Troll around online clothing fora long enough, and you’ll meet with a small but vociferous minority that insists that braces (suspenders) are vastly superior to belts as a trouser-upholding accessory. It easy to think that this is just a cult of crazed lunatics impervious to logic, like Scientologists, or Phillies fans, or Republicans (hey, c’mon, it’s a joke, relax).
But as my frustration with having to yank up my pants all the time waxed and my aversion to garments associated with old men and the early twentieth century waned, I began to consider braces. And today that consideration has flowered into adoption, as I am wearing braces for the first time. And let me tell you, it is fantastic. Your trousers are exactly where you want them, draping beautifully, all the time. It’s also more comfortable because you can afford to have a looser waistband, since the braces are what holds them up.
A few notes on braces. First, they should be considered a functional accessory that is not intended to be seen by others. It’s ok if they flash once in a while, but you are not wearing them to make a “fashion statement”. You are wearing them to keep your pants up. They’re basically undergarments, in the same category as sock garters and shirt armbands, not accessories that are meant to be seen such as ties and pocket squares. If you are wearing a vest or sweater of some sort, the braces go UNDER the vest.
Second, ideally trousers have belt loops or buttons for braces, not both. The reason is that the belt loops look a little lonely when not occupied by a belt, which they shouldn’t be if you’re wearing braces. Right now I’m getting trousers with both as I decide for sure if the braces are what I want to wear exclusively, but I may get the belt loops taken off eventually.
This brings me to my next point, which is that braces that button are the most traditional and, in my view, most attractive kind of braces. But braces that clip on exist too, and they have their adherents who do not lack for personal style.
It’s worth considering why braces ever went out of style in the first place. I can think of three reasons. The first is the invention of indoor heating and the subsequent gradual decline of the three-piece suit. As I mentioned above, suspenders were originally thought of as undergarments, somewhat embarrassing if seen. Part of the function of the waistcoat (vest) was to hide the suspenders, but its warming properties were also often welcome when many rooms were cold. When rooms became warm, the waistcoat was often not worn, which left the suspenders exposed. This is supposition on my part, but it’s possible that at least some men felt that the bared suspenders were unsightly and therefore looked for other options, including belts.
The second is that there are fewer men today that have frequent occasion to wear coat and tie at all. While it’s true that there are more white collar workers now than there were before, it’s also true that 1) a higher percentage of white collar workers in olden days wore coat and tie to work every day 2) People used to go to church more often (although churchgoing is still more common in America than other industrialized countries), and a suit and tie used to be all but required for this occasion, whereas now it is not, and 3) some schools required suit and tie.
As men wear coat and tie less often today, they have become uncomfortable with it, and have sought to make it as easy as possible, and also as close to their normal untailored clothing as possible. Hence the invention of clip-on ties, the trend towards flat front pants, and also the use of belts over suspenders.
And hence lower rise trousers, the final potential cause of the disappearance of suspenders. The shorter your rise, the longer the distance from your shoulder to your pants line, and the more odd you will look wearing suspenders. And the less functional they will prove. You wear suspenders so that your high-rise, pleated pants continue to sit high at your waist as God intended, not slipping down to your hip bones, leaving your pleats sagging and sad-looking. If you’re wearing your pants at your hips already, there’s not much worry of them sliding further. A belt is more than capable of doing the job.
If you prefer higher-rise trousers, however, consider suspenders.
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