“I had like three outfits I wore forever, because I knew they fit,” Miko said. “Then one day, before I got into modeling, my wife and I were looking at photos at my mom’s house and she saw a picture of me as a junior in high school, wearing these plaid shorts that she hated, that I still wore every summer, with the same rip in the pocket. She was making fun of me. She was like, ‘You need to switch it up.’ And I was like, ‘Find me a place to find clothes, and I will.'”
Though the industry is slowly changing—Miko and Davis say they find clothes they like at places like Target, ASOS, Chubbies Shorts, and Frank and Oak—I heard the same tone of resigned weariness whenever I asked a plus-sized guy about his shopping experiences. Davis launched Notoriously Dapper after falling in love with a red blazer in Express only to find out it wasn’t available in his size, neither in stores nor online. “It didn’t make any sense,” Davis recalled over the phone. “Do they just not want people to wear their stuff? I remember feeling insecure about it, kind of down about myself. It’s like a sales rep telling you, you can’t shop here. You don’t fit our body type.”
My goal is to be able to walk into a store that I like, try something on, and then buy it.
Coates had stories of his own. During a semester he spent at Oxford, he and three other guys left class and headed to High Street to shop at some menswear boutiques. Each of his classmates (“all skinny, of course”) picked up shirts and blazers. Coates left with a pair of sunglasses. It was the only item that fit. “Those experiences kind of piqued my insecurities,” he said, adding that in general, he is confident in his image as the “big boy who can dress.” But those experiences also piqued his interest in the plus-size industry. He knew, intimately, how underserved the market was.
At a little table in the back of Panera, Coates pulled a pair of high-waisted camo-print pants out of his seemingly bottomless luggage. He told me to grab the fabric—”beautiful, heavy cotton”—so I took it between my fingers. It was substantial, sturdy. He laid the pants along his lap and reached down for the next item: a ponte (think: softer, thinner scuba suit) bomber jacket, black with epaulets and gold buttons.
Next up, a tuxedo shirt with an intricate sequin bib, a pattern of blue, black, tan, and white stripes and zig-zags. Then a fishnet long-sleeve crewneck; convertible joggers that zip off into shorts; a lightweight blue and white tee with an attached skinny scarf. The t-shirt, Coates was surprised to find, was the first of his collection to sell out.
Coates prides himself in the quality of his construction and the uniqueness of his designs. He knows plus-size men aren’t usually desperate for basics; they can find loungewear at the big and tall shops and discount retailers. What they can’t get are trends and high fashion, the kind of clothes that express personality. And if brands are assuming plus-size men aren’t looking to get experimental with clothes, that they wouldn’t appreciate a wider variety, that they don’t want to invest in their appearance, Coates is out to show them they are wrong.
His first year in business has been proof. His line debuted at New York Fashion Week last year; since then, the Brandon Kyle newsletter—Coates’s main marketing tool—has grown by about thirty percent. He had to increase his size range to include large (it began at XL-4X) because non-plus guys were demanding it. In addition to his mini-collections, which come out monthly, he launched a resortwear collection for summer, comprising three trunks and coordinating dusters. Sales have risen steadily, and Coates expects the company to reach its break-even point by year two.
“This is a viable market, and it should be treated as such,” he said. “I’m giving you the most creative, avant-garde things that I can give you. I want to break down these misconceptions about what plus-size guys can and can’t wear. I’m pushing the envelope slowly to let the market know it’s possible — you can do it, and you can do it well.”
I want to break down these misconceptions about what plus-size guys can and can’t wear.