People are always asking me: “Did you forget your belt?”, “where’s your belt?” or if I’m the “the jaded but highly competent police chief who supports the protagonist in a 90s cyberpunk anime”. No Seriously. Though this happened a lot more frequently during the low riding stages of my life finding ways to keep trousers up can be quite difficult (especially when you’re alone on Friday night).
Braces, also known as suspenders, debuted during the French Revolution when trousers worn were as high as your armpits. Fashioned out of leather and fastened by hooks, they were heavy and uncomfortable. As time passed they became attractive to nobles, and were where the lovers of the well-dressed left their mark with embroidery.
Interestingly it was a serious faux pas to expose braces which were considered little more than underwear (queue Gerard Butler). Today, if anything, braces are now regarded by the general public as obviously elegant and a sign of a dandy – someone who cares entirely far too much about their dress (guilty as charged).
Putting all dandiness aside, in terms of functionality braces are the superior option when it comes to holding up your trousers. As Oscar Wilde noted in 1884 “it is from the shoulders, and from the shoulders only, that all garments should be hung”. Throughout the day trouser waists can expand, especially after that lunchtime burrito. Braces allow the trouser to “float” around the desired height, thus removing the need to make adjustments while also allowing for better air circulation. Furthermore when worn with pleated trousers they help to establish its proper line thus making the trouser crease more prominent.
Visually, Braces also act to emphasise the length of the torso which contributes to the appearance of height. In saying this if you do have a long torso, for a more proportioned look it would be advised to seek trousers with a higher rise. This allows it to be closer positioned to the navel and the natural waist.
One man who knows what we’re talking about is television host Larry King, distinguishable by his colourful array of braces. Recently coming out of retirement at the age of 80 Larry is known to own over 150 pairs — leftovers from the attempts to hold up his eight marriages.
However all good things must come to an end and braces sharply declined in popularity in 20th century as war swooped the nations of the world. The belt, essential to the modern military uniform as it acted to cinch in the waist, secured longevity with the production of buckles with etched monograms during the early 1900s. These items, originally popular as accoutrements of sporting clothing associated with hunting, saw a surge in popularity concomitant with the success of chinos following the Second World War.
The variety of belts which exist today is enough to get Christian Grey excited. That’s something that a pair of braces will never be able to achieve. Belts get interesting when the right leather belt is matched with the same toned shoes which creates a harmony that doesn’t often extend to foot decorum. Additionally for those moments, when you don’t want to wear a jacket, a belt helps bring the entire outfit together; whereas braces may give the impression that ones jacket has developed legs and run off.
Despite their popularity, however, belts are generally inferior to braces. Though they may hold up trousers, adjustments throughout the day have to be made. These adjustments, often in increments of at least 4 cm depending on the belt, can cause unwanted tightness or looseness especially if you’re in between sizes. The belt also visually bisects an outfit horizontally, which only creates the appearance of being shorter than you actually are. Moreover, restricting air circulation between the shirt and trousers can cause the mid-section to rise in temperature during the course of the day. So if you do decide to wear a belt this summer consider bringing some water and an ice pack.
However there is such a thing as being too safe. Regardless of your preference there is one thing that shouldn’t be done: simultaneously wearing belts and braces. The belt weighs your trousers down whilst the braces try desperately to keep them up. Why add to the load? Sometimes double strapping isn’t always a good idea.
(photos via. guerrisms, A Poor Man’s Millions, thestylecon, Lee Oliveira)