The More Perfect Man: a big guy’s guide to shirts.

Tis the season when celebration without moderation is turned into a newfound dedication to reformation. Thanksgiving feasts lead to Christmas candies all enjoyed while lounging in front of the fireplace because it’s too cold to go outside, and for many of us, this season of sharing love, tends to leave us ourselves, more loveable.

Emphasis on the more.

Then comes New Year’s where we go through the ritual of repentance, or resolutions, that send us back to the gym or on to a diet, in the hopes that we may appear more worthy of love. How love or worthiness might be measured is debatable, and I am not one to say what others should measure, but as for me, I have discovered, or learned, the value of smoke and mirrors. I would need less smoke and mirrors had I never discovered smoked meats and cheese, but I did.

So let me pass on one little tip, only because it took me while to learn, and perhaps it wouldn’t have taken so long had someone told me sooner.

If you have more middle than you would like to show, the best way to cover it is with clothes that fit- not by wearing clothes with extra fit.

The secret is sadly not so much in how good fitting clothes might make you look (and they might) but rather in realizing how much worse you look in baggy ones. Think of it this way, if you wish you were less, the answer isn’t in adding more. More clothes, more room in the waist, more pizza, more-more-more, will always just be more.

Wear shirts that end at your waist, or tuck them in. This one takes guts in that you may feel it reveals yours, but just know that a long shirt just allows more cloth to sag below your belly which draws even more attention to its existence, and also shortens the look of your legs, making you look more round than long.

V neck t shirts or the v of an open collar, hint at a v shape person, where boat necks roundness echo other things that might be round as well, and it is amazing how influential perceptions and hints can be.

Also, choose dark colors. They hide contours and shapes you don’t want seen.

If you wear a tie, the tip should just touch you belt buckle. Any longer and all attention will be drawn to however much material is hanging out in space like a rock climber who fell of the cliff and is now left dangling by a rope. Tie it shorter and you have an actual arrow pointing right at your midsection. That belt buckle is your best bet. Even if that buckle is, uh-hum, buried. Tip of the tie goes right on that precipice.

There you go, my holiday gift to whomever.

I hope it helps, and I know, I know- who Am I to give any advice. You may have seen me sitting at my desk, or more likely on my sofa, or in COVID times only seen me on Instagram, and you think to yourself, “but he still looks overweight”, and you are right.

But trust me…

I am much fatter than I look.

Like- a lot.

(If you are serious about clothes that fit, might I suggest a professional like Commonwealth Proper. They will treat you right)

Philly Menswear Blogger Meetup

Skip sent me an email in the early afternoon asking if I was going. I had no idea what he was talking about so of course I said I was. My wife asked what I was going to wear. It was a good question.

Like an embarrassed school boy I was dropped off around the corner. I stepped onto the curb, brushed crushed Cheerios off my jacket, and blew kisses to the kids in the backseat. I could hear the timing belt squeal as they pulled off, back into traffic. I’d been to the Commonwealth Proper showroom before but I had never met the man who answered the bell. He smiled but the look on his face showed he had never met me either. He offered me a drink, I accepted a bottle of water.

Skip smiled with an easy, “there he is!” reaching out his right hand and putting me a little more at ease. There was music playing but the room felt quiet as I made the rounds shaking everyone’s hands and hearing their names. I had never heard of nor met any of them before and I assume it was reciprocal, except Sabir. I knew Sabir via a previous email exchange and failed attempt to meet. He extended his hand, smiled at me sideways, and froze waiting for me to acknowledge we were familiar. He looked like the type of guy who only has two expressions, smiling or Blue Steel. Tonight was all smiles.

Conversations quickly resumed and just as quickly I forgot all the names I had just been told. I looked around and saw a tweed jacket with ticket pocket and horn rimmed glasses, Black Watch jacket paired with blue polka dotted tie and jeans topped off with a tuft of curly red hair, a chambray shirt untucked with jeans and tennis shoes, then the guy in a blue suit tie bar under pastel plaid tie and two toned wingtips all accented by the neck tattoo creeping up above the collar toward his turquoise ear disks. Sabir was wearing double monks with an aqua jacket that had functioning buttons on the cuff. Skip was telling another guy with a tweed jacket and blue pocket square that he looked like Commissioner Gordon. He was right, the guy did. Everyone was slim and fitted, appearing put together. I had come to see more than be seen but at my size the latter is unavoidable. How I appeared is, to me, an absolute mystery.

There was little to no critiquing of each other’s clothing, nor any visible reactions to anyone’s appearance. There was a brief but attentive discussion about the American preference for natural shoulders in which I participated. I did so not to offer anything useful to the dialogue but more to experience talking about clothing in male company without being thought strange or having my masculinity questioned. I guess the others there would see nothing unique about such talk, which like not knowing their names, made me wonder if this was where I belonged. It is difficult to be self aware in completely new environments but being self aware and self assured are not the same thing. I have heard the best way to jump out of an airplane is without thinking about it too much and I have decided to approach my social inexperience in much the same way. I packed my parachute with great care years ago so I know I will land safely. For now I will just experience flying, or falling with style.

