Fashion For Nerds

Over the years, there’s been an interesting evolution amongst nerds. Growing up in the 80s, the nerd avatar meant tape-wrapped coke-bottle-lens glasses, plaid short-sleeved button-downs , acne, bad hair, pocket-protectors and and high-water poly-blend slacks. In this day and age, those are far more likely to be hipsters. Instead the modern nerd is far more likely to be wearing a melangé of punk and hip-hop fashion, matching oversized baggy jeans with wallet chain, studded leather belt and a Slipknot or faux-vintage Spider-Man t-shirt, all conveniently supplied by the local Hot Topic.

Nerd Fashion, then and now

The more things change, the more they stay the same…


But regardless whether one’s image runs to the old-school or the modern, one thing remains true… Fashion. You’re Doing It Wrong. And that’s part of what’s holding you back.

Prior to my own personal transformation, I initially had the attitude of “Fuck fashion, I wear what I want! And it’s comfortable!”, just as many of my nerd-compatriots do today. However, underneath that carefully cultivated disdain, I eventually had to admit the truth: I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Most of my rebellious attitude was born out of the fact that, ultimately, I didn’t know what looked good and what didn’t. Looking around today, I can see that most people are making the exact same mistakes I made back in the day.

So let’s start fixing that, shall we?
To start with, almost everyone is wearing the wrong size. And out of that group, it’s almost universal that your clothes are too big. XXL shirts on a M to L frame, relaxed-fit jeans… it’s a sad. Clothing, for geeks, tends to be more than a little obfuscatory. Because they don’t feel – rightly or wrongly – that they measure up to a particular body ideal, geeks have a tendency to wear clothing as camouflage, trying to hide their perceived imperfections underneath a protective layer of cloth. It’s the nerd equivalent of trying to hide a bald-spot with a bad comb-over; all you’re doing is making yourself look ridiculous. The end-result has nerds looking as though they’re wearing their older brother’s clothes, trying to imagine what they’ll be like when they’re older. And it’s pretty damned sad, really.

Even if you’re built like a Greek statue, properly fitting clothing will go a long way to hiding your flaws and make you look much better.

Measurements – How To Make Sure You Know What You Need.

Break out the spreadsheets, nerdlings, it’s time to start talking numbers. If you want properly fitting clothes, you’re going to have to know exactly what your measurements are.  Strip down to your skivvies and stand in front of a full length mirror. On men, you’re going to want to know the measurements for your neck, your chest, your waist and your hips. These are the minimum you will need for most off-the-rack purchases. Getting your inseam and your sleeve will require the help of a friend or a tailor, although you can cheat the inseam by taking a well-fitting pair of pants and measuring from the crotch to the cuff at the bottom of the leg.

  • Neck – Measure around the base, just above where the neck meets the shoulder. Make sure to keep the tape snug but not tight.
  • Chest – Wrap the tape underneath your armpits, over the nipples and around your shoulder blades.
  • Waist – You want to find your natural waist; estimate a finger’s width or two beneath your navel. Again, snug, but not tight; you aren’t going to do yourself any favors by trying to delude yourself as to your actual waist size. Also, don’t suck in your gut. It’ll just mean you’re buying the wrong pants. And don’t just assume your jeans will provide you the information. Most brands of jeans are actually larger than their reported size.
  • Hips – Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and measure around the middle of your butt.
Now that we have some basic numbers to work with, let’s focus on how things are actually supposed to fit.
Proper Fit - Casual Clothes

Beware the Hockey Jersey effect…


First and foremost: the seams of the shoulders should reach the edge of your shoulders. If they’re before where your shoulder meets your clavicle, it’s too small; below your shoulders and it’s too large. Short sleeves should reach down to approximately mid-bicep, not to the elbow or just below the shoulder. Long sleeves should be long enough to reach your watch, not to the middle of your hand.

T-shirts should hang down to just above the crotch. If you raise your arms over your head and expose your stomach, it’s too small for you. Similarly, if you notice folds radiating from the armpits towards the chest when standing with your shoulders back, you need a larger size.

Button down and dress shirts follow the same rules in terms of length and fit. Make certain to check the buttons of your dress shirts; you should be able to stand with your shoulders back without pulling at the buttons. There should be enough room for you to cross your arms in front of you without straining the material in the back as well. You should be able to fit your index finger down the side of your collar with ease and your cuffs should easily accommodate an average-sized watch; wearing a shirt with a too-tight collar can actually be a health-hazard. You literally risk restricting blood-flow to the brain if you end up compressing the carotid artery in your neck.

If the shirt has a squared-off hem, it’s intended to be worn untucked. A regular shirt-tail hem (long in the front, rising at the sides, long in the back) is intended to be worn tucked in. The material should come down to aproximately the top of your zipper. You should have enough material that the shirt won’t come un-tucked on it’s own but not so much that it tends blouse out around your waist.


