If you’re a fan of vintage fashion or dapper dress wear, then no doubt you’ll be well aware of just how great suspenders are. They can add a bit of classy old-world flavour to any modern outfit, and they go great with formal and casual attire. Perfect for your friend’s wedding, bachelor party, or even his rooftop barbecue, these cool alternatives to belts are the epitome of versatility.
But if you’ve never owned a pair of suspenders before, where do you even start? And even if you’ve got a pair or two, just when and where are you supposed to wear them? Whether you’re trying out your first-ever pair or looking to expand your selection, this article is a great starting point. Read on to find out just how much suspenders can revolutionize your day-to-day and special occasion wardrobe.
What are Suspenders?
The answer is simple for the absolute newbies out there wondering just what suspenders are. They’re a device made from tensile material used to hold up any pair of pants by lifting them towards your shoulders rather than holding them tight against your waist as a belt would. They existed before belts, having originated in France in the 18th century before becoming popular in England in the 19th century, thanks to the efforts of London Haberdasher Albert Thurston.
These days, suspenders are sometimes worn as an alternative to a belt, largely for aesthetic purposes. They have some practical benefits, too. They provide a firmer grip than most belts, with less slippage throughout the day, and prevent friction as they hang over the shoulders rather than pressing the belt into the waistband. Plus, suspenders look great with vintage high-waisted pants, as they were originally designed with old-fashioned trousers in mind.
Types of Suspenders
There are many types of suspenders out there, and they can be used for all kinds of purposes. The most common types you’ll see are H-back suspenders, Y-back suspenders, and X-back suspenders, with each letter referring to the shape the straps make on the wearer’s back. H suspenders have a traditional look, Y suspenders are a little smarter and trendier, and X suspenders give great support, making them a good pick for those wearing suspenders while at work.
There are also some rarer specialty suspender types. These include X-back trucker suspenders, also known as logger suspenders, which clip around the side of the body as well as the shoulders, providing extra support to heavy-duty labourers. Bartender suspenders are similar but smaller and lighter, with trigger snaps and leather materials for a western cowboy style. Then you’ve got the holster suspenders for when you’re going for the James bond look, and finally tool belt suspenders for those who need extra weight support for a heavy tool belt – bear in mind that this is the only instance in which it’s okay to wear a pair of suspenders and a belt at the same time!
In order to put on your suspenders, place your pants in front of you and fasten the suspenders onto the back waistband, either via the clips or button loops. Then, put the pants on, bring the straps over your shoulders, and fasten them to the front waistband, again via either clips or button loops. Some people also attach the suspenders completely before putting them on; it’s really up to you which method you prefer.
Fashion Do’s and Don’ts of Wearing Suspenders
There are a couple of rules to bear in mind when wearing suspenders to avoid a fashion faux pas. Rule number one: never wear suspenders with a belt unless it’s a tool belt, as noted above. Suspenders are supposed to replace belts, so it makes no sense to wear both; it’s like wearing a tie and a bow tie simultaneously.
You should also try to contrast your suspenders with your tie, rather than matching them closely, as a contrasting pattern or colour helps them both to pop visually. If you’re going for a formal look for occasion or event wear, it’s better to wear button-style suspenders than clip-on suspenders, as they are just that little bit classier. And finally, if you’re wearing leather shoes, matching the suspender colours with the overall colour tone of the shoes is a great way to bring your outfit together.
How High Should Trousers rise when wearing Suspenders?
The fact is, while suspenders were originally designed to be worn with high-rise pants, a lot of modern trouser cuts are better suited to being worn on the waist. Therefore, the key thing to observe is the style of the pants you’ll be wearing them with. If you’re wearing high-rise pants, your suspenders should be adjusted to hold them to your waist rather than your hips. However, if you’re wearing jeans or slightly lower cut suit pants, your suspenders should hold them at the waist, just as a belt would.
