Monday night I went out for ice cream with my roommate — he’s a fat guy too. As we were walking out the door I noticed a stark difference in how the two of us were dressed. He was wearing what can only be called a typical fat guy “uniform:” Hoodie sweatshirt, sweatpants and scuffed up tennis shoes. I was wearing Cole Haan shoes, a cashmere sweater and a tie. He is truly the Jack Lemmon to my Walter Matthau. With our Odd Couple mission in progress, I started thinking about how fat guys normally dress and realized that I’m an odd duck compared to most of them.
If someone were to go through the average fat guy’s closet they would probably find, four or five football jerseys, a couple of pairs of sweatpants, white undershirts, sixteen hoodies, extra-large t-shirts from Foot Locker and a little league jersey that reminds them of that time they played sports. I’m not saying you wouldn’t find clothes like this in another guy’s wardrobe. I’m only saying a typical fat man is more likely to own five Patriot’s jerseys — and not because they’re a bargain down at Marshall’s.
When a fat guy buys clothes he’s following two simple rules: Layers and dark colors. These two strategies strive to meet one goal: Turn the fat, misshapen body into a walking optical illusion. Those white undershirts are key. They’re like cotton Spanx that come in 20-packs. Just tuck them into a pair of pants so that the love handles and the manboobs get flattened, then throw a baggy hoodie over everything. Now our fat-guy-on-the-go has a torso that takes up three quarters of his body, and he appears to have lost 20 pounds. Not bad for someone who cleans his clothes with Febreeze and whose love handles spill out over his waistband.
The downside to this look is that it’s “shlubby,” which is a fair term because most of us are shlubs. Nothing stands out about the fat guy uniform — there’s nothing eye-catching about sweatshirts that are the same color as the snow on old TV sets. And really, that’s the whole point. The fat guy look is designed for those who don’t want to be seen, for people who want to become visual white noise.
Why is this, you ask? Because a fat guy’s worst nightmare is being the center of attention — the possibility of someone noticing the physical repulsiveness of our bodies and saying, “Ah gross look at your belly, guys aren’t supposed to be hour-glass shaped,” is nightmarish. The shlubby look is an effective defense mechanism to avoid this kind of ridicule. And the moment I realized this was the moment I realized I’m the exception to the rule.
When I get dressed I try to make myself stand out. I want people’s heads to turn when I walk past them, and for them to say, “Well damn, when did J. Crew introduce a big and tall line?” If you went through my wardrobe you’d find a whole lot of style and class. Several different blazers, button down shirts of all patterns and styles, cashmere sweaters, etc. Some days, I just want to look like I’m sailing off the coast of Nantucket. But what really sets me apart from the average fat guy is how much effort I put into my wardrobe, and I only have my sister to thank.
Understand: My sister is the type of girl who could spend $1,000 on clothes in thirty minutes. She used to spend hours putting together outfits for herself and she’d make me pass judgment on every one. This became kind of a Friday afternoon ritual during my middle school years: My sister getting ready to go out, while I was reading in my room, waiting for her to walk in with the next outfit that needed critiquing. What I learned from this was that dressing yourself is a kind of art. It takes practice, thought and careful planning. Just like how a writer makes his mark on the world through his words, or musician through his music, clothes can be a way we tell a story about ourselves on a day-to-day level. Some people say “the clothes don’t make the man,” but I say that the clothes are the man.
This thought goes back to last week’s column on social media, in which I point out that how you look is an extension of who you are. Your clothes are a statement about how you want the world to see you — and most fat guys think the world doesn’t want to see them at all.
But with a good sense of style, it’s possible to make up ground for a less than desirable physique. Yes, it may be a shallow and materialistic way of doing it, but we have to use any weapon we can find. Unfortunately, most fat guys don’t have an older sister capable or willing to teach them how to dress — and it’s hard to create a unique style all on your own. What’s more, most fat guys aren’t willing to put in the work, which I find unfortunate because a little effort goes a long way. If you look good, you feel good. I may be fat, but when I walk down the street, I look damn good.
Sandor Mark is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, and a weekly columnist for the Daily Free Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.