Suspenders are another classic approach to holding up trousers. As with other items on HBC there are differences between English and American English. Suspenders are referred to as "braces" in Britain and the buttons to attach them to were always called
brace buttons. To the civilised British, "suspenders" are used for keeping up socks and
stockings. Susenders/braces are also used to hold up kilts. Suspenders have come and gone several times bending to the winds of fashions. At times they have been seen as old-fashioned, but they never titally disappeared. One U.S. reader reports, "I remember wearing suspenders, not a belt, with dress pants in the 1960s. Couldn't have been very old, 5 or 6. I think when I was in first grade, some other boys wore suspenders, too. To be sure, though, for
most of my school years, boys wore belts, not suspenders." Suspenders became very fashionable in the 1990s, but now attract less attention.
Suspenders are another classic approach to holding up trousers. They were widely worn by both men and boys beginning in the 19th century.
As with other items on HBC there are differences between English and American English. Suspenders are referred to as "braces" in Britain and the buttons to attach them to were always called
brace buttons. To the civilised British, "suspenders" are used for keeping up socks and
stockings. Susenders/braces are also used to hold up kilts. Suspenders have come and gone several times bending to the winds of fashions.
Suspenders are difficult to assess in the photographic record becauise thgey were commonly covered up. This was because they were largely see as an underwear garment and this covered up by the well dressed man. And given the formality of the 19th century with men and boys often wearing jsckets, the suspenders are commonly hidden. This is esoecially the case because 19th century photography was largely studio photography which was commonly seen as a formal event. We have more images of suspenders in the 20th century because of the development of the snap shot and the increasingly informality in dress. Another factor here was that chilren were granted more leeway. Thus while properly dressed men commonly covered up their suspenders, boys often did not. This many summer images show boys wearing their suspenders. Another factor is sdocial class. Working-class men like factories workers and farmers were more liely to appear with their suspenders showing. The same was true of children from workingp-class families. We see suspenders reappearing in the 1950s for younger children. A factor here was that button-on styling began to go out of style. The same underwear stigma seems less strong, at least for boys.
Suspenders were very common in the 19th century for both boys and girls. We also see older boys wearing them in the early 20th century. They declined in popularity in part because of the development of suspender pants, sith suspenders straps made in the same material as the pants rather then special elasticised material. At times they have been seen as old-fashioned, but they never titally disappeared. One U.S. reader reports, "I remember suspenders being worn by younger boys in the 1950s, but most school-age boys looked on them as old fashioned. Another reader writes, "I remember wearing suspenders, not a belt, with dress pants in the 1960s. Couldn't have been very old, 5 or 6. I think when I was in first grade, some other boys wore suspenders, too. To be sure, though, formost of my school years, boys wore belts, not suspenders." Suspenders became very fashionable in the 1990s, but now attract less attention.
There were two basic types of suspenders which related to how they were attached to the pants. EThere were variants, but these were the two basic types. Early suspenders were done with button attachments. I'm not sure when metal clasps first appeared, perhaps the early 20th century. We note quite a few men and many boys wearing clip-on suspenders during the 1930s. The 1939 Sears Garter Waist ad shows ONLY clip-on suspenders for boys. The clip-on style was obviously invented earlier than this. Clip-on suspenders seem to have been originally an American invention, but they were widely worn in Europe after World War II. As a boy in the 40s, I only recall seeing the metal clips. Many boys used to prefer metal clips to buttons because of the ease of attachment and detachment, although clips tend to be more damaging to trousers than buttons because of the teeth required to hold them tightly in place.
While we are not sure precisely when suspenders first appeared, it had to be after the development of elastic. An fabric is one which has been made elastic (capable of returing to its own length or shape after being streached). This is normally done by adding strips of rubber. Elastic appeared in the early 19th century. It was invented by Thomas Hancock. Hancock was an English inventor who was the moving force in founded the British rubber industry. All rubber at the time was natural rubber harvested in tropical countries. Hancock in 1820 obtained a patent for elastic fastenings. He used them for for gloves, suspenders, shoes, and stockings. He also invented a machine he called the masticator. After he began producing elastic fabrics he found that in in cutting rubber he was wasting large quantities of the
expensive imported raw material. The mastucar allowed him to use the scaraps from the manufacturing process. The masticaror shredded rubber scraps. The rubber could then be recycled. We notice elastic being used for suspenders and pants waistbands and eventually the tops of kneesocks. One common use of elastic today is in pants waistbands. This was not nearly as common in the 19th and early 20th century. We notice a vestee suit in 1902. We are not sure at this time just why elatic wauists were not more common..
Suspenders appear to have been widely worn by both men and boys in the 19th century and early 20th century throughout Europe and North America. We have not yet developed country specific information. Tghe subject is a little complicated, because the suspenders are often covered by sweaters or jackets. We notice different designs in various countries. We do not know if there were any other significant country differences. We have not yet noted them. There are numerous examples of boys wearing suspenders from many different countries archived on HBC. We note a lot of American and German examples, byt that is ptobably because we have a substantial image archive for both countries. An example is the Bartle brothers in Canada.
The traditional type of suspenders with leather ends and buttonholes can be seen in this photo from France (1940). A reader tells us, "Styles of suspenders in America and Europe didn't differ very greatly in the 1930s and 1940s.
We do not yet have much information on suspender construction. Available images tell us a good deal, but are usually frontal images which mean we know more about the frontal construction than the rear construction. As far as we know, suspenders which un English are referred to as "a pair" or twin connected straps, a least there are twin straps in front. The connection is made in the rear. Most suspenders are adjustable to fit various sizes. There was a metal clasp that allowed the length to be adjusted. I'm not sure when that first appeared. The earliest suspenders were made with button attachments. We note Americans commonly wearing clip on suspenders by the 1930s. We are not yet sure when they first appeared. Quite a few men and many boys wore clip-on suspenders during the 1930s. The 1939 Sears Garter Waist ad shows ONLY clip-on suspenders for boys. The clip-on style was obviously invented earlier. Clip-on suspenders seem to have been originally an American invention, but they were widely worn in Europe after World War II. More modern suspenders have metal clasps. The attachments often forked so their were four button closures in the front. This varied somewhat in the rear. The suspender bands varied substantially in width. Perhaps HBC readers will have more detailed information about suspender construction.
We have noticed suspenders decorated in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most common were stripes. We have also noticed solid colors. We also known some with elaborate patterns. Note the Swiss boy here who seems to have a kind of foral pattern (figure 1).
Since the advent of belts, there has been an ongoing contest between suspenders (or braces) and
belts. A few cautious people even wear both at the same time, and the British term "belt and braces" is often humorously used today to denote a kind of overkill in approaching a problem. Today the wearing of
suspenders often has upper-class or lower-class connotations in the United States. They are favored by Wall Street brokers and CEOs of major corporations as well as by workman on construction sites.
Suspenders used to be very fashionable among college and university students but are now largely discarded by the jeans-wearing crowd.
The usge of suspenders has varied widely over time. Unfortunately usage is also very difficult to assess. HBC relies heavily on the photographic record and here it is not very helpful. We do see some boys wearing suspenders, but we believe that this is a small fraction of the boys actually wearing them. This is because, boys often covered up their suspenders with vest and jackets. Thus the very substantial photographic record of formal portraits rarely provids a clue. Even boys not wearing suits usually covered them up, often with sweatrs. This was not a fashion choce, but sweaters usually fall below the waist line, thus a boy would have to wear a sweater over his suspendrs. Probably a better indicator of suspender usage is the prominance of offerings in clothing catalog. Another indicator is the prevalence of belt loops on pants and trousers.