Braces / suspenders….whatever you call them, just wear them!

Let's settle, for a moment, on the physique of a male.

And more specifically, on the fact that, generally speaking,
a male doesn't have a waist.

So how on earth is a belt supposed to work properly?

I mean it's not like a woman's physique,
where a belt will sit on the waist because the hips will do the job
of defying gravity. Of the belt at least. Their own is another matter.

I digress.
Back to a man's physique and the silliness of wearing belts
as an effective way of holding up pants.

Far better, in so many ways, are Braces or Suspenders,
and why they are not standard daily wear with a suit is beyond comprehension.

Now what is the difference between Braces and Suspenders,
you ask?

Just semantics, it turns out. 

To the Americans and Canadians they are Suspenders.
To the British world, they are Braces.
And to the French, they are Bretelles.

No other difference.

In our house, where my son and husband wear them,
they are braces, because British pronounciation is how we roll…
but for the sake of global peace,
let's just refer to them as S.B.B's for the rest of this post…
(because Double B.S's doesn't sound so nice).
Agreed?

I guess you're wondering who invented the SBB?
(Because that may help to sort out the name confusion, right?)

Well, it appears it was probably the French,
known for their love of a bit of fabric,
because there are various references to gentlemen of the 18th century
holding up their breeches 
using bits of ribbon, braided wool or leather which were attached
to the buttonholes of trousers via a hook.
Referred to as "bretelles", it's rumoured that Napoleon had 
a fancy silk pair embroidered with his bee emblem.

There's also a rumour that Benjamin Franklin wore them,
and even insisted that his local Philadelphian Fire Department wore red ones;
but it's worth remembering that at that time SBB's were considered
an undergarment, and not something for ladies' eyes to see in public.

how to wear braces

But SBBs were about to become a much more visible part of a gentlemen's attire,
because in 1820 Albert Thurston began making and selling them
from his Haymarket, London store.
Sold as "braces" (which was believed to be a derivation of the
Old French "bracer" meaning "embrace"),
Thurston's devices became highly sought after by kings, princes and presidents.

In fact, Thurston's received an Honourable Mention for the quality of their
braces at Prince Albert's grand idea, the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Early Thurston braces were made of woven wool,
with leather loops which attached to buttons either on the inside or outside
of the trouser waist.
The braces were joined in the form of an "H" at the back.
Later versions joined in "X" pattern, and then in a "Y" pattern.
(Both X and Y are commonly available today…H are much rarer.)

The invention of elastic made adjustable SBB's much more adaptable
and comfortable, allowing one pair to easily be interchanged between
a couple of pairs of trousers.

how to wear braces or suspenders

Metal clasps were invented in 1894
and quickly became a good alternative to the leather loops which necessitated
buttons to be stitched onto the trousers.

Since then, SBB's have waned in and out of fashion,
Oscar Wilde's philosophy notwithstanding.

They went out of popular fashion in the early 20th century,
largely because of the Great War,
when uniform trouser waistbands became lower,
held in place by thick belts.

The need for rationing of materials during the war
lead to the disappearance of the waistcoat
as a standard part of a 3 piece suit.
Because the waistcoat used to hide the SBB's,
the obvious lack of one would expose what was still
considered to be part of a gentleman's "underwear",
whereas a belt was considered acceptable.

Then, in the 1960s, visible SBB's became part of the uniform of the punk,
worn with jeans and boots.

And in the 1970s, the movie Annie Hall made them popular
as women's attire.

The 1980s saw a return of the classic menswear SBB,
spearheaded by the Wall Street movie,
and often seen on the young financial guns of the day.

They disappeared from mainstream menswear in the 1990s,
possibly as a reaction to anything which had been associated
with the 1980s.

However, SBB's have never gone out of style when wearing a tuxedo,
which should never, ever, be worn with a belt.
(In fact, as a proper tux doesn't even have belt loops,
it makes the wearing of a SBB obligatory. Amen.)

So, why should they be worn instead of belts today?

Because, under a suit, they create a much sharper silhouette.
Especially so now that the contemporary line of a suit is quite tailored.
A belt creates a bulky line - SBB's are sleek.

They also, due to the aforementioned observation of the anatomy of a male,
actually hold trousers up better than a belt, 
and avoid the odd wriggle/hitch-trousers-up thing which men often do,
and which always looks a little odd. 

The rule used to be that SBBs should never be visible under a suit,
meaning the jacket should never be removed.
But I think we have moved beyond that one, 
and it's more than ok for a handsome gentlemen to trot about without a jacket,
with a fine shirt and matching SBBs on display.

Some purists insist on button versions,
scorning the metal clip varieties.
But, as with most things,
I think it depends more upon the quality than anything else.

So a well made SBB with a beautifully engineered clip can sit as elegantly
as a button variety. 

Oh yes, just one, but it's very important. 

A belt should never be worn with a SBB.
Just don't do it.

That's all.


image sources // 1 // 2: top bottom // 3 // 4 // 5 // 6 // 7 // 8 // 9