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The Saga of Suspenders

Suspenders, known as ‘braces’ in the UK and sometimes referred to as ‘galluses’ in history and mid-19th – early 20th century literature, are the straps attached to the waists of trousers, which attach over the shoulders and form either a ‘Y’ or ‘X’ shape on the back of the body. For many people, these are an everyday item of clothing, made popular through period dramas, English television and romantic literature. But, whilst this garment is heavily featured in dramas and comedies throughout the western world, they have an interesting narrative of their own.

The Beginning
Albert Thurston invented the modern suspenders in 1820, and they became very popular, being worn almost universally by men throughout the USA and Europe. The fashion at this time consisted of very high-waisted trousers, for which a belt was impractical and suspenders were the preferred method of avoiding having them slip down.

Samuel Clemens/ Mark Twain
The first patent for suspenders, or “Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments” was awarded to Samuel Clemens, who is better known by his pen-name; Mark Twain, famed for writing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin. This was the first of his patents, which also included a trivia game about history and a self-adhesive scrap-booking material.

WWI – The Rise of the Belt
During WWI, many men who had become accustomed to suspenders were drafted into war and donned military uniforms, which required that the men wear a uniform belt, rather than suspenders. This spelled the end of the suspender’s initial popularity and meant that belts became more prominent and popular in civilian life for the duration of the war.

1920’s – A Bit of a Comeback
In the 1920’s, many men returned to wearing suspenders, however they did not overtake the belt’s popularity on this occasion, but they were won widely enough to be of note. Throughout the UK, suspenders still remained popular amongst properly attired gentlemen.

1930’s – Vests Disappear
Another item of clothing – the vest, saw a decline in popularity during the 1930’s. this spelled disaster for the humble suspenders, as they were seen as underwear and had previously been covered by vests – now that vests had been dropped by fashion, so had the unsightly suspenders. However, suspenders still remained a staple in British gentlemen’s clothing. A survey in 1938, carried out by Life magazine showed that 60% of American men chose belts over suspenders. It was also during the 1930’s that the buttons to which suspenders were attached switched from being attached to the outside of the trouser to the inside of the waistband, as the outside was being used more and more frequently for belt loops.

1940’s Revival
The 1940’s saw a rise in popularity for high-waisted trousers, once again, which was good news for the suspender industry, as suspenders rose in popularity once more. Colours differing from black, grey and navy became more acceptable, as did the visibility of suspenders, at all. This was the time when men began removing their jackets in public and the visibility of suspenders became less taboo.

Modern Day – mainstream Media and a New Found popularity
Over the past decade, suspenders have made a real comeback in mainstream, alternative and sci-fi culture.

Mainstream Culture
From James Bond to The Doctor, any distinguished, European gentleman – or American, high-flying businessman - featured in television or film seems to be sporting suspenders – which has had an effect on everyday fashion and style.

Notable suspender wearing characters are:

•          Judge John Deed.

•          Gordon Gecko – Wall Street.

•          Captain Jack Harkness – Torchwood.

•          Eleventh Doctor – Doctor Who

•          Lenny – The Simpsons.

•          Niles Crane – Frasier.

Alternative Culture
Thin, brightly coloured suspenders have become a staple in punk culture over the past 40 years, with bright pink, blue and green suspenders seeping into emo and scene cultures and many punk-rock and pop-rock bands sporting suspenders as a fashion accessory – notably Green Day.

Whatever your style, you can guarantee that suspenders have played a part in defining the look and that the fashions proceeding the clothes you wear today used to rely on suspenders for both modesty and style. Whether it’s a silver-service, James Bond – style event or a local, underground punk concert, suspenders are the way forward.