A Guide to Wearing Suspenders

April 28th, 2015

The leather belt as a practical garment is a fairly recent invention. Prior to the First World War, belts were largely decorative outside of military uniforms (and even then were often more decorative than practical). The traditional device for holding up a man’s trousers was a pair of suspenders, and to this day they remain the preferred method by many fine dressers.

Here’s 10 things you need to know about suspenders before adding them to your repertoire.

1. Buttons Not Clips

There’s nothing cheesier than clip-on suspenders. It’s just bad design, really. The only way for the metal clip to actually function is to take a bite out of the waistband of your trousers. If you’re going to wear suspenders, make them traditional braces with leather or fabric button attachments. Typically on trousers the buttons are found on the interior of the waistband, but on denim or heavy canvas work pants they can be found on the exterior.

2. Lose the Loops

I rarely say never, but never wear a belt and suspenders at the same time (they serve the same purpose). I prefer suspenders on a plain waistband (no belt loops). It’s a cleaner look and it proves that you’re all-in on the braces.

3. Mind the Rise

Braces work best and look best on trousers with a mid-to-long rise. Those low-cut European trousers with the 8″ rise that sit low on your hips look silly when worn with braces (which are meant to keep your trousers hanging at – or just above – your natural waist).

4. Adjust the Length

A good pair of braces should be adjustable – you’ll want to tweak the length based on your height and the length of your torso. If you’re taller than 6’3″ you also might need Long braces, to avoid a serious chronic wedgie problem.

5. Leave a Little Room

Braces are best used on trousers that are a little loose in the waist (“comfort room”) and have some room through the hips and upper leg. They are a comfort choice, and part of that comfort is having the cloth of the trouser hang around your hips and legs a little, rather than fastening them tight enough to your body that gravity doesn’t pull them down… Suspenders attached to overly slim pants are obviously non-functional and just look like an unnecessary fashion accessory.

6. Float the Waist

Suspenders are the best keeping-up-trousers solution for guys with large bellies. The braces allow you to float your natural waist, rather than having to cinch a belt under your gut (which inevitably only highlights it).

7. Ease the Fluctuations 

If you’re the kind of guy who fluctuates weight, braces might be a great solution. Rather than visiting the tailor to adjust the waist on all your trousers back-and-forth, simply sew-in some suspender buttons. Suspenders eliminate the bunching of fabric that occurs when the waistband is cinched with a belt, and allows the fabric around the hips and knees to fall in a smooth plane rather than being unnaturally pulled out of the natural line.

8. Suspenders Are UNDERWEAR

Traditionally, suspenders should always be covered by a jacket, vest, cummerbund, sweater, or a combination of those items. Suspenders are not an accessory that is meant to be shown off, like a pocket square. It’s cool if someone gets a subtle peak at them inside your jacket, but throwing them on top of a casual outfit doesn’t make the outfit cool. It looks like your wearing your underwear over your clothes and don’t even know it.

9. A Formal Necessity

Another never I’ll stand behind: you should never wear a belt with formalwear. Side adjusters and/or braces. Formal braces, in my opinion, should either be: white silk to blend-in with your white shirt, a very pale cream or light grey, or the same cloth as the trimmings on your tuxedo (usually black satin or grosgrain). Unless, of course, you’re one of those elusive humorous cats who can pull off a pair of novelty suspenders.

10. Hook ‘Em Up D-I-Y

Preparing trousers for suspenders is as easy as sewing 6 buttons (and unstitching some belt loops, if you’re going all the way). You need three sets of two buttons (usually jacket sleeve sized), each of which will be sewn 2.5″ apart from each other on the interior waistband. One pair straddles the center back seam. The other two pairs are on each side of center front: about 3″ (& 5.5″) in from the zipper.

Finally, if you’re looking for a good selection of high-quality braces, my favorite place to buy them is Trafalgar. They’ve been in the business of selling quality American made suspenders and belts for over 40 years, and I’ve never been disappointed.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Yours in style,

Dan Trepanier


Photography by Alex Crawford.