You want to wear your pants at your natural wastline. Don’t think that you’re fooling anyone by trying to hold in your stomach by wearing them higher; you end up making yourself look like ten pounds of cookie dough squeezed into a 5 pound case.

You should be able to walk around without a belt and not have to worry about the pants falling down around your ass. If your pants are causing you to “muffin-top”, they’re too tight. With jeans, khakis and most slacks, the cuffs should reach down to around 1/3rd of the back of your shoes. With dress pants, there is slightly more variation, depending on the type of break you want; ask a tailor to show you examples of a full or slight break and decide which you prefer. Always bring the type of shoes you plan to wear most often when you’re trying on pants; the differences between athletic shoes, loafers and dress shoes are significant and will drastically affect the fit of the pants.

Avoid front pleats like the damned plague. All they do is add unnecessary bulk to your profile and end up making you look larger than you actually are. They don’t flatter anyone.

Consider tailoring your jeans; if you have the correct waist-size and the inseam is slightly long – or you buy premium jeans such as Rock and Rule or True Religion that only come in one length – a tailor can adjust them for you for a minimal fee. Make sure to request the original hem to keep the proper look to them.

Dress For Success

Nobody looks good “Hulking out”…

Blazers and Jackets:

A properly fitting blazer should leave about a half inch of your shirt collar showing and a half-inch of cuff at the end of the sleeve. There should be enough material to hang down to cover your ass. There shouldn’t be any gapping between your shirt and the jacket when buttoned, and there shouldn’t be any pulling at the buttons when standing straight with your shoulders back. Unlike a shirt, you won’t be able to fully cross your arms; they’re not designed to accomodate that much movement.


Your belt size is approximately one size larger than your pants size. A well-fitting belt should cinch somewhere around the middle – usually the third notch. Don’t wear too small a belt or tighten it too much; if the material at the waist of your pants is starting to bunch, the belt is too tight.

Oh, and one more thing…

Find yourself a tailor. A good tailor can work miracles with your clothing; a properly tailored shirt and pants will hide your faults while accenting your features in a way you never imagined. Factor the cost of the alterations into the price of the clothing when you purchase them. It’s an additional expense yes, but the benefit of properly tailored clothing is well worth it. You’ll look good. You’ll feel good. And you’ll be turning heads in ways your baggy jeans never did before.

  • Hey heard about this site on Spill and I love this article. As a "cute" girl I can concur that we ladies do like a man with well fitted clothing. Loose and Baggy shirts makes you look like a slob. And I'll choose a nerd over a smooth "player" anyday. So there's hope. Lol. Keep doing what ur doing.

  • Kira

    You actually can measure your own inseam: Stand on the tape. Then measure from the flat of your foot to below your ankle and subtract. Works similar for the sleeve.

  • So much truth in this article. Fucking sick of seeing boxers of people I don't even know ugh.

  • DaredevilFromSpill

    I can't believe I've been doing it right the whole time!

  • Arty

    I wanna know what Lish looks like, ha

  • PirateLordBush

    you almost forgot shoes

  • Gigantor

    Don't forget ironing. Ironing is not dead! Also, buy quality clothing. Cheep clothes are not cheap clothes. Any man can put together an acceptable wardrobe on a moderate budget if he takes the time to look around and pay attention to what he buys, including looking on or ebay, once he knows what sizes are truly his. Zappos has a generous return policy.

  • Kung Fu Colored

    "The modern nerd is far more likely to be wearing a melangé of punk and hip-hop fashion, matching oversized baggy jeans with wallet chain, studded leather belt and a Slipknot or faux-vintage Spider-Man t-shirt, all conveniently supplied by the local Hot Topic."

    I rarely see nerds ever wearing this unless they are 19 and younger. Most young adult nerd guys I know wear jeans or cargo shorts, have any wallet, usually leather. No belt at all. And either generic polo, school, or band/video games/anime shirts. As for shoes whatever usually goes.

    @Gigantor Ironing is pretty dead to my group of friends, I'm the sole guy that irons everything but undies, socks, and work out shorts.

  • Wakako

    Tip 1: If you don't like ironing, put your clothes in the dryer for a few minutes before work or going out; it does a pretty decent job of straightening out wrinkles.

    Tip 2: A lot of American men have the problem of wearing things too loosely; look at the men's fashion style in France and Italy. Very form fitting; not to a ridiculous extent, but flattering enough to show off what should be shown off.

  • ChrisP

    Well all this is fine and good, but how well will it work for fat people? My neck size and shirt size don't tend to match, so I'm always blousing with my good shirts. Also what do you recommend for pants? My waist and hips aren't good friends when it comes to buying well fitting pants. I guess maybe my solution is always a tailor?

