The “Underwear vs Accessory Debate”
Let’s start this off with the question of whether your suspenders should even be visible. The old guard of suspender etiquette will often be heard uttering things like “suspenders are underwear; you wouldn’t walk around with underwear on the outside of your pants!” - there was absolutely a time when this was the rule. It was a wild time, a time before dependable belts and modern fabrics, and suspenders were never anything but functional. The suspenders were there to do a job: to keep your pants from falling down. To have them show would be the equivalent, perhaps, of someone getting a peek at your bra strap. Not really the end of the world, but an outfit was considered well put together if no evidence of the undertrappings was on display.
Of course, that’s complicated somewhat by the fact that the suspenders have to go on over top of your shirt. You could certainly try wearing them beneath a shirt, but you wouldn’t be able to tuck the shirt into the pants without it bunching up around where the suspenders connect to the waist of the bottoms. We definitely advise against it. So if the suspenders absolutely had to go on top of the tucked-in shirt, that meant keeping them hidden required another layer that didn’t need to be tucked into the pants: vest, a jacket, or both.
Because this is the historical set of rules for this particular piece of clothing, you’ll find comment sections and men’s fashion blogs often pooh-pooh the wearing of suspenders in any way that doesn’t keep their obscene functionality out of sight. Certainly, if you’re wearing them to a black tie affair, you’ll want to abide by this rather rigid interpretation of their purpose.
There is another, newer school of thought, however, that regards suspenders not as underwear but rather as an accessory. More than just a necessary understructure, modern suspenders often play the part of a plucky statement piece. And what sort of statement piece would it be if it weren’t on display? Whether you’re wearing them to imply you’re a rugged ruffian, a quirky hipster, or an elegant member of the upper crust, if you’re selecting a pair of suspenders specifically with the intention of them being seen, you can count yourself among the avant-garde of this particular fashion frontier.
The Advantages of Suspenders over Belts
So why wear suspenders? The main reason you should is because you feel like it, really! But beyond that, there are actual practical reasons to choose a pair of suspenders over a belt. Because you’re essentially hanging your pants from your shoulders instead of cinching them to your waist, it can actually be significantly more comfortable than the feeling of wearing a belt.
For dress pants that aren’t closely tailored for a slim fit, a belt will usually cause a little bit of bunching in the fabric, which can interrupt your silhouette. The same goes for what a belt can do to your overall look if you’ve got a bit of belly to navigate; putting the belt on your hips below your stomach can create an artificial line in the middle of the way your body naturally flows, leading to a look that may be less than your ideal. Suspenders neatly sidestep all of those problems, avoiding bunched fabric and making you look your best and allowing you to place the waistline of the pants in the most comfortable place for your body.
The other practical reason to wear suspenders can be if you’re simply looking to take your suit-wearing up another notch to the highest possible level of formality. Once you reach the uppermost tiers of swanky occasions, wearing a suit with a belt is actually considered a mark against you. The fanciest of pants don’t have belt loops and are intended to be worn with suspenders – and again, if you’re wearing this outfit to meet the Queen, the traditional fashion rules expect your suspenders to be hidden by a blazer or a dinner jacket.
One last advantage is that if you are going to wear them in the traditional way and keep them hidden, it means you no longer have to worry about whether your belt matches your shoes. What a relief!
Button Suspenders vs Clip-On Suspenders
There are, at a high level, two types of suspender attachments: clip-ons, and buttons. It’s easy to guess which one is the more formal – it’s the buttons. Buttoned on suspenders basically come with button holes at the ends of the suspender. These button hole ends can be made of leather, which holds up against the strain of acting as the anchor for your buttons and makes for a durable product, but they can also be made of braided silk. The braided silk ends will be the ones you want if you’re striving for super fancy.
The suspenders provide the button holes but it’s up to you to sew buttons into the insides of your pants to attach them to. Sounds like a lot of work? Sewing in the buttons will probably only take you fifteen to twenty minutes, and then they’re there for life; admittedly, it can be daunting to have to manually alter clothing just to attach some suspenders.
That line of thought may lead you to the clip-on varieties, which are less formal. Buyer beware: some harsh metal clip teeth can damage the material of your pants. If you feel confident your bottoms are fairly sturdy you should be okay to use clips – any dress pants made of high quality material likely to be damaged by clip-on suspenders are probably fancy enough to demand formal button suspenders as a proper complement anyways.
There are also trigger snap attachments for suspenders, which fly in the face of the conventional wisdom that your pants shouldn’t have belt loops if you’re wearing them with suspenders. The trigger snaps at the end of each suspender strap clip on to your belt loops like you’d clip a dog leash to a collar, super easy with no alteration required and no stress about hurting the fabric of your pants. This less common style of suspenders are definitely in the fun lumberjack accessory category – perfectly suited to rocking with a pair of jeans and wearing out and about without a jacket or vest, but not appropriate for a wedding or a job interview.
Selecting Your Suspender Material
Some suspenders are stretchy, others are solid yet adjustable, and others still are both. If you’re looking for the eye-catching accessory angle, you can find some pretty creative novelty printed suspenders in addition to solid colors and bright patterns. These tend to be on the less formal side of things, of course. There are also all-leather suspenders, which tend to be bulkier and therefore less comfortable to wear below a vest or jacket, although you can find braided leather suspenders appropriate for formalwear.
