Collage of mens vintage braces / suspenders
18 September 2013

Embrace Your Braces (Suspenders) – History, How To Wear, & Retrofit Your Trousers

Yound man wearing black shirt and cream bracesLast Updated: July 16th 2016

Whether your look is vintage Hollywood actor or more Killers front man Brandon Flowers, braces are a fundamental accessory which will help you express your personality and add a little something extra to your look, even keeping your trousers up along the way!

Braces come in various styles, the thickness of the straps vary wildly and while usually elastic you can also buy a pair in a solid fabric such as leather, you can also get your hands on any colour or pattern that takes your fancy.

I ask only 2 things of you:

  • Firstly that they are finished with the traditional button fastenings, not the clips! A true gentleman would never wear clipped braces, it’s simply not the done thing (as my Aunt Maud tells me.)
  • Secondly, never under any circumstances should you wear both bet and braces. As Henry Ford once said “How can you trust a man that wears both a belt and suspenders?  The man can’t even trust his own pants.”

A true vintage pair may set you back anything from a thrifty £3.00 ($4.80) from a charity shop right up to £30 ($48.00) for a plaited leather pair with adjustable buckles. Check out Ebay or Etsy for a wealth of vintage braces and make sure you scour those thrift shops and charity shops along with car boot sales and vintage fairs and markets.

When buying vintage, undo and move the adjustable fixings as these have been known to rust and not fasten fully or leave rust stains on the elastic. If the current length is good for you and you don’t need to make any adjustments you may never see the rust marks but if you need to lengthen them you may be left with a rusty stain near your left nipple. Simply unsightly!

Vintaeg poster with man wearing stripped braces

The History Of Braces

First invented in 1820 by Albert Thurston who incidentally still make them in their factory in Leicester, England, this is one gentleman’s accessory that has stood the test of time.

These accessories were originally designed to accompany the high waisted pants that were in fashion. These high pants were worn so high, belts could not hold them up! The suspenders designed by Thurston attached to the pants by leather loops, still being made today.

Suspenders were considered to be an undergarment, never to be seen in public. As a staple of every mans wardrobe throughout the 1920’s they lost favor during the 1930s as the waistcoats that used to cover this essential piece of ‘underwear’ were worn less. Not wanting to expose their intimates to all and sundry, men promptly switched to belts and herein we see the demise in the braces’ popularity.

Visible suspenders were risqué; in 1938 a town in Long Island, NY tried to ban gentleman from wearing them without a coat. The town called this risky move a “sartorial indecency.” The ban was overturned after residents complained.

Slowly, even after the waistcoat was worn less often, pants were fashioned to start sitting lower meaning suspenders began to fade more. However, they didn’t completely disappear. Doctors in the late 1920s recommended suspenders to patients with larger stomachs. Actors, like Humphrey Bogart and Ralph Richardson both wore them. Richardson even bought six pairs when World War II broke out in anticipation of fabric rations.

Post World War II Style

The 1960’s brought back braces in pop-culture. They can be spotted in the movie A Clockwork Orange, worn by famous hooligan, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm MacDowell). The British skinheads adoped suspenders into their working-class look. They can be seen attached to blue jeans that didn’t need help staying up.

The movie Annie Hall even brought around braces being worn by working women who wanted a more “unisex” look. Note: In Britain, suspenders refer to the undergarment holding up ladies stockings.

People Magazine released an article in 1986 recommending that “fashion-forward teens” wear their suspenders hanging from their waist, not worn on their shoulders. Movies in the late 1980s also began to associate suspenders with wealth while TV gave suspenders a different vibe: the nerd.

Modern Revival of Braces

While braces were mostly absent from wardrobes in the 1990s and early 2000s, they could still be seen in the Punk and Grunge scenes. More recently, hip-hop style icon Fonzworth Bentley popularized the preppy dandy look in pop-culture. This look has also pushed for a fascination with early 20th century culture. Men are looking towards the dandy style of the early 1900s for inspiration for their wardrobe and lifestyle. More speakeasy themed bars, mustaches and, of course, braces are being seen.

Now that they’re back in a big way, I want to show you how to turn an ordinary pair of trousers into one that can provide you with multifunctional wear, with or without braces!

Not sure how to wear braces? Skip down to our guide for how to put them on. Do you already know how to put them on and are ready to retrofit your trousers? Jump ahead, it’s easier than you think! If you’ve handled a needle before then we’re half way there, just follow these simple instructions and we’ll have you looking like a spiffing gent in no time.

