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Even the Stodgy Are Enlivened With Suspenders Animation

April 09, 1993|JOHN MORELL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In the 1980s, the brokers and bankers of Wall Street set the tone for men's fashion. To accessorize their gray and blue suits, they wore colorful ties and pocket squares and discarded their dull belts to strap on coordinating suspenders.

While today's suspenders are true fashion statements with diverse patterns and shades, that's not how they started out. The first suspenders couldn't be seen. Tailors during the Renaissance designed them to be worn on the calf to hold up men's socks, because elastic had yet to be invented.

In the 18th Century, tailors used the idea of the sock suspender to create gallowses, which were leather straps buttoned to riding trousers. They were more comfortable to wear than belts. The fashion was picked up by noblemen who called them "braces," and the trend spread to Colonial America, where they were renamed "suspenders."

Leather suspenders were a staple of men's clothing through the early 1900s, when fabric-coated rubber suspenders became popular because they didn't lose their shape. In the '20s, the belt became more acceptable as a way to hold pants up, and the suspender was associated with the clothing of the blue-collar worker.

Until their resurgence in the '80s, suspenders were bought for traditional tuxedos, but little else.

Modern suspenders continue to be popular, and they've reversed their symbol as a part of the common man's wardrobe. There are, most likely, very few investment bankers without at least one pair in their closets.

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