectrum and athletic, big and tubby. Its amazing how seriously this market has been catered for in the past, he says.
One problem has been discovering frameworks for the new sizes. Were having to qualify framework organizations eyes, tells Jordan Shiel, who volumes the menswear frameworks at Asos. We also have to go out there and find our own.
One of its frameworks, 23 -year-old Nemar Parchment, was spotted in-house operating as a buyers administrative helper. Parchment initially hated the idea of modelling, but eventually went round, and has now switched careers. He supposes he is part of a major shifting in showing mens torsoes as they are, rather than as designers fetishise them, and says that can only be for the good: Ensure other big and tall guys might help people accept themselves more.
Another Asos plus-sized framework, Scott Bayliss, was spotted by Shiel at a music celebration in Bristol. We understood him from afar, tells Shiel. He had a really cool outfit on and was personable and confident, and that always translates into sales. Bayliss, who was acting before abruptly being pitched into modelling, has now been signed up by a plus-sized agency in Germany, where the curve market is ahead of the UKs.
One UK agency has already got the message Bridge, which has constructed plus-sized frameworks its USP. We launched two and a half years ago, initially just for the curve market, tells director Charlotte Griffiths. A years ago it introduced a mens division, with chunky, bearded personal trainer Ben Whit as its first model. Ben is unbelievably healthy, but he has a bit of a tummy and a broad-spectrum chest, tells Griffiths. He represents the 21 st-century humankind who wants to shop for clothes and doesnt want to have to go into a different section to buy them. Bridge has just signed up Olympic discus thrower Brett Morse, who competed for Team GB at London 2012.
There is an acceptance now that bigger guys can also be cool, tells Mooney, at Asos. Its a horrible thing to have to say, because why werent they allowed to celebrate it before? You require people out there as figureheads to be able to say, Its OK to wear clothes like this. You can also seem good. He mentions Brit award-winner RagnBone Man and singer MNEK as big guys who garment stylishly. You dont have to look like Harry Styles any more to get a break in music or, indeed, fashion.
In truth, I likely wont be wearing Asos, despite its admirable is committed to dressing all shapes and sizes: the hoodies, sweatshirts, rent jeans and floral shirts are targeted at twentysomethings, and I left my 20 s behind some time deep in the past century. But I can( just about) see myself wearing River Island, where I once bought some XL T-shirts that nearly fitted. In future, I will have more choice, because last month it also launched a Big and Tall range, widening its sizes across 117 lines. It will offer every size up to 4XL, which equates to a 55 in chest and a 48 in waist, more than big enough even for me.
There ought to have retailers offering plus sizes, but what is available is quite dull, tells Nick Tahir, River Islands head of menswear buying. Where we realise the opportunity is to offer way. Research suggests that one in five men “re looking for a” broader offering of bigger sizes.
The median male waist sizing in the UK has been rising over the past decades and is currently just under 38 in. If that is the average, quite a few men will be well above it, but you wouldnt are well aware that when you shop. At Bentalls department store there is a large part housing designer clothes for men, but discovering any waist sizes above 38 in in jeans or moderately trendy trousers is well-nigh impossible.