Step-By-Step Guide: How To Buy Braces & Retrofit Your Own Trousers For Braces / Suspenders

A Bit About Buttons

Vintage White Buttons For Braces / Suspenders These can be attached to the inside or the outside of the trousers. When waistcoats were an everyday item they were sewn to the outside as they were covered by the said waistcoat. As waistcoats became unpopular as mentioned above the buttons were moved to the inside.

It’s popular opinion that having buttons on the inside is more formal so if you’re adding them to a pair of Pantaloon De Nimes (that’s jeans to you) feel free to add them to the outside. Also if you have some lovely vintage bakelite buttons or some contrasting coloured ones, you may wish to use them to make a statement and sew these to the outside. For today’s exercise we’re adding them to the inside.

As the buttons are going to be attached to the inside of the trousers, they don’t need to match but they do need to be big enough to keep the fastening attached and small enough to comfortably pass through the buttonhole on the leather end of your braces, choose something around 20mm (0.87″) wide.

Set of three vintage suspenders What Shape Are Your Suspenders?

There are 2 main shapes, the X shape which has 2 fastenings at the front and 2 fastenings at the back which should be attached at equal distances to ensure an even pull and the Y shape.  The vast majority of new and vintage braces are Y shaped, with a single center fastening at the back and 2 fastenings at the front, so that’s what we’re concentrating on here.

Button Placement For Your Braces

If you look around on the interweb wotsit you’ll see various references to where buttons should be placed; this far away from a pleat, that far away from a belt loop etc. However, this doesn’t take into consideration the size of your waste, your stomach or the width of your shoulders! And in my humble opinion, it’s better to make an aesthetically pleasing fixing rather than a technically correct one. If you can reach both, great! but if you’re a strapping chap with wide shoulders and a small waist or a portly gent as wide as you are tall, technically correct fixings may not work for you.

My advice would always be to pop them on and take a butchers (look for the non-British) in a mirror. If they look okay, then you’re on to a winner!

The braces should come up the center of your back, pass comfortably over your shoulders and sit in a straight line down your front until they meet the waistband of your chosen trousers.

Buying Vintage Braces – Length Is Key!

Thress sets of vintage braces leather endsWhen buying vintage braces make sure that they are long enough for you! In the past trousers had a higher rise than modern trousers meaning that the braces didn’t need to be quite so long!  If you are a shorter chap, this may not be a problem for you, but the heightier among us, may struggle as attaching a shorter pair of braces to a trouser with a lower rise may result in the dreaded wedgie, front and back! and nobody wants to see that!  So, when buying vintage braces either try them on for size or if buying online ask the seller to measure the fully extended length (not the stretched length, the length when the clasps are open and they are fully extended) That way if they are longer than you need you can make them shorter but you know that you won’t be able to make them any longer!

A Note About Waistbands

This method will only work on a fully finished waistband, i.e. one that is sewn in and attached fully around the inside of the trousers. If your trousers have a waistband that is simply sewn on and folded to the inside but left lose, this will not work as the braces when attached will simply pull the folded in waistband up and out for all to see. What would Aunt Maud say!?

If your trousers have a waistband like this I would recommend that you either sew the buttons to the inside with a thread the exact colour of your chosen trousers which will give you a more formal look but with 6 small patches of sewing viewable on the outside, or sew them to the outside, again, sewing all the way through the waistband for security.

Fully fixed waistbands are made up of 2 or 3 layers of fabric: the outer fabric, a lining or stiffener and an inner fabric. There is a new trend for the inner fabric to contrast with the rest of the garment, it may be a bright colour or a floral fabric. Personally I don’t understand this, while it may look appealing while on the hanger, who’s ever going to see it?  The only person who may see it is that special person who’s managed to get their way into your boudoir and if while on their knees in front of your open fly, they become distracted from their amorous advances by a fancy inner waistband, it can only be a bad thing!

Red needle and thread on trousers with braces buttonsWhat You’ll Need

  • Trousers
  • A pair of leather ended button fastening braces
  • 6 buttons
  • Thread
  • Needle
  • Scissors
  • Tape measure
  • Pins, small stickers or tailors chalk
  • Good lighting
  • Miles Davis on the record player and a large Gin and Tonic (optional)

Lets Get Sewing!

Firstly, thread your needle with cotton that matches the colour of your trousers or the buttons. As it’s not going to be seen, it’s down to your own preference. I’m using red thread and white buttons simply so you have a clear image of what I’m doing.

