Braces (or suspenders) are great. The tension in hanging from the shoulders maintains a smooth, elegant front to trousers. The high-waisted style gives a man longer legs and stops any shirt puffing out between trouser top and the jacket’s waist button.
They are also more comfortable around the waist, as they can be looser – not relying on tension in the waistband to keep them up. And, as a result, they are more forgiving of fluctuations in weight.
But I don’t wear them.
I recognise, and respect, all these advantages to braces. Some of them – like the equal height of waistband and waist button – are part of the foundations of tailoring theory. They can look great, particularly on slimmer guys and those with a more outgoing style.
But I don’t wear them. I’ve had four pairs of braced trousers made at different points over the past 10 years and each time I’ve just been reminded of the same thing – they are not for me.
Let’s start with the simplest but also most debatable reason: I find them uncomfortable.
Despite those different tailors, different cuts, and different styles of braces, I find having fabric wrapped around my shoulders considerably less comfortable than a simple strap-and-buckle.
I rarely wear belts either, finding them rather restricting and uncomfortable after the freedom of nothing at the waist. When I do wear a belt, it is because I want to add a little more texture or variation to an outfit – often when tieless.
Doubtless I could get used to braces if I wore them long enough. (Though I have given them a good go several times.) But then there are the other reasons.
The second reason is also simple and also debatable: they are a pain. If you wear knitwear or a waistcoat, you have to take them off to sit down on the toilet (or unbutton the braces).
Third reason, which is now a bit more fundamental: I think really high-waisted trousers (sitting on your natural waist, above the hips) look great with a jacket on, but not as good with them off. And I do occasionally take my jacket off.
Some guys look great in that look. Michael Browne of Chittleborough & Morgan is one of them. But then frankly, he looks good in anything.
Personally I think most men don’t suit high-waisted, braced trousers without a jacket. The proportion of torso to leg is exaggerated, and it is particularly bad on larger men – who are the very ones most suited to braces in other respects.
I do like slightly higher waisted trousers. My favourites, for example from Camps de Luca, still sit on my hips (the in-dipping middle of the hip bone) but are an inch higher than most modern trousers by virtue of the strap-and-buckle being on the seam, not the band. (As shown below.) A wider waistband achieves a similar effect.
This is flattering, and lengthens the leg just enough. But higher than that – for me – usually isn’t.
This point is also a little subjective and personal. So on to number four.
Reason four, which is probably the most important and least subjective: braces are showy. They’re unusual; they stand out; they suggest the dandy.
My personal style is always to aim for a subtle, understated elegance.
As with the power of a bespoke fit in tailoring, I want someone to merely think I look well-dressed, without knowing why. It’s perhaps only on closer inspection, or thought, that they note the harmony of colours, the patina of quality product, or that absolute key – fit.
I don’t work in a menswear shop. I work in a business and I have to appear professional. My clothes should not be a talking point.
And more importantly, I don’t want to be known as that guy that wears the bow ties, or braces, or a bowler hat. I just want to be the guy that dresses well (and I think a lot of others want to, too).
Perhaps, if this is the aim, one has a certain bandwidth of unusual clothing available. Braces take up all of it; a tie clip takes up half of it. More fun, I’d suggest, to be able to experiment with several things, including slightly unusual cloths, colour combinations or accessories.
Braces have good and bad points, but on balance I’ll stay away. And just put up with more wrinkled fronts on my flannels.
P.S. I do make one exception with braces, and that is where the trousers will always be worn with a waistcoat (eg my Richard Anderson tux, or Chittleborough & Morgan suit). The braces are still a pain, and they are still uncomfortable. But they make the waistcoat look so much better.
Images: Green trouser, Luke Carby; all others, Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man
Credit: Permanent Style