“Clothes should hang from the shoulder, not from the waist.” – Oscar Wilde
As far as holding your trousers up is concerned, the choice is between belts or suspenders (“braces” in British English). We will use the terms interchangeably here.
This article will discuss the benefits of braces, how to put them on, the history of the accessory, and general tips for looking your best in them.
You can certainly read the entire article from start to finish if you’d like, or feel free to jump to the section that most interests you by clicking one of the links below:
- History Behind Braces
- Why Wear Suspenders?
- How To Wear Them With Style
- Putting On Your Suspenders
- Where To Buy Men’s Braces
- Making Your Own Pair
- How To Retrofit Trousers For Braces
The History Behind Braces
Though Albert Thurston invented the first modern pair in 1820 (and who still makes them in Leicester, England), it is generally accepted that suspenders were born in France as the “gallus,” though the exact timing of this is unknown. The originals were made from silk ribbon and were made in a wide variety of patterns and colors.
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 sold to American colonists by traveling peddlers and technically qualify as the first ready-to-wear item in history, hundreds of years before Brooks Brothers’ Number One Sack Suit.
Braces 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.
Braces were far more popular than belts up until the First World War, at which point soldiers, having worn yarn belts with their uniforms, returned home with a preference for belts over braces. As more lightweight clothing became available during the Jazz Age, suspenders began losing some steam, sales-wise, compared to belts.
This trend continued through the 1980’s, as men returning home from World War II preferred donning belts with their grey flannel suits, and the slimmer fits of the 60’s and 70’s made braces nearly obsolete, at least with young men.
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 adopted 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.
Suspenders are still less popular than belts, especially with men under the age of fifty. Still, many of us are re-discovering their virtues from both sartorial and comfort perspectives. We get into that more below.
Why Wear Suspenders?
In a nutshell: increased comfort and ease of movement, vertical lines to make you appear taller and / or slimmer, and general nattiness.
Lots of men are afraid of suspenders, and it’s understandable why that’s the case. We’re concerned about looking affected, we don’t know how they should be worn, or we simply don’t want to rock the sartorial boat too much. If you’re a younger guy, wearing braces will draw a lot of attention to you, and that’s an uncomfortable feeling if you’re not 100% confident in what you’re doing.
Still, it’s worth a try. Let’s explore the reasons we gave above as to why you should wear suspenders:
- Increased comfort: Belts cinch your pants around your waist. Anyone who’s ever worn a belt (which is everyone) knows that you have to tuck and re-tuck your shirt over and over again when wearing a belt.
Braces, on the other hand, make your trousers hang from the shoulder, essentially letting them float around your waist. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the comfort and freedom of movement this allows is second-to-none.
- Vertical lines: Braces instantly add two vertical lines to your torso. If you are a short or heavyset body type, this is hugely beneficial. These vertical lines give height to short men and work to slim heavyset men.
- General nattiness: Suspenders look rakish for a number of reasons. First, their rarity relative to belts gives them some instant style points. Second, they occupy the same visual plane as your shirt and tie, which means that they offer an additional opportunity to accessorize in terms of color and pattern. While this presents an additional challenge, the payoff is exponential.
Wearing Your Suspenders With Style
There’s quite a bit to know about how to best wear your braces. So much so, in fact, that we’ve given this topic its own page.
Our comprehensive guide covers everything that you need to know about how to wear your suspenders including some general style tips like color coordination and buckle placement, as well as some examples of classic suspender pairings, such as braces with jeans.
Take a look at our guide on how to wear suspenders for more info.
How To Put On Your Suspenders
Just getting into wearing suspenders but aren’t sure how they work, exactly?
Putting on suspenders really is a simple task and ultimately becomes second nature you’ve done it a few times.
However, for men who may not be accustomed to wearing braces on a regular basis it can seem quite difficult when trying to put them on at first.
You can check out our detailed page on how to put on braces for a graphic-driven, step-by-step guide.
Where To Buy Braces
Lots of different brands that specialize in men’s tailored clothing will also make braces. Below are a few of which we’re big fans:
- Albert Thurston: The creator of the modern suspender. While we admit that their website could use an update, the fact remains that the product is top-notch, and their selection is out of this world.
- Trafalgar: An American company with a history spanning five decades, Trafalgar makes a dizzying array of braces and other leather goods for men. Bonus for the big guys: they carry braces for big and tall men, so you no longer have to adjust yours to the longest setting.
- Drake’s: A British company that’s been around since 1977, Drake’s makes all of its merchandise in England using some of the best skilled craftspeople around. While their braces aren’t inexpensive, they’re an excellent investment.
Making Your Own Pair
If you’re more of a DIY kind of guy, then you might be up for making your own suspenders. The benefits of making your own braces are numerous, and two huge ones come to mind:
- Fully customizable: You pick out the colors and materials, so there’s no aspect of the suspenders that you don’t like.
- Perfect sizing: While braces are adjustable, men with pot bellies or particularly long or short torsos do well with braces that are sized specifically for them. Making your own pair allows you to achieve a perfect fit.
If you’re curious for more, here’s our full guide on how to make suspenders.
How To Retrofit Your Trousers With Suspender Buttons
Do you have trousers you love that don’t take suspenders? We’ve been there…
You can take your trousers to a tailor and have them put brace buttons in.
Alternatively, you can just do this yourself with a few items and some determination.
If you would like to add suspender buttons to a pair of pants and are up for fun DIY project then check out our guide on how to retrofit your pants for suspenders. Enjoy!
Conclusion: Rules Around Wearing Suspenders
- Never wear braces with a belt, ever. Under any circumstances. You’re better off with your pants falling down.
- Never, ever, ever wear clip-on braces. Popular as these are with Disneyland’s Dapper Day, they are decidedly bush league. You’re a grown man, you can wear proper braces.
- Your trousers’ waistband should be looser than you’re used to. This isn’t to say that you should be swimming in your pants, but to allow them to “float” with suspenders as they should, they needn’t be snug.
You can also access the rest of our suspender content by clicking any of the links below:
- How To Wear Suspenders
- How To Put Your Suspenders On
- How To Make Suspenders
- How To Retrofit Your Trousers For Suspenders
For more information on suits and the accessories that go with them, we invite you to visit our suiting home page.