Open the fly and lay your trousers on their back exposing the inner back seam and waistband. Now lay your buttons on the waistband about an inch or so either side of the back seam and in the middle of the depth of the waistband. (Fig 1)  Happy with the placement of your buttons? Mark the placement with a pin, a small sticker or some tailors chalk and measure the distance from the middle seam to make sure they are equal.

Take your needle and thread and put the needle through the top inner layer of the waistband an inch or so away from the final button placement. Do not go right through to the other side as you will see the stitching.

Pull the needle through the top layer of fabric and out at the position of the button, losing the end of the thread just inside the fabric.  Now sew a few small stitches to secure the thread (fig 2) now thread the button on to the needle and fix in place making sure you only catch that top layer of fabric. To secure the thread go back through the button and sew backward and forward through your stitching at the base of the button then through the top layer of fabric, coming out an inch or so away from the button and cut it. (fig 3)

Trousers with back braces buttons

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Needle and thread in trousers

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Button attached to trousers for suspenders

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Repeat this for the other side making sure the second button is a mirror image of the first (fig 4).

Back buttons on pants for suspenders / braces

Now attach the end of your braces to your newly affixed buttons and pop your trousers on (you shouldn’t have been working in your underwear anyway, this is reserved solely for judges and members of the clergy, if this is you, continue as you were).

Pass the loose ends of the braces over your shoulders and make your way to the mirror taking 4 pins, some tailors chalk or 4 small stickers with you to mark the placement of your front buttons.

You’re aiming to get the straps straight down the front of your body while sitting comfortably on your shoulders (Fig 5) Make sure they are not too far apart or too close together (Fig 6 & 7).

Man Showing Correct Position Of Braces On Trousers

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Man Showing Braces Placement To Narrow

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Man Showing Too Wide Braces Position On Trousers

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Gentelman latering trousers for braces Once you’re happy that you have this right (consult your other half, a friend or neighbour or passing Doctor) mark the placement of the buttons with your chalk, stickers or pins. Sew the buttons on the inside using the same technique as you did in the back and once you’ve done one side, make sure that you do the other side exactly the same, measuring the distance between the button and the nearest belt loop or seam for example.

And you’re done! Well done you! Slip your trousers on and enjoy your new look.

The Final Look

Dress it up with a fresh shirt and a bow tie or throw on a granddad shirt, a flat cap and some brogue boots and you’re away, vintage style!

Well dressed man with bow tie, glasses, and classic suspenders / braces

Click To Enlarge

Let us know how you get on by posting some pictures on one of our social profiles, or comment below…..

43 Responses

  1. Really useful instructions on converting to button braces, Craig. Not something you see enough of – the clip-on versions are too easy perhaps. Would say though that in my experience the X shape is more in demand than the Y shaped braces when it comes to buying new, though it could just be different markets’ preferences.

  2. Steve Yousten

    Another thing to consider on the front buttons, if you ARE wearing it with a waistcoat, you want to make sure the straps are hidden under the waistcoat.

  3. Jenny

    I’ve sewed buttons on the outside of all my husband’s trousers having bought him some blue braces – took a while but now they’re done, he really likes his braces, says they’re much more comfy than a belt!

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  6. Gordon

    Nice to read this, I have done this so many times before it is good to know I have been doing it the rigth way. Just think braces set a guys style off so well just wish more guys would wear braces and let other see them as well, not a fan of keeping them hidden they should be shown off for all to see. Manybe the more others see them they will follow.

    1. Craig, That Dapper Chap

      Hello Gordon, thank you for taking the time to get in touch! It’s great to hear from another fan of braces. Feel free to show them off with pride! And when you do, share the pictures with us on Instagram

      1. Gordon

        Great result today one of the guys at our weekly client meeting turned up today with a suit on, which was odd as I had never seen him in a suit before, a bit too formal for our normal meetings. I was sitting there with my braces on (in full view of course). He sat opposite me and before the meeting started said to me he was glad I had my braces on as he would not feel so silly now himself, at which point he stood up and took off his jacket to reveal a nice pair of button-on Blue & White stripe braces.

        He got a bit of a cheer from the other guys at the table and a few asked us if we were trying to start a trend, well you never know it may just catch on I said. A couple of the guys said they did like the look and it was very smart and stylish. I closed by saying we will have to see who turns up next week with braces on then. Now sure but I think maybe 1 or 2 may just give them a go.

        1. Craig

          Hello again Gordon,

          What a great story! Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I hope to hear that the other gentlemen in the room came to the following meeting suitably attired in the new braces!

          Well done you for spreading the sartorial word!


