First worn by French aristocrats in the court of Louis XVI, suspenders were basically strips of ribbon attached to the buttonholes of trousers. This style of dress was considered “risqué” and was only worn as an undergarment and not to be seen by the public.
British designer Albert Thurston began manufacturing the first modern-day suspenders and marketed them as “braces” in Britain. They were worn with high-waisted, wide leg pants and attached with leather loops. The earliest suspender designs incorporated straps made of tightly woven wool (or “boxcloth”) and the “H-Back” pattern.
One of the first U.S. patents for suspenders was issued to Samuel Clemens (otherwise known as Mark Twain) for “Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments”. The patent was designed to attach to everything from underpants to women’s corsets and was an alternative to previously crafted suspenders, which Clemens found uncomfortable.
Metal clasps were invented so suspenders could be clipped on rather than buttoned. This meant that pants no longer had to come with buttons sewn in the waist, as they commonly did at the time.
Suspenders fell out of style when lower-sitting pants no longer required them; however, doctors supposedly would prescribe the practice of “posture, exercise, and the wearing of suspenders” as a remedy to patients with extended bellies.
As the world plunged into World War I, suspenders came up against their arch-nemesis: the belt. It became a necessity to wear tighter fitting pants during wartime, so suspenders fell out of popularity.
A town in Long Island, NY tried to ban men from wearing suspenders without a coat, calling it “sartorial indecency”. This ban was later overturned after residents complained.
British skinheads adopted suspenders as part of their working-class look by attaching them to tight blue jeans that really didn’t need help staying in place.
In 1978, the Mork and Mindy show gained popularity, and when Fred saw Mork sporting a pair of rainbow suspenders, it sparked an idea - Fred Welch decided to sell and manufacture his own suspenders. Around the same time, women adopted suspenders as part of the Annie Hall “unisex” look, which took off in popularity.
People Magazine suggested that “fashion-forward teens” wear suspenders and let them hang from their waists, insinuating that suspenders were “sexy”.
Steve Urkel from the TV sitcom “Family Matters” gave the fashion accessories a completely different “ultra-nerd” vibe.
While traditional working men utilize suspenders to provide support on the job, suspenders are beginning to reemerge in blogs and social media around the world serving as a fashion statement.