Suspenders for men have evolved from a strictly practical item of clothing meant to support a pair of pants to an accessory that adds flair to both casual and formal outfits.
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This is definitely a wardrobe addition to wear with caution though. For example – it’s never a good idea to just clip a pair of suspenders onto your pants.
Here, I share what I’ve learned on how to wear suspenders and how they’ve evolved .
What are Suspenders?
Also known as suit braces, suspenders are long pieces of textile or leather designed to fit over the shoulders. Initially, they were invented to hold up pants, and today, they still fulfil that purpose, especially with workwear and emergency responder garments featuring built-in braces.
The suspenders attach to buttons or, for more convenience, use a set of clips to stay in place. The straps make a Y, H, or X shape over your torso, with the latter two primarily used only for practical, heavy-duty clothing or workwear.
Suspenders were essentially the precursor to the belt, at least at a mainstream level. Outside of the military, they were the preferred way to support your pants – which likely featured a high-waist silhouette before World War II.
Prior to the 1900s, they could be found as far back as the 18th century in France, where they were worn under a shirt to prevent underwear from falling down.
After World War II, men’s fashions went through an evolution, where pants sat lower, closer to the hips, and leather belts became more commonplace. While they were still used for more practical purposes, suspenders experienced a revival in the 1960s as a mod fashion item in the U.K., added to skew gender and enhance the look of tight-fitting denim.
Types of Suspenders
Suspenders for men come in two distinct types:
- Clip-On Suspenders: This is the more accessible option, and the one that can be attached to almost any pair of pants or shorts. Typically made out of textiles instead of leather, these suspenders feature a metal clip that secures to the waistband of your pants. On how to wear these suspenders – all you have to do is attach them to the back and front. But, long-term wear can cause them to fray.
- Button Suspenders: These are a more classic form. The first rule of thumb on how to wear suspenders with buttons is in a more formal setting. Be it a wedding ensemble for groomsmen, a way to dress up a two-piece suit, or an accessory for workplaces that follow a business dress code. Button suspenders mean your pants have to have a series of buttonholes on the inside; the suspenders then attach to the holes. Even if your pants don’t have this feature, you can work with a tailor to have buttonholes sewn into the inside of the waistband and along the center back seam. Ideally, button suspenders should create a straight line, in parallel, from your shoulders down to your pants.
How to Put on Suspenders
To get started with suspenders, here’s how to correctly put them on:
- Never put your suspenders on after your pants. Instead, fasten them to the back first but not the front. Generally, you want to line up the back with your pants’ center seam.
- Then, put on your pants as you normally would, before moving the suspenders to the front of your torso.
- From here, fasten the suspenders to the waistband or interior buttonholes, making sure each travels in a straight line from your shoulders downward.
- Adjust the fit, so that the suspenders are neither too loose nor too tight. Fabric suspenders will have a metal clip that slides up and down for this purpose. Leather suspenders, meanwhile, are designed to be loosened and tightened like a belt and have a similar mechanism.
The Dos and Don’ts of Wearing Suspenders
Beyond the basics on how to wear suspenders listed above:
- Pay attention to width: Anything under an inch wide is meant to be a fashion suspender. Between one inch and 1.5 inches, the suspenders are designed for formal wear. Anything two inches and wider is strictly for heavy-duty practical use. Also, skinnier styles are ideal for more casual wear, and those that are wider – but not too wide – are meant to be paired with a suit.
- Don’t match your accessories: It’s definitely been drummed into me that coordinating a tie and pocket square should be avoided, and suspenders for men are no different. Although you should think about the color scheme overall and don’t want anything too showy, avoid having all items the same shade – such as a solid black.
- Don’t wear your suspenders with a belt: This also applies if you’re wearing suspender pants. Essentially, due to their origins, suspenders worn with a belt are kind of redundant, even if you’re putting them on for decorative purposes.
- Match your suspenders’ material to your shoes: Putting on a set of leather suspenders? Make sure you’re not wearing a set of canvas lace-ups. In reverse, if you’re dressing up for a formal occasion, keep your textile suspenders in the closet.
- Understand the difference between shapes: If the suspenders cross in the back, they have an X-shape, and if there’s no crossing at all, front and back, they use an H configuration. Y suspenders meet at mid-back and travel down to the waistband in a strangle line. Of these three styles, Y suspenders have the most modern silhouette, H has more of a vintage look, and an X style has kept more of a practical reputation.
How To Wear Suspenders With Style
Although, in theory, suspenders can be worn with almost any item of clothing, here’s where they tend to go over well:
With a Suit
This is an opportunity to inject style into your two-piece suit, itself existing in a realm of cocktail, wedding, and semi-formal attire. Here, make sure you’re attaching a pair of button suspenders, as a clip-on style will look childish and cheap.
With Formal or Business Dress
Think of Wall Street for inspiration. Especially with pinstripes seeing a modest revival, why not pair your white dress shirt and striped pants with a set of suspenders? Also, make sure you’re adding a buttoned pair, especially if you plan to arrive in a suit.
With a Button-Front Shirt
Most situations these days call for smart-casual attire – a mid-range, middle-ground choice of ironed, dark-wash jeans and patterned button-downs paired with a solid-color, perhaps even corduroy or velvet, blazer. Here, if you’re one to play around with accessories, you might want to sub your pocket square or quirky bow tie for a set of textile suspenders – clipped or buttoned.
How To Wear Suspender For Casual Outfits
On casual attire, there are few limits for accessories. Whether you’re in the mood for jeans or chinos or you’re planning to wear a T-shirt or a camp collar, a set of suspenders makes a definite statement. So you’re not throwing in too many colors or elements, consider a skinner silhouette and solid shade that you can pair with other items across your wardrobe.