As the night progressed from Whiskey to some concoction of wine and moonshine that came in faux milk bottles, talk drifted from Wales being the armpit of Europe to fighting bums while wasted. A question about the origin of Sabir’s jacket led to talk of the difficulty in finding fitted jackets for slim chested men. “Why do you think I wear bespoke,” came a sincere exclamation, soon followed by the same phrase repeated minus the sincerity. The room erupted in laughter, the butt of the joke included, and the deliverer of the punch line raised his arms in victory, thanked the crowd for their applause, and promptly left the party. This was my first time witnessing a perfectly executed Costanza and I was impressed.  Some people came and went, the conversation ebbed and flowed, and I hung around iPhone in hand.Skip is a good man and I now know whose company I was in.  They are menswear bloggers and good guys. I’m now back in my comfort zone where I have the time and resources to learn everyone’s names though its a bit too late for that to matter.


Craig Arthur von Schroeder, the Interview: Commonwealth Proper

Craig Arthur von Schroeder of Commonwealth Proper

Commonwealth Proper

We talked about clothes, but not really about his clothes. Funny for a guy whose business and the reason for our meeting, is the fact that he makes clothes. I’m not going to tell you all about them, claim they are the highest quality, or state that they are the proper style. I won’t do that because I don’t know enough about clothes to be trusted. To learn more about what the shirts look like, the quality of the suits, all that stuff, go to his website. Better yet, go visit him. For that stuff, I’m not your guy.

1732 Spruce St. Philadelphia

But here I am; here we are. I’m going to recommend you take a look at his clothes because I believe he means it.

Four years ago or so I joined his email list. A silly thing to do in that he had no location, we had never met, and all he had was a web page advertising a custom made shirt. There were no prices listed, nor any products. But I joined. I joined because I like the look of that single page.

in the showroom.

Commonwealth Proper,” was the company, coming soon was the bulk of the text. I cannot recall how I found the page, but I paid attention once I saw it. That was then. Now he has a Rittenhouse Square location where he fits clients for custom suits. I get emails alerting me to craft liquor tastings on Thursday nights, not my thing, but the look of his spam keeps me on that list. Last week I found myself on his stoop ringing the bell. I was early, no one answered.

Just before “on time”, my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was him letting me know he was almost there. By almost he meant he was the guy on his cell crossing the street. He had just got in from LA at six that morning, just finished a fitting, and was squeezing me in before another. He is no longer the guy with a web page but no products or prices. We sat down in dark leather armchairs beneath mounted antlers, and I began by making sure he understood that I was nobody. He believed me and he didn’t care.

What is on your ceiling? White paint?

He grew up playing soccer at Princeton High School. He wasn’t someone then, but most of the kids he went to school with were the children of someone. He wasn’t a style icon, he just played soccer. He was a goalie. He was a later a goalie at Vanderbilt, then Lafayette… then in London and in Guatemala. He claims his checks weren’t the big ones, but he was living the life, playing soccer in places that cared about soccer. Then he wasn’t. He had to decide what was next. Law school. Rutgers Camden.

He explained that back in the day he had a company making polos. He would hop on a plane go to places like China sourcing stuff, getting things made. “I was basically just messing around, copying other people’s stuff,” he explained. He folded the company but kept making shirts. He was in law now and needed dress shirts more than polos, he adjusted to his own reality. “Fit is king,” he touts and he practiced on himself and willing friends. He was strict about his shirts being American made, not as a job creation program, but because he had learned he couldn’t control the quality when thousands of miles and at least one language stood between him and manufacturing. He cares about quality. That’s how he got into making suits.

“Here I had all these great, quality, shirts and then realized I was still buying my suits at H&M.”

Original prints from Craig's tattoo artist.

But he was a soccer player, lawyer, shirt guy, how do you make a suit? So he went up to Brooklyn and New York and hung out with guys who had been doing it forever, asked them everything they would tell him, really tried to learn something.

“Really, I’m completely living this thing and I’m loving it.”

"I mean, Philadelphia is where everything became big-time. The country and clothing."

He is living it. Him living it is why I’m writing this. From the stoop to the showroom, to the maps on his ceiling, he was excited. He talked about Philadelphia’s place in history, both the nation’s and the garment industry’s. He talked about the taxidermy on the wall and the reclaimed wood candle holders. His perfectly curated clothing and environment are what he wants. He smiles about all of it because he did it. No really, he did it. As in he ordered the maps and the brass eagle on eBay then mounted and pasted them up himself. He takes measurements, does invoicing, and licks envelopes. The former pro-athlete lawyer licks the envelopes, isn’t afraid to tell me so, and appears to be enjoying it.

Clothing, style, and business are tricky things. If you go online, or talk to the guy next to you, ask your girlfriend or wife, read a book or talk to your boss, they will all tell you something. You can get advice and rules from every direction; some worth listening too, some not. At the end of the day you should be happy with what you wear. That is what I liked about Craig, he is doing it because he likes it, and that is helping him do it right. Not right as in, this is what the rules say, I don’t know or care enough about all the rules to know if he is doing that part “right”, but doing it right in that he cares and loves his craft. To me that is what “getting it right” is. I just so happen to like his taste and style. I’ve got my finger in the wind enough to know that others will like his style as well.

Collar stays made of brass salvaged from old Philly's garment district.

One might think he gets his taste from that same method. Perhaps a little. But here he was, talking to me, I was taking notes, and he isn’t touting his pedigree or proclaiming his greatness. He’s telling me he learned style from his older brother, whom he says is, to this day, the coolest person he has ever met. I mention a bunch of bloggers who are big time, and he writes down their names. He talked about how shopping isn’t supposed to be a condescending sales pitch. He says a guy shouldn’t have to be told what to wear, but rather talked too and taught. He asks why a guy can’t enjoy a clothes buying experience. He asked the question as I sat in a high ceiling room with portraits of civil war generals over the door, and I imagined a guy could enjoy this.

Because I did and because he does.