Recently, I had what I thought was a novel idea to wear a pair of braces to a work meeting. Just a basic, traditional, not-too-wide, very simple navy-coloured pair of cotton braces. Nothing that could be considered remotely outrageous. However, as I went to leave the house, my flatmate – with the kind of honesty that only long-term friends can have – asked if I had intentionally tried to look like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.
Now, considering that this movie is right up as there one of my all-time favourites, I was flattered by the remark. Regardless of the fact that, sub-textually, he had just called me a wanker. And he wears Crocs.
Braces are particularly helpful in creating a much cleaner silhouette when wearing a suit
But despite my flatmate's rancour, braces – and their more colloquial sibling, the suspenders – are slowly making their return to their former sartorial glory.
Over the past year, men have increasingly re-embraced trends that were once considered old fashioned but now seen as "traditional". A couple of good examples are the rise in popularity of old-school barbers instead of hairdressers; bespoke shoes; and moustaches that last all