          1. Gordon

            Epic result. At todays meeting another guy showed up with braces on, so did not expect that but great result. From last weeks meeting when one of the clients team wore braces as he had seen me with mine on before and today one of the other guys who hjad mentioned he liked the look and style of braces last week has turned up sporting a nice pair of navy blue braces over a light blue shirt with dark tie. Very classical look.

            He said he went out and bought them after seeing the two of us with braces on last week and he liked the look and today was the first time he had worn them, wow what a result. just shows if guys start to wear them and show them off others will follow the trend.

  7. Lee

    I share a house at university with 5 other guys, and was initially the only one who wore braces. I never used to show them in public, but indoors, it is impossible to keep them hidden, although at first I was embarrassed. Now 2 months into the first term, 3 other guys are wearing them, admitting how comfortable they are, and more content at showing them than I am. NOTE for other guys thinking of giving them a try – the ladies love them. Just be prepared for a few friendly twangs!

    1. Craig, That Dapper Chap

      Hi Lee,

      Thanks for getting in touch! It always great to hear from a fellow dapper gent!

      I too was used to odd looks and the subject of whispers when I first took to braces as a form of sartorial pleasure. However, wear them with pride and confidence and you’ll soon show those doubting Thomas’s that they are a perfectly friendly and acceptable addition to a gentleman’s upper portions!

      Knowing that you are now leading the way, you have a duty to continue to do so, to help us raise the standard of a mans daily attire! So, what’s next for you? Spats? A top hat? The world is your wardrobe!

      That Dapper Chap

  8. Gordon

    Craig, I was reading your instructions much more clearly and just love this statement of yours below about the waistband colours…

    “The only person who may see it is that special person who’s managed to get their way into your boudoir and if while on their knees in front of your open fly, they become distracted from their amorous advances by a fancy inner waistband, it can only be a bad thing!”

    Ha Ha does this situation ever remind me of myself…Yes Ha Ha, been there done it lol but I dont think he was ever distracted from his amorous advances by the colour of my waistband!!!

  9. Gordon

    Just a note to say one of my work colleagues has turned up this morning wearing a pair of braces. I have been the only guy ever to wear braces before in the office but he has a pair on today. Friday is a bit of a casual dress day and he is wearing a pair of dark blue chinos and has a navy blue pair of skinny clip-on braces with a light blue shirt. I know they are clip-on but at least it is a start Ha Ha.

    I asked him if he was trying to out-do me with the braces and he just laughed saying as it was friday he thought he would give the braces a try. Told me he bought them a few weeks ago as he had seen me with mine on and thought they looked good but never had the courage to wear them out before until today.

    1. Craig

      Great news Gordon! You’re starting a revolution! Get all the braces wearing gents together for a picture and pop it on Instagram! At the very least make sure you post pics of your and @ me! (You have Instagram right?)

  10. Alex

    Quick question: I bought some braces that are a tad bit formal and the strap that connects to the button is more than just leather, it has some shine to it (like a faux-leather material). I notice when I rock the braces It’ll leave black markings on my shirt. Has anyone suffered from this problem – or do I just have some bammer braces?

  11. Gordon

    Hi, I had this once from a vintage pair of braces I bought from a 2nd hand shop once and have read about this happening to guys before, not sure what the solution is, maybe you need to seal the leather ends or something.

  12. Alex

    Thanks Gordon. Yea the dry cleaner had a hard time getting the markings out too – it’s made me reluctant to wear braces again. Maybe time for a new pair

  13. Gordon

    Hi Alex, Don’t be put off wearing braces, stick with them mate. I would suggest you clean and wash the leather ends and any dye or what ever will removed. Just a bit of soap and water on a cloth should do the trick. You will be able to see if any colour or dye comes off on the cloth and keep going until all the dye is removed.

    I have loads of pairs of braces and only ever found this happened with that one pair I bought from the 2nd hand shop, maybe that was why they were there in the first place. I washed and scrubbed them and they have been fine ever since so give it a go.

    Keep going with wearing braces mate, don’t give up it needs guys like us to keep the trend for wearing braces going, the more guys that are seen wearing braces the more will maybe follow and join us braces wearing guys.

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  15. Michael Fantore

    I’ve been wearing suspender/braces since I was 13 and I buy vintage suspenders on eBay because I prefer the “free swing” type best. My dad wore those and they are the best suspenders you can get!

  16. Hi Guys,
    This was a great post. I was looking for a button tutorial. Also, I sell vintage braces and had never had a complaint about dye transfer from the leather. I might try washing a few leather ends to see if I can head this potential problem off at the pass.