Clip-on Vs. Button-on Suspenders
As mentioned, there are two types of attachments on suspenders; buttons and clips, and these have a few key differences.
First off, let’s look at button attachments. These work by attaching your suspender straps to your pants via a holder loop that fixes to a button on the waistband. This makes for a strong, stable connection that will never slip off, and most suit pants come with these internal buttons as standard. They’re also easy to add to any pair of pants, with a little bit of sewing or help from your tailor.
Clips, meanwhile, are a bit less dressy than buttons and work simply by clipping onto the waistband itself. As such, clip-on suspenders are very versatile, as they can literally work with any pair of pants. The downside is that the teeth in metal clips can sometimes bite and cause damage to softer fabrics, especially if you’re moving around a lot. Therefore, while clip-on suspenders are good for casual wear, they might not be the best choice for taking on the first dance at your best friend’s wedding.
Y-back vs X-back Suspenders
The two most common strap types of suspenders are Y-back and X-back straps. If you’re wondering which to go for, the differences are very simple. Y-back suspenders join at the mid-back and become a single strap, making for a streamlined design. X-back straps, meanwhile, criss-cross at the back and strap onto the waistband in two places. X-backs are sturdier and especially good for those with a sloped shoulder frame, whereas Y-backs are a little trendier and suit all body types.
Think of them like you would a tie in terms of wearing suspenders with different clothes. You should contrast your suspenders with your shirt and try to work them into your outfit’s overall colour profile, matching them with other accents like socks, pocket squares, or shoelaces. By doing this, you can add a classy edge to any casual outfit or crank up the visual appeal of a slick three-piece suit.
No! You should only do so if you’re wearing a set of tool belt suspenders to help keep your trousers from sagging when you’re on the building site for the day. Otherwise, avoid wearing belts with suspenders at all costs. It simply isn’t a good look, as you’re only meant to wear one at a time.
Suspenders can be worn with pretty much any type of pants, aside from joggers and other sportswear. Most suit pants come with suspender buttons, making them easy to pair up, and clip-on suspenders are a great alternative otherwise. In the summer, suspenders look great with cotton trousers and a linen shirt, and in the winter, they add a bit of nuance to a wool pants wool shirt combo, especially with a nice jacket and scarf on top. You can also wear suspenders with your favourite pair of jeans for a classic western look all year round.
Wearing clip-on suspenders is simple. Just clip them onto the back of any pair of pants, put the pants on, pull the straps over your shoulders, and clip them onto the front. Clip-on suspenders are a bit more casual than button-on suspenders, and as such, they’re a great pick for casual everyday wear and cool streetwear combos. For example, you can take a pair of beige chinos and a white tee and turn them into a great outfit with the addition of red canvas suspenders and some red-accented sneakers.
There are a couple of things you can do when wearing suspenders with jeans to make them work with the overall outfit. One thing to consider is the strap material. Both leather suspenders and canvas suspenders look fantastic with denim jeans, especially if they’re of the X-back’ logger’ style. Pair this with a thick flannel shirt or a heavy work jacket, and you get a real woodsman’s vibe going on. This style also works great with thick work pants like those made by Dickies and Wranglers.
When wearing suspenders with a suit, it’s better to wear button-on suspenders if possible, as they’re a little bit classier than clip-ons, especially when wearing them on formal occasions. Suspenders can be worn with your suit jacket on or off, and in terms of colour, a similar shade or slight contrast to the jacket and pants works well. For example, you might pair brown leather suspenders with a navy suit and brown leather shoes or forest green suspenders with a grey and brown tweed suit.
Suspenders can look great when worn with a vest, but you must be sure to combine colours carefully. If you blend your shades too closely, the suspenders will get mixed into the vest’s profile, creating a bit of a messy look. Therefore, it’s good to contrast colours, pairing lighter vests with darker suspenders and vice versa. When worn like this, suspenders add a formal edge to a buttoned-up vest or a dash of casual cool when worn with an open vest, either over the shoulders or hanging loose at your sides.