Kavah King’s Rules of Style for ‘Big Guys’
Before I sit down with Kavah King, founder and editor-in-chief of lifestyle blog “The Gentlemen’s Curb” and self-described “big” guy, I know I’m going to ask Kavah King about how — for lack of less cloying terminology — damn uplifting he is. For those who have not yet had the pleasure of talking big-life-things with Kavah King, take the following sound bite: “You can’t buy love; you can’t buy health; you can’t buy happiness. You can go buy a $2,000 pair of shoes, but are you going to be happy? No. If you’re not happy inside, what’s the point?” This is just how Kavah King goes about the world.
He spreads this positivity across his platforms — his site, as well as his personal social media channels — like a dab of velvety, room-temperature butter on brioche. He’s also a model, having fronted Bonobos’s most recent extended sizing campaign, and a teacher’s assistant for kindergarten. And this much will be obvious at this point, but he really knows how to dress.
Ahead, I spoke to King on all of it: finding clothes that fit, and being uncompromising about it; taking style risks, like wearing t-shirts with scarves attached; and, point blank, what he believes to be the secret to happiness.
Bonobos: You have roughly 94 “jobs,” including blogger, editor, Instagram influencer, and model, and that’s all in addition to your work as a teacher’s assistant. How did you get into this multi-hyphenate business?
Kavah King: I recognized that there was no voice for me. What I mean by that is that I [followed] a lot of other [influencers and bloggers] and I recognized that we don’t have the same body structure. We’re people, so we have similarities, but there are differences — I’m a bigger man and I didn’t see a reflection of myself. I had a conversation with one of my friends and they said, “Listen, you should start it,” and I said, “What?!” They’re like, “Well, you should start doing it.”
If you really want to do something, then go out there and do it. A lot of people have subscribed to that because I try to be as honest and authentic as possible. I’m never going to be 200 pounds, ripped, with six-pack abs, but as long as my heart beats well and my cholesterol is low and I can still function and live, that’s the most important thing to me.
Did you ever have a moment where you were like, “Whoa, this is really happening?”
Well, the first thing that happened was that a brand reached out to me and wanted me to model their clothes. It was the oddest thing because I’m like, “Why would you want me?” Some people may say they feel like they deserve it, like, “Yes, I should be modeling your clothes and represent your brand.” But for me, it was so humbling. Out of all these people, they chose me.
It was for a brand called the Maximus Box, a subscription box service for big and tall men. I modeled for them and just thought it was the weirdest thing in the world. They’re like, “Oh, the pictures were so great!” I’m like, “Yo, my head’s looking big. The light is shining off my forehead.” I’m noticing all of these critiques, but everyone was all, “It looks great!” I haven’t looked back since. That was the moment I was like, “Wow, this is something different.” Since then, I’ve worked with Macy’s, JCPenney, Express. There’s been so many other brands, but that was the first one.
And you’ve never forgotten it.
No. You don’t want to forget your first time.
Do you still feel that same sense of responsibility when you sign on with brands now?
When I work with any brand, I felt like I’m representing myself and I’m representing men like me, so I have to take it seriously. That goes back to how I was raised. My parents instilled those values within me. You know how the Bible says, “A good name is worth more than riches?” It’s true. If you can’t be depended upon, then what’s the point?
Do you still get nervous before shoots?
The nerves never go. I feel like if most of the nerves go, you need to remove yourself from the situation because it’s not exciting anymore — and then you’re taking a lackadaisical attitude toward it, and I don’t want to have that lackadaisical attitude. Every time I have a shoot, I’m nervous. I’ve done nightclub security, I’ve played semi-pro football, but I wasn’t as nervous then I am in front of a camera. So just the fact that I’m that nervous, I have to keep attacking it. I don’t think the nerves ever go away. Once they do, I just step back and let somebody else go.
Be it fit, sizing, or just general aesthetics, what are some of the most common problems you’ve found with straight-size men’s clothing as a bigger guy?
Finding the right fit is absolutely difficult because, in a lot of cases, brands use one particular fit model. But everybody isn’t the same. For instance, my friend wears a size 16 shoe, but his waist is smaller than mine, his legs are longer than mine, so that wouldn’t be a good fit for everyone. With my body type, I don’t find a lot of clothes that really fit me. What happens is that some will fit me up top, but the sleeves will be too short. Or it’ll be great through the chest and then it’s like, a crop top. With some brands, I know I’m covered. Like Bonobos, and this is not a shameless plug or anything like that. I’m speaking honestly.
What are some of your day-to-day staples you always go back to?
I’m going to be honest: hoodies. Most big guys love these, and I’m one of those big guys that loves hoodies. I try to mix it up a bit, and that’s where The Gentlemen’s Curb comes in. I grew up in an urban environment, so a lot of my fashion influences come from hip-hop. In the day to day, you’ll probably find me in a polo and jeans and sneakers. I love sneakers. But every now and then, I like a pair of Doc Martens. They’re sturdy. I have big feet. So I need something to support them.
What else influences your style?
I look at everything. I don’t want to put myself in a box. I used to do that. I had a shirt that was like, t-shirt with a scarf sewn on, and at first I’m like, “What?” But I tried it on and it ended up being something I really liked. So now I’m in this space where I look at everything. I want to continue to learn and grow and not put myself in a box where I can only do one thing, be a one-trick pony. I want to be in the space where I could put anything on and represent not only myself, but men of size, as well.
Speaking of one-trick-pony-ness, Gentlemen’s Curb has a really heavy emphasis on fitness, in addition to fashion and style. Why was it important for you to incorporate both into your platform?
Fitness has been a part of me as long as I can remember, even at times when I was at my heaviest. People assume that because you’re a certain size, you aren’t fast, you aren’t strong, you’re just big for nothing, like, you’re useless. And it’s irritating. I got teased a lot, to the point that a lot of stuff doesn’t bother me anymore. It’s up to you to take that and use it to refine yourself, or stay stuck in that place with someone who bullied you.
At this point, this is what it is. It’s who I am. This is the body I was given, so I’m maximizing it. I want to show younger people that they can do better than me, that they can go past me. Just go and do what you want to do. Don’t let anybody’s opinion restrict you in any way. So that’s my goal. I want to go hard with it.
Last question, and it’s a little existential, but I feel like you’re game for it: What’s the secret to happiness?
It’s simple. I just remind myself that things don’t have to be this way. What if I wasn’t able to buy a camera and my own photography setup, or what if I wasn’t able to walk? What if I only had one arm? I’m constantly reminding myself that things don’t have to be this way. Things could be worse, or other people have it worse. And I recognize it because I’m in a situation where I’m fortunate, and that should never be taken lightly. Some of my friends aren’t here, and we did the same thing. I went to their funerals. The fact that I’m here breathing and able to do something positive and just be myself… I’m thankful, and that’s how I keep it.
Maura Brannigan is a writer and editor in New York, and is also often covered in dog hair.