By Valli Herman | May 1, 2020
Menâ€™s Special Sizes
The difference between an editorial fashion stylist and a Costume Designer becomes starkly obvious when it comes to outfitting men who don’t fit into average-size clothes. That’s when the Costume Designer’s skill at dressing special sizes in proportionate clothing comes into play.
Yet even with the abundant wardrobe resources of Southern California, there’s a limited supply of off-the-shelf, quality clothing for men on extreme edges of average. Two specialty retailers in Beverly Hills help make a big difference for the smaller and the taller man — Jimmy Au’s and Rochester Big & Tall.
The complete name of Jimmy Au’s includes the important distinction that it serves men 5’8” and under. Through a long history that dates to the ‘60s, Jimmy Au and now his son, Alan, have catered to celebrities, local residents and a growing international clientele.
The Big World of Smaller Sizes
Step into Jimmy Au’s store on Brighton Way in Beverly Hills and you’ll see shelves and racks stocked with everything to outfit men of shorter stature. Shirts in 14 to 19 1/2-inch neck sizes come with hard to find 31-inch sleeves; suits, sports coats and blazers are available in short lengths, from 34 to 50; and in extra-short from 34 to 48, including odd sizes to 43 for both lengths. Even the racks and ceilings are lower to make the store feel proportional.
“A lot of Costume Designers come to us because we carry such a big selection,” said Alan, who is the company’s vice president. They also seek the retailer’s expertise in working with studios and production companies.
Being able to shop off the rack with a retailer who understands the particular needs of Costume Designers is a huge advantage, said Costume Designer Olivia Miles. For television, she’s dressed 6-foot-8 Brad Garrett on “The Crazy Ones,” and 5-foot-6 Kevin Connolly on “Entourage.”
Most extended sizes are now available online. “That’s hard for us, because we needed it yesterday,” said Miles. “If you’re lucky enough to have the services of a tailor on your show, you’ll be fine with a tall guy.”
Not every production can wait for shipping or afford custom tailoring or extensive alterations. Many vendors charge restock fees, don’t offer multiples in special sizes and have premium prices.
Au has customized his business to provide better service to Costume Designers.
“I’ve redesigned my receipts to help costume designers,” said Au, who now lists the style, SKU number, color, pattern and fabric content on receipts. The details help with all kinds of issues — reorders, restocking and tracking of wardrobe and budgets. He also keeps files by actor and receipts by show.
He hires a publicist to help him follow movies that feature shorter actors and those who are making the rounds of awards shows. He subscribes to IMDB Pro, the website that lists multiple contacts for key players in television and film, and he calendars pilot season and trade show dates.
Though the entertainment industry accounts for less than 10 percent of the store’s volume, the staff are experts in an unusual niche–the intersection of celebrity and stature.
“A lot of Hollywood is shorter than you think,” said Au, who carefully guards client names, usually at their request. A private valet entrance and house calls also help shield sensitive clients.
“There are people who want their secrets kept,” he said, noting that some high-profile actors use fake names and send assistants, not stylists, to shop for them. “We sew in a lot of size tags–a 40 regular for a 40 short.” The store also sells a high volume of shoe lifts that can add up to 2 inches in height.
Au gradually added sportswear to the tailored-clothing mix. As the business changed over years, the Au family gradually stopped collaborating with designer brands to develop in-house collections that incorporate their expertise in fitting shorter men. That fit has engineered the proportion of clothing to make the wearer appear taller, particularly in full-length shots.
“The benefit of the right fit is you look taller,” said Au. And when he hears his favorite comment, “I didn’t know he was short,” then he knows he’s done his job.
For The Bigger Guys
Rochester Big & Tall, which is part of the Casual Male XL chain, is just a few blocks west on Wilshire Boulevard. The Beverly Hills store carries extended sizes in Polo Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers, Robert Graham, True Religion and more. Dress shirt neck sizes begin at 17.5 inches, sleeves run to 39 inches and inseams can stretch to 42 inches.
The store differentiates between “big” men–those under 6’3”–and tall men, who are over 6’4’’. The range of sizes is, predictably, large. A size 7XLT is tailored for a neck size of 25 to 26 inches and sleeves of 40 ½ inches; chest size is 70 to 72 inches.
Other retailers offer extended sizes online. For example, Men’s Wearhouse sells a range of suit sizes, including a few extra-longs in designer brands, and from 38 short to 54 long in Joseph Abboud suits, along with dress shirts with 39-inch sleeves and collars up to 18 inches. It also offers a Wilke Rodriguez tuxedo in a portly fit that ranges from a 38 regular portly to a 60 long portly. Most shoes at Men’s Wearhouse top out at size 15.
With Aghayan’s passion for the entertainment business, it was fitting that he not only received the industry’s top honors but had the opportunity to work with some of its most beloved players. In the nearly 50 years he worked as a Costume Designer, he was prolific. Aside from the Oscar-nominated films, Aghayan also designed iconic costumes for “Dr. Dolittle” (1967), starring Rex Harrison, “Caprice” (1967), “The Glass Bottom Boat” (1966) and “Do Not Disturb” (1965), all starring Doris Day, “The Art of Love” (1965), starring James Garner, and “Our Man Flint” (1966), starring James Coburn. He also designed over a dozen Academy Award shows from 1968 to 2001. In designing costumes for television specials and shows, he worked with Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Julie Andrews, Jack Benny, Dinah Shore, Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, Carol Channing, Sammy Davis Jr., Dick Van Dyke, Barbara Eden, Mitzi Gaynor, Jim Nabors, Peggy Lee, Shirley MacLaine and hundreds of other stars.
And, Aghayan’s reach extended beyond film and television. With Mackie, he designed 940 costumes for the opening of “Hallelujah Hollywood” at the Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, as well as the costumes for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games. He also teamed with Mackie and another Costume Designer, Ret Turner, in the ownership of the costume house Elizabeth Courtney Costumes, which continues to serve the costume industry.
In a 1997 Television Academy Foundation interview, when asked what advice he’d give to aspiring Costume Designers, Aghayan said, “I would think that you have to be sure that you’re very good… and have an enormous amount of tenacity.” Looking back on the life and legacy of this incredibly gifted designer, Aghayan certainly had that and more. He has truly left an indelible mark on the art of Costume Design.