When One Size Doesn't Fit All: A Man's Quest To Find An Extra-Small

As part of the All Things Considered series "Men in America," producer Viet Le shares his frustrations with shopping for clothes as an extra-small man.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Men may be more interested in style, but not every man likes shopping for clothes. That includes ALL THINGS CONSIDERED producer, Viet Le. He says when it comes to men's clothing, size matters.

VIET LE, BYLINE: A couple weeks ago, I was at a Target, staring at some athletic shorts. They were inexpensive, comfortable looking, the right fit - just one problem. I was in the boy's clothing section. And I - I am 38-year-old man.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?")

THE CLASH: (Singing) Should I stay or should I go?

V. LE: OK. I'm 5' 6", 128 pounds. Sure, some might describe me as a short man or a slender man - but still a man. At Target, I'm a boy's large. See, over at the men's section, a shirt size small just doesn't fit. I'll try it on in the dressing room, hopeful. But then the shirt pocket will be closer to my belly button than my chest. And I run into this problem all the time, especially at big retail or department stores. When I was in my twenties, I would have been stuck buying that shirt - not anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT")

TWISTED SISTER: We're not gonna take it. No, we ain't gonna take it.

V. LE: Clothing stores now, from H&M to J. Crew, carry a size for men like me - extra-small. And yes, it makes all the difference. But don't just take my word for it.

(PHONE RINGING)

V. LE: Meet my identical twin, my brother Nam.

NAM LE: Hello?

V. LE: You're saying it funny, but OK.

N. LE: I don't care.

V. LE: OK, I'm going to hang up the phone. You should still be connected. Hold on.

Yes, we're fighting over the right way to say hello. Extra-small, though - something we agree on.

N. LE: Yeah, smalls and extra-smalls? It's like a huge ocean of difference. I mean, smalls aren't even in my radar. You know, extra-smalls - they're a rare find. And when you find them, then you need to hold onto them. And they're very precious.

V. LE: OK, if it seems strange my brother describes finding an extra-small shirt as if he discovered a rare gem, then here's the other thing you need to know about life as an extra-small guy - scarcity. So here's the experience that I have a lot, is that I'll go to a store. And yeah, I know they carry extra-small sizes, but there won't be any. Like, they're completely gone. People...

N. LE: Well, honestly, it's probably me. I know when I find the extra-small shirt that I love, I will buy it in multiple colors. And I'll just ration them out when I wear them.

V. LE: Ah, so I can blame you.

N. LE: (Laughing) Blame me? I guess so, yeah.

V. LE: It's not all my brother, of course. A sizing expert told me stores don't keep that many any extra-smalls in stock because, well, there are fewer of us. Retail space is precious space, and extra-small men aren't big business.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANT TO BREAK FREE")

QUEEN: (Singing) I want to break free. I want to break free.

V. LE: They say clothes make the man. What does it say about the man if the clothes aren't made for you? What if you stop asking if the shirt fits, and wonder if you do? Once upon a time, I used to think it was me. I wasn't tall enough or big enough. But that changed with age, with wisdom, with many failed trips to the gym. Now I fully embrace my stature, even if the clothing industry hasn't. In my book less is more, short is sweet and extra-small is perfect.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WISH")

SKEE-LO: (Singing) Hello? I wish I was a little bit taller. I wish I was a baller. I wish I had...

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Viet Le. You can follow our series on Facebook and Twitter, #menpr. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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