While the brain trusts in charge of everything squabble over who and what to blame for the American obesity epidemic, one thing's for sure: don't point your finger at fashion. In the last few years, clothes have seriously slimmed down, and gone are days of XL-excess when one pair of army pants used as much olive-green duck as a pup tent.
But if your average, reasonably in-shape guy is now served by the slim-fit styles on offer at Uniqlo and J.Crew, plenty of men are still left out in the cold. Just as the well-tailored options for those with waists that pass the 36 mark nosedive, for instance, those on the minus side of fashion's bell curve are equally ill-served. Men in the "big & tall" camp at least have "big & tall" shops, however unappealing the merch. But the more Napoleonically statured either have to take every last garment to the tailor or resign themselves to ferreting out style finds in the boys' department (and pray the vice squad doesn't get suspicious). You might think that Hollywood—the world's foremost haven for short and stylish men, where they are known as movie stars—would have some great tips at the ready, but it turns out that actors aren't terribly fond of publicizing their stature.
"It was really bad in the '80s and '90s, when everything was so oversized," said Simon Doonan, the writer and creative ambassador-at-large of Barneys, who is statuette-esque at just 5'4" and has done plenty of shopping over the years in Barneys' boys' department. "Lately, with the Thom Browne look of everything shrunken down it's gotten better. Before it was almost impossible to find clothes you weren't swimming in. Neckties were a nightmare—I went through years of shoving yards of fabric into my underwear."
Pants are also a problem, he said, since there's only so much tailoring can do. The secret? "Find a designer who is short himself." Doonan suggests Mr. Turk, the sprightly men's spin-off of the Trina Turk fashion line, which is designed by her husband Jonathan Skow.
So Doonan was glad to hear about Peter Manning—the line and the man behind it—which launched in 2012 and specifically caters to men 5'8" and under. After decades of frustration with badly fitting clothes, Manning (5'7"), a former Broadway producer, developed his own line with the six basics that are the hardest to find in smaller sizes, like khakis, jeans, and dress shirts, and has been steadily been building up the inventory ever since. Manning's showroom and store (which just launched this month) is headquartered in Brooklyn's picturesque Dumbo neighborhood, though e-commerce is the lion's share of his business.
Before, Manning tried shopping other clothing sites that cater to smaller guys, he said, with no luck. "They're a horror show—tragic and not really tasteful," he said. "Everything is so grim and uninspiring. There was no cohesive vision, nothing that made you want to buy. Here, I have guys that buy every shirt."
One great thing about Manning's collections is that short guys don't have to draw added attention to their stature by wearing clothes that are too big for them. (The opposite is also true: as a 6'1", 210-pound guy, I avoid the shrunken look, which on me looks like I outgrew my old clothes and can't afford new ones.)
So far, that magic marketing bullet—celebrity endorsement—has evaded him, though. He may make the kind of basic stylish clothes that actors would love, but one label few actors want to cop to is the one that says, "Yes, I'm actually a lot shorter in person." For a quick peek at potential candidates, here are 18 Hollywood stars that fit the 5'8"-and-under bill—some might surprise you.