Story by Michael Shapio
Photo courtesy Jimmy Au
Apart from the ability to squish comfortably into an airplane seat and a bright future as a jockey, there’s not much to recommend being little in America. Other little guys know what I mean: how we have to practically bean the bartender with a wadded-up twenty to get his attention, how the gazes of women pass blithely over our heads to settle on some lumbering chucklehead who happens to look dashing in a trench coat.
Never is my shortcoming more acutely felt (I’m 5’3”, and I have to really work for that 3”) than when I’m shopping for clothes, which for most little guys is an exercise in masochism. If they even have our size, which they probably don’t (why is it that stores seem perennially out of smalls? Did the tour bus from Munchkinland clean out Ala Moana before I got there?), it probably still won’t look right. The reason, explains designer Jimmy Au, is that most men’s clothes are cut for a “standard” six-foot body, then scaled down. (Note to clothing manufacturers: Average male height in the United States is a little north of 5’9”). But you can’t just downsize a six-foot guy to 5’3”; the proportions will be wrong. Thus every suit I put on makes me look like the Michelin Man.
Which is why Jimmy is so successful: As the owner of Jimmy Au’s for Men 5’8” and Under, he’s the only—only—purveyor of fashion tailored specifically for short men in the country, possibly in the world. God knows why; you’d think clothing manufacturers would want to market to little guys. We’re rich, smart, powerful—Nobel laureates, A-list actors, ruthless dictators (“Pound for pound,” Jimmy points out, “we’re the world’s most successful people!”).
At 5’2” himself, Jimmy knows my pain. While a student at BYU on O‘ahu in the late 1950s, the Hong Kong native was tasked with starting a business for a class. Jimmy had connections to a tailor back in Hong Kong who could do custom work for shorter guys—who are legion in Hawai‘i, in case you haven’t noticed. Jimmy’s first client was his professor; the second was the university president. When he left the Islands for Los Angeles, he made silks for jockeys. But an alfalfa allergy made it impossible for him to be around horses, so he opened a store making clothes for the wee.
I know I’m at home at his Beverly Hills location when I see the shoes. Half sizes. Seven and a half to be precise, the stuff of mere myth at DSW. And hanging in a corner: trench coats. No way that’s going to work, I say. Not so! replies Jimmy. He’s designed it with raised pockets, trimmer arms and the armholes cut higher than on coats for normals. On every rack, nothing but S, XS, even XXS. Pants with a twenty-eight-inch inseam, sizes from thirty-four to fifty short. It’s a heaven for hobbits, a Shangri-La for shrimps. Which is why, after thirty-seven years in business, Forbes rated Jimmy Au’s among the top ten men’s stores in the nation. Hollywood giants like Al Pacino, Jason Alexander, Steve Carrell and Chris Rock have all walked out looking slightly more commanding than when they walked in.
But alas, good things come in expensive packages. There’s nothing small about the prices at Jimmy Au’s—it is Beverly Hills after all. I can’t afford even a pair of jeans ($235). So it’s with a twinge of hopelessness that I let Jimmy measure me for the suit I’ll never wear. But then the little-guy gene kicks in, that surging competitiveness that drives us to out-alpha our taller brethren. That same quixotic ferocity that sent a 5’6” Napoleon into the teeth of a Russian winter, that earned a 5’5” Earl Boykins a spot playing basketball for the Houston Rockets, that snagged a 5’7” Tom Cruise both a 5’11” Nicole Kidman and a 5’9” Katie Holmes.
Oh yes, I think, eyeing the XXS aloha shirts on my way out. Once I’ve conquered Europe, you will be mine.