  • Matt

    I believe the term underwear means “under visible clothing” or “close to skin” so if braces are worn over dress shirts then by implication you’re saying that dress shirts are underwear. I’ve never known anyone to wear braces under the dress shirt (I don’t think it would work well either). Although I agree that they are intended to be hidden under a jacket, I also agree that sometimes the jacket needs to come off and is also weather/climate permitting (try wearing a jacket in Guam and let me know how it works out for you). So I’m afraid I must disagree whole heartedly with your claim that “braces are underwear” the evidence seems to point at the fact that they are not. Plus it’s a free country here and wear what I want. 😘

  • Subaru Obishi

    Awww maaaan… I just got into thinking that I want to use suspenders for fashion until my online research led me here…

    • Shane Holmes

      I wear want I want. I like suspenders. I plan on wearing them without always having something over them. If I wanted to wear my “underwear” on the outside, then you betcha that I’m going to.

  • sirNich

    What kind of brand is the ones in the main picture?

  • https://www.FrankWilder.com Frank Wilder

    I’ve been broke many times — but I’ve never been poor – Frank Wilder

  • Rich

    I’m more interested where I can buy these pants without belt loops.

  • Thomas Gabia

    I love the idea of braces and for lack of a better term I embrace it frequently, but maybe I lose the jacket/blazer during the day but I always have it.

  • Eric

    yaaaaa, as an LA native, thanks but no thanks on the “never show em” advice. Not interested in wearing (and hastening the wear out process) a jacket/blazer in the office for the sake of not showing off my “underwear.”

    While I don’t fit the large belly clan, suspenders are still a far more comfortable option…so underwear shall be shown quite regularly I’m afraid.

    • TO

      Not only do you disagree with the advice in this particular article, but refusing to wear at least a blazer to the office basically flies in the face of the whole site

      • Eric

        Ahhhhh, you mistake my words sir (apologies for being vague).

        I refuse NOT to wear a blazer…the idea of leaving the house in a tie w/suspenders sans blazer (or suit jacket, though for all intents and purposes, the difference is relatively negligible) is beyond abhorrent to me, and something I would never do.

        I wear a suit or blazer/trousers combo everyday, but outside of in office meetings and/or client lunches, I hang the jacket. I’m not in a hyper conservative office environment, so the thought of wearing a jacket all day just strikes me as unnecessary…which is when the “dreaded” braces make an appearance…thus my vehement disagreement with Dan on the matter…as originally stated.

        Note: I have (I shit you not) worked in a “conservative” office in where I’d been explicitly forbidden from wearing a blazer (much less a suit) to the office…as it was “too much.” Needless to say that gig didn’t last very long

  • Calvin McCoy

    What about this?

  • JoeFromTexas

    Good point on suspenders being underwear: “throwing them on top of a casual outfit doesn’t make the outfit cool”. Indeed, can you believe there are other bloggers out there suggesting that braces might make you look “tougher”?! http://articlesofstyle.com/1777/tip-of-the-day-brace-yourself-like-a-man/
    Where does the internet get these guys… ;)

    But seriously, I think it might be better said that suspenders should be thought of as underwear, when possible. Because when it’s 100 degrees outside, you’re probably not going to wear a jacket/vest/sweater/etc. the whole day (or at all), but I wouldn’t let that discourage someone from wearing suspenders. Sometimes I see older gentlemen in their dungarees hitched up by suspenders, and I don’t see a thing wrong with it. You might even say they look like some tough old gents.

    • tommyjohn_45

      LOL.. way to dig up a gem! To Dan’s defense, in that post he always had jacket/blazer in hand. I agree with Eric above, I’m not going wear my blazer inside 100% of the time in my casual office environment, and I wouldn’t let that deter me from wearing braces. But I also often leave the house wearing just my boxer shorts, so that’s just me… ;p

      • JoeFromTexas

        Can you believe Alex took all those pictures of Dan in his underwear!?

    • wasEnkidu

      So is this is why men would wear an undershirt? So they could wear braces beneath their shirts when it was blazing hot outside?

      • Matt

        Not quite, if you wear braces under your dress shirt you can’t tuck in the shirt without it bunching where the braces are.

  • tommyjohn_45

    Great tips… Much of which, I’ll admit, I was unaware of. Time to go pluck off some belt loops :D