  17. Larry

    I’ve been wearing clip on braces for a while with my new flannel cuffed trousers & Harris Tweed jacke the problem is that if I bend,or when I get in the car the back clip comes off & my trouser magically get longer.Now after reading your highly amusing article I have the solution so it’s out with my little sewing kit( which end do I insert the thread) & I’m a new man.

  18. hi mr. craig, that dapper chap

    my fiancee emailed me a link to this article with a note “I WANT YOU TO WEAR EXACTLY WHAT HE’S WEARING”….so i just need your help. where did you get your shirt, bow tie, suspender and pants? thanks

  19. The new look is 22 ins bottom trousers with pleats & turnups with braces naturally,worn with tweed jacket & a trilby.Straight out of an old Ealing film & not for the self conscious some compliments & some funny looks.

  20. Ron


    Thanks for your post on sewing in the buttons correctly. I’ve been wearing braces off an on since the late 80’s. Have now gone to wearing them most of the time. My taste leans to Albert Thurston and Trafalgar limited edition types. Preferably the vintage ones out of production. But as daily wear, it takes a lot of braces to not look too repetitive. Guessing I’m at close to 60 pairs these days. The ladies always seem to really like them. The guys.. well most do too. I always reply to those that question the choice with: Class never goes out of style.

    Thanks again for the recommendations.

  21. Great posts- wish I had come across this earlier, but looks like its been active for a long time!
    I wore button braces with suits in the late 1990’s when in my 20’s for a couple of years- always well received. Gave them up in the 2000’s only to start buying them again when they re-emerged mid-decade. Wear them occasionally but have to admit feel self conscious without a suit jacket or sweater. Wish they were more mainstream…

  22. Tony

    Love my comfy..better than a belt as they do not put pressure on damaged discs in lower back and contribute to sciatic pain…hope they become mainstream fashion…along with waistcoats .Look good with fedora hats as well

    1. Tony Ewing

      Tony – further comment to above…. surprised and pleased at the number of random people complimenting me on my braces and how good they look… pretty chuffed…… will continue to wear them as they are so comfortable and I love the look

  23. I’ve recently purchased a blazer in navy blue& im having light grey flannels made to go with it,double pleats,22ins bottoms & of course turn ups,or cuffs if your American.I think red braces will together with an appropriate tie will complete the look splendidly.What the look is I’m not sure,1950s cad or retired car salesman perhaps.

  24. GCS in KTM

    I live in South Asia, where I can have a tailor do up custom/bespoke braces (suspenders) to my size quite easily. I have always preferred the cloth tabs to leather ones. (Think Thurston fronts.) Do any home tailors out there know where one can but the thick ribbon that is used to make braces tabs?

  25. Quinapalus

    I’m a bit of a purist, so I prefer to have my buttons on the outside of my waistband. i like the way this looks and has the advantage of meaning that you can run the stitching all the way through the waistband and secure it on the inside with a smaller button making it really solid.

    In addition, I have a preference for old school tailoring meaning that I get my suit trousers cut high in the waist (so that the waistband is actually around my waist, rather than my hips) with a “fishtail” back and inward facing pleats.

    The braces that I use to keep these beautifully cut trousers hanging properly are all Albert Thurston, mostly Boxcloth but also a couple of Barathea pairs as well.

    1. Paul Anthony

      Hear, Hear!

      I agree with all your comments. Especially about your trousers being correctly cut around the “true” waist.

      Yours, Paul Anthony

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  29. Nico

    I used to wear braces in my yoof, and want to return to them now. I have a theory that, as men get older, a problem occurs with middle-age spread – as men tighten their belts on an increasingly ‘lowered’ waist, this exaggerates the middle-age spread ‘look’. I reckon braces would help avoid that.
    I’m trying to find suitable buttons, though: 4-hole buttons in different colours (to match the inside lining of my trousers) with a slight cone shape on the back face. I don’t want those metal press-stud ones, as the shaft is too wide for the hole at the bottom of most braces and I’ve never liked them.
    Fingers x-d you can offer some advice.
    I’m having trouble sourcing the buttons I’m after, though. I’d be grateful for any advice – mail-order or shop. Hope you can help. I’m in London.

    1. Paul Anthony

      Hey Nico,

      Depending on what braces you buy they most often than not come with a set of button. I know Albert Thursten do.

      I know Benson & Clegg [] in London stock these buttons, can;t imagine they will be over a few pounds for a set.

      If sewing yourself make sure to sew through entire trouser for strength, not just the waist lining.

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