HEIGHTISM :: The Sartorial Rise of Short Men

Any time there is an “ism”, there is conflict; “ism”s in action move people into opposing camps that are at odds: men/women = sexism,  white/non-white = racism, and tall/short = heightism.

“Ism”s are based on the idea that one group or idea is superior to another group or idea, and these “isms” are born and only exist in the minds of the group that decided to divide the world up in the first place – i.e. the ruling class. With the means to spread messages and influence the masses, their biased’ “ism”s are imposed upon and absorbed by the public, and eventually, we’ve got a cultural division and a learned prejudice that can deeply affect society.

Cultural Belittling

Early in the 19th century, the tension between England and France exploded into war. King George III led British forces against Napoleon, leader of the French Empire and its allies. Those wars have left a lasting impression on Europe and western society but in ways that we may not expect; it is my belief that this conflict introduced a concept the world hadn’t seen before: heightism.

Napoleon was 5’6 – average height for European men at the time.  Across the English Channel, the ruler of England was an unusually tall man. Seizing upon this difference, George III played out his contempt for France and its leader through satirical political cartoons published in British papers that spread the idea of conflict of stature: these images portray tall, red-coated George peering through a spy-glass at pint-sized Napoleon who he holds in his hand. George says to Napoleon, “I cannot but conclude you be one of the most pernicious, little odious reptiles that nature every suffered to crawl upon the surface of the Earth”.

This visual metaphor was English propaganda, and the ridicule of Napoleon as a smaller and weaker leader created the height (i.e. power) conflict which suggests that taller men are somehow superior to short men. This baseless concept left a lasting impression on the collective consciousness of English culture and all it touched – the British Commonwealth, including Canada.


Heightism, like any other “ism” that pits one group of people against another, can cause us to distrust and feel hostility towards the group the ruling class deems “less than” – in this case, short men.

Interestingly, psychological heightism seems to only apply to men. Though women of varying heights will have their own set of physical issues to deal with (our bane is weight), we don’t live under height discrimination like men do.

However, women’s perceptions have been influenced by heightism – some women won’t date short men. Why? I don’t think it’s because short men aren’t attractive (they are!), but it could be that learned cultural bias that makes us see short men as inferior to tall men.  For example, this Business Insider article explains a lot about the perks and privileges of being a tall man; it cites Malcolm Gladwell who notes that tall men have more opportunities – and gives the example of the majority of Fortune 500 CEOs are “taller than the average man”.

I’m a men’s image consultant and I’ve worked with and surveyed many men under 5’8. Many of them tell me that they can feel overlooked and disrespected by society because they are short. Shorter men may feel discrimination at the office, in romance, and – in their closets.

Besides working with shorter men,  I am petite and 5’2, so I feel the pain of ill-fitting clothes. Average small, medium, large, XL sizing just doesn’t work for us – we are not average.

Short men, like petite women, need their own sizing system.

Height Inclusion and Specialty Sizing

Women have traditionally spent much more money than men on clothing, but men have become more style-conscious in recent years – they want to look good and take pride in their appearance and this means better grooming and better clothing.

But when we don’t fit average size, it’s always best to have clothes made for us – this is where made-to-measure or bespoke clothing for the gents comes in handy, but it isn’t an option for everyone due to cost. More affordable clothing is mass-produced and uses clothing patterns designed to fit the “average” measurements for practical reasons (though noted – so few of us truly fit “average”). In recent years however, consumers – specifically female consumers – demanded affordable specialty sizing – i.e. women’s petite or plus-sized clothing – and the clothing industry delivered.

Men have not had this luxury. “Average”-sized garments are cut to fit the tallest “average” wearer, so this leaves the shorter people sloshing around in too-long shirts, pants, coats, jackets, etc., and this can have an impact on self-esteem. For men who may not think to take their clothes in for tailoring, they end up wearing sloppy, ill-fit clothes that will do nothing but diminish their stature, attractiveness, and their confidence.

But help could be on the way.

Last week, I sat on a panel to discuss height inclusion in menswear at Ryerson University’s Fashion Department in Toronto. With me was Henry Navarro, an Associate Professor at Ryerson’s School of Fashion and researcher at Sastro Circle, an organization that supports the  inclusiveness and diversity within the fashion industry by celebrating style for men who are 5’8 and shorter, and Marilyn McNeil-Morin, Director of the Fashion Exchange, and manufacturing and fit expert.

The discussion was fascinating – I learned from the audience as well as my fellow panelists, and I can say that for men 5’8 and under, the future looks bright! With a return to “clothing fit consciousness” + technology, shorter men will at last have the opportunity to dress in proportioned, well-fit clothes to to fit them, not the “average”.

This clothing revolution would change everything for the better for men 5’8 and under; maybe then we can leave the political motives of a dead king in the past.

By Leah Morrigan, men’s image consultant and GGN Editor



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