The material you’re looking for ultimately depends on the kind of style you’re hoping to rock. The majority of run-of-the-mill suspenders will be made of elastic material. You can upgrade to any number of more expensive options, like silk, grosgrain, or horsehair, but the standard elastic is suitable for formalwear as long as they’re button-fixed and either black, brown, or dark blue to match the suit you expect to wear them with.
Don’t Wear Both a Belt and Suspenders
Got your perfect suspenders picked out? Awesome! Now, here’s some advice for you – whatever you do, don’t wear both a belt and a pair of suspenders. Because both are items designed to keep your pants up, you should only ever need one or the other. Wearing both suggestions to the casual viewer that you either don’t understand the functionality of what you’re wearing or else you’re alarmingly concerned about ensuring your pants stay on.
Some people will take it to the next level and say you shouldn’t wear pants that even have belt loops if you’re going to pair them with suspenders, going so far as to unsew any loops on pants you want to wear with suspenders. If you ask us, that’s really only a necessary level of commitment if you’re going to an extremely formal affair.
What Sort of Pants to Wear With Suspenders
The general guideline to follow is that the pants that most benefit from suspenders are the ones that would be too loose to stay on without a belt but still fit you properly. Dress pants made of thin, slippery material definitely fit into the category. Loose-cut pants get their best silhouette from suspenders where – as discussed above – a belt can make the material bunch at the waist. If you’re rocking a tighter pair of dress pants, however, the suspenders may seem a little silly if it’s clear your trousers aren’t going anywhere without a crowbar and five minutes of struggling.
You can wear jeans with suspenders if you feel like rocking that look; to really rock the rugged rapscallion look, you should consider getting some leather suspenders with trigger snaps, but you can also take that denim to the next level with some nicer, upscale suspenders over a matching dress shirt.
You can wear shorts and capris with suspenders, but you want to make sure it’s a leg with a straight-cut for the sleekest possible silhouette. If you pair suspenders with shorts that flare out at the ends in any noticeable way, you tend to make yourself look younger and the aesthetic flops from “sophisticated” to “dorky” in the blink of an eye. It’s a trickier pairing to pull off, so we suggest holding off on the shorts and suspenders look unless you’re a dapper fashion pro.
Can You Wear Skirts with Suspenders?
Some skirts actually have “suspender” straps built right in to their design. These outfits tend to be very cute and youthful, with a flared outline and a playful tone. When you’re adding suspenders to skirts that weren’t designed to have them, the message it communicates will depend largely on the type of skirt you’re wearing and whether you’re leaning towards a feminine, masculine, or androgynous aesthetic.
If the skirt is fun and summery, the suspenders are going to look fun and summery too, even if you pick the darkest, most serious suspenders you can find. On the other hand, if you’re going for something powerful and professional, you can combine suspenders with a pencil skirt, a blouse or collared dress shirt, and a blazer. The occasional sight of the suspenders in your outfit adds some stark angular lines that “strengthen” the look of your conference-ready attitude. As with pants, it can look a bit silly if you wear them with a super tight skirt that looks painted on and clearly needs no help staying there.
When you’re combining skirts and suspenders for a business look, however, be careful about your accessories. The addition of a necktie can push the delicate balance over into performative and make it look like you’re wearing a costume, not a serious ensemble, and large necklaces can make your collarbone area visually cluttered with the presence of both the suspenders and the jewelry. With neck pieces and suspenders, keep the secondary accessory subtle, like a small chain, or omit it entirely and free yourself to get big and chunky and bold with your earrings instead.
Tops to Wear With Suspenders
Once you’ve got the bottoms figured out, you need to know what you’re going to wear on the top part of your body. Remember, vests are a great addition to an outfit that uses suspenders – just make sure the vest goes on over the suspenders, not under them!
The kind of shirts that always work with suspenders are love sleeved button-up collared shirts; you can never go wrong with that selection. Sweaters are alright as long as they’re a thin fabric; thick, puffy sweaters with suspenders will look strained and uncomfortable. Sweatshirts with suspenders are a definite no-go. If you want to go the full lumberjack, plaid flannel is totally acceptable with a pair of suspenders, if a little bit kitschy. Like the sweaters, the closer the fit and thinner the fabric, the more chic it’ll look with suspenders.
What about if you were hoping to wear suspenders with short sleeves? Here’s where you can take things to a much more casual level. Unlike the awkwardness of sweatshirts and suspenders, a messy graphic tee can actually look kind of cool with a pair of suspenders and some nice pants. If you want to bring up the formality without bringing up the heat of long sleeves, you can also absolutely rock suspenders with a short sleeve collared button up. One type of short sleeved shirt to avoid wearing with suspenders: polo shirts. Wearing suspenders and a polo shirt just looks strange, so don’t do it.
Leaving Suspenders Hanging
This controversial way of wearing suspenders is really the epitome of treating suspenders as an accessory and not a support device. Suspender traditionalists will rail against this shocking misuse of elastic, but some people admittedly look super slick when they wear their suspenders hanging down from their waist in a way that walks the line between rebellion and classiness. This look is best rocked when out and about getting brunch in the city, giving a heart-thumping musical performance on stage, or other informal occasions. For weddings, the office, and business meetings, we suggest stifling the urge to decorate yourself in these sassy thigh garlands and instead wear them up over your shoulders like a square-cut citizen.
Our final parting note to you on the subject: please do be careful with wearing hanging suspenders if you’re cycling anywhere, operating machinery, or doing any serious physical activity. Fashion is never worth the risk of injury, and those straps can snag on a bike pedal or piece of equipment if they’re hanging loose.