    • Dr. NerdLove

      A good tailor is a fat man's best friend to be bluntly honest. Ill-fitting clothes will only serve to emphasize everything about yourself that you don't like, while a good tailor can adjust not just the fit but your silhouette. I have a similar issue when it comes to shirts; I'm barrel chested and have a thick neck, so anything that fits around my neck tends to look like a tent on me from the chest down. The best thing you can do is get shirts that fit around your neck, then have a tailor adjust the shirt. If it's a case of almost-but-not-quite in the neck, you can also get collar extenders; basically little springs that you wrap around the collar button and give you a little more room in the neck. They're cheap and come in packs; you can find them at most dry cleaners or tailors.

      I've learned to factor the cost of getting shirts and pants altered into the cost of the garment. Some stores, like Nordstrom will do tailoring for you often for free or a reasonable price.

      • Tubaman

        Pants can be a real problem for us fat guys too. Due to the extra fat on the belly, our "natural waist" can be closer to the level of the actual hip joint, well below the top of the hip bone. So any pants will sit lower, often with the waistband lower at the front than at the rear. That'll ruin the line of any dress pants, with the side effect that it makes it very much harder to keep a shirt tucked in.

        As was pointed out earlier, the nerds who dress as you complain do tend to be at the younger end of the spectrum or engaged in higher education, both of which mean a much more restricted income, which pretty much rules out the expense of alterations from a *good* tailor.

  • Animus

    As an individual rather a bit obsessed with clothing, I can only say thank you. I spend way too much time thinking to myself, "that person would look so much better if only they dressed the right way…"

  • JC

    hey harris


    can you do some crowdsourcing on suggestions for brands and vendors for some of us REALLY big guys? I'm 6'5" and 350 and while my build isn't too bad, finding shirts in 3-6x (or dress shirts in a 58 chest/26" neck) depending on the brand, things big enough around for my biceps or neck (my neck size is 26 how the hell am I supposed to button my top button and look less sloppy etc), or finding things with long enough sleeves, etc is a HUGE pain in the ass.

    Please help us "micheal clarke duncans" who can't afford an actor or NBA player's tailor!

    • Dr. NerdLove

      You have an excellent question, JC. I'll toss it out here and on the Facebook page: anyone have any insight into brands or vendors for the very tall or large?

  • I should I wear my underwear when i'm dressing up like a nerd

  • Sunny

    Good article, definitely sending to a few friends… but Rock and Rule jeans? Perhaps I'm not hip enough but do you mean Rock and Republic?

    • Dr. NerdLove

      Um… we're going to just pretend that that typo didn't happen.

      (Rock and Rule is an awesome forgotten movie though. Animation fans and anyone who REALLY loved the 80s should totally watch it. )

  • Taypay

    Fuck u. baggy pants shirts all day.

  • Pingback: On Women and Casual Sex – Part II: Flings, One Night Stands and Same Night Lays — The Good Men Project()

  • arnold

    I guess you left out the first step, “Don’t be female”.

  • I absolutely love this article!! 🙂

  • Mappy

    I doubt this still has any attention paid to it, but…

    Clothing is one of the few things I actually get right. I can attribute that to the fact my sister is a fashion designer.

    Anyway, a suggestion for button down / dress shirts: sleeve garters. The modern, metallic variety. If you've found the perfect dress shirt however, much to your dismay, the sleeves are just that little too big while the rest fits splendidly, consider a pair of sleeve garters to keep your cuffs in place. This issue with too long sleeves but the rest of the shirt being perfect is something I run into a lot so I pretty much had to abopt the sleeve garters. I personally put them about an inch above the elbow to avoid looking like a babershop quartet member but closer to the shoulder is not objectively bad by any means.

    They have a number of advantages in terms of definging style, I should add. For example, I have gold (subdued), silver (also subdued) and black pairs and you can use them to contrast the colour shirt you wear while keeping them in the right place. You can add a dash of colour to a subdued shirt or vice versa in general terms. A white dress shirt with black trim and black sleeve garters looks very neat, very tidy if that's an image you like. Couple that with a nice tie, and you have a simple formal outfit ready to go.

    Also, the best part, they aren't all that common and can set you that gnat's wing apart from others. However, in my experience, they also lack a 'lame' factor because they aren't exactly out of style, per se, avoiding the WTF? looks and questions.

    I only suggest these mainly because I've had direct compliments on my own usage of them. And people are genuinely intrigued by what they are. Sure, I can't get a date to save myself (although I can't say I've tried to, to be fair to myself) but if you like your button down shirts but can't get ones you like to work in the sleev department, sleeve garters have you covered.

    Small note: if you're drastically underweight, the rules for belts are a little different. Mainly because I literally cannot find a belt small enough for myself. I'm sure there are others that can coroborate this sad fact. I find it's easiest just to suck it up, make an extra hole far along a good one and endure the fact it doesn't look tops. It's better you hold your pants up than your belt looks emaculate.

  • man hoodies

    I rarely see nerds ever wearing this unless they are 19 and younger. Most young adult nerd guys I know wear jeans or cargo shorts, have any wallet, usually leather. No belt at all. And either generic polo, school, or band/video games/anime shirts