There aren’t many men of size doing work in the high fashion side of the industry, so when we meet them, we’ve got to share their stories. James R. Sanders is one such gent, a contributing writer (and stylist) for Vogue Italia, a contributing fashion blogger for the Huffington Post, and author of pieces for Glamour Magazine, SoulTrain.com, and more. James talks to us about taking his style into his own hands, his huge tie collection and his upcoming luxury handbag line.
You’re a fashion journalist for some major publications, a stylist, TV correspondent – a designer – all things that require time and hard work to be able to do. Has fashion always been in your blood?
Not at all, definitely not! Growing up, I wanted to be a lawyer, then a music journalist. I was covering for a friend who was reporting on a local fashion show. I wasn’t even interested in fashion at that point. I ended up writing the article and finding that I was really interested in learning more about the industry. It took me a while to understand fashion, trends and style. As a bigger person, I had to go that extra mile to learn what worked for me.
How would you describe your style?
My style is definitely more on the classic end, with a bit of edginess added in. When I first became interested in fashion, my personal style was really focused around button down shirts and ties. I have a collection of over 500 ties, most of them are archive or vintage – things I pick up as I travel. For a while, it was almost a uniform for me to make sure I had a shirt, a tie, and a bag. This season, my wardrobe is a lot more relaxed. You’ll see denim, knitwear – sweaters with piping, things like that. I don’t like my style to be too overly technical or overly done. Sometimes it’s good to be almost effortless. That’s what my inspiration is right now. It changes each season.
Does the work you do inspire how you dress?
Most definitely. My styling work really inspires what I wear. Since I’m bigger, I have to look for ways to translate the looks I’m styling into something that will work for me. When I find a look I like, I have to consider how it is going to look on me, how it will work. Fit is so important, no matter what your size. You don’t have to be limited in what you wear as a plus size person, you just have to find that comfortable medium that works for you.
I’m not as interested in what’s new and trendy – I tend to look back to eras past for inspiration. My favorite era is the 50’s. Men dressed for everything then, even going out to get the paper.
Why do you think there’s such a lack of stylish clothing options for men of size on the market?
I think the biggest problem is that clothing companies are only now realizing that menswear is important again, and that there’s a real market for it out there. It took a while [to get to this point], and I think what’s happening is that most of these companies don’t realize there’s an audience that’s interested in stylish plus size men’s clothing. I don’t think they believe we exist, or that there’s enough of us out there to make it profitable.
You’re seeing women’s plus sizes popping up in the mainstream, but nothing for men yet; I think it’s a shame. If these companies knew that there were big men out there who were really interested in style, I think they would produce more, and offer higher quality.
Where do you shop?
I know it’s a cop out to say “everywhere,” but it really is true. High end department stores like Nordstrom for accessories and footwear. Kohl’s, Target, Burlington Coat Factory, H&M, though their sizing can be tricky. Definitely ASOS.com.
A lot of the things I buy have to be altered, because fit is important to me, so I have a tailor who can add pieces to the things I buy, which gives them the specific look I’m going for.
You’re working on your first collection of luxury handbags, right?
Randolph is a collection of luxury handbags that I built from the ground up. The name – I go by James R. Sanders, and the R in my middle name stands for Randolph. Creating the line took me longer to do because I wanted to educate myself on the business first. I’m very happy to say that I finished the first bag – the prototype has been built, and it’s black crocodile. The second bag is in production and should be done soon.
I’ve always been inspired by accessories. As a big person, accessories are one size fits all, and when shopping for them, I knew I wouldn’t be turned away from the accessories section of Chanel, or Chloe, or Boss, or Salvatore Ferragamo. Accessories became something I could invest in, and they’ve been so important to me, so it made sense to create a small collection of bags and accessories.
What advice would you give guys out there who are trying to figure out how to create their own unique style?
First and foremost, do not limit yourself. Learn what works by experimenting; it can be right in front of your mirror. Take a real inventory of yourself and work with what you have. Be happy with yourself and how you look. When you’re happy, you’re more apt to experiment with your own personal style.
Get a seamstress or a tailor, because they are essential to fit. If you can’t afford a tailor, pull out a needle and thread and learn to do it yourself. Sometimes seams need to be let out or brought in. As a celebrity stylist, I’ve learned to improvise.
Read! Create a mood board that contains styles you like, or things you want to try. Even if you think some of them are far-fetched, just do it. It’s the only way you’re going to learn – it’s how I learned.