There is a difference. If you're a big or tall guy, the whole process can be very confusing.
You may be a big size, but not a tall size, and visa versa. In other words, just because you need a tall size doesn't mean you need a big size. And to make matters even more confusing, most men's stores don't even know the difference. That's why most big and tall men continue to experience frustration in trying to find clothing that fits properly and comfortably.
The Difference Between Big and Tall
A big man is a larger size in the chest, waist, and hips. A tall man who will need a tall size is usually 6'2" or taller, but there are exceptions depending upon where is body length lies. He could have an elongated body and shorter legs. Or longer longs and a shorter body.
The person with the longer body might need a higher "rise" - meaning the length of the pants from the crotch to the waist is longer, but he may not need a longer inseam. Conversely, the man whose length is concentrated in his legs may be fine with a regular "rise", but need a longer length pant. Similarly, a big man would need a larger shirt, but not necessarily a longer shirt.
Why the Confusion?
1) Clerks in most department stores are not trained clothing professionals.
2) The phrase "big and tall" is confusing. Are you big? Or are you tall? Or are you both?
3) This overused phrase is so overused. If the store clerk is not trained, they don't know the difference.
Why Manufacturers are Part of the Problem
If you've purchased men's clothing in sizes 2X or higher in a discount or department store, those clothes actually measure differently than those same sizes in a true men's clothing store! Here's why:
1) Manufacturer's have extended the "XL" size category to make a separate version of big men's clothing in order to save money by using less material. They sell this version to large discount stores and department stores. They are actually a totally different size than "true sized men's big or tall or big and tall clothing.
2) The "true-sized" men's big or tall or big and tall clothing is sold to true men's clothing stores, who are mostly small, locally owned specialty stores. Every day big and tall men come into our store and are amazed by the difference in the way our clothing fits.
3) The difference is not JUST the about of material used. Sleeves are wider and longer. Pants for big men have more length in the body, to allow for a longer "rise." Seams are reinforced to allow for the extra wear a larger body can create. So what you buy will not only fit better, it will wear better, and is usually made of higher quality materials, depending upon the brand.
The Knowledge You Need to Get the Proper Fit
You are now empowered with more knowledge about the difference between big and tall sizes than most retail clothing operations! To find a retailer that knows as much as you do, call your local, quality men's store. Ask them if they uphold the former BATA guidelines for sizing. Not only will you save yourself a lot of frustration and wasteful spending on clothing that doesn't last and doesn't fit, you will be supporting the small remaining group of local men's clothing stores who advocate for the big or tall customer.
The long and short of is is that until you visit a quality men's store who understands this, you will most likely be part of the majority of customers who never find the proper fit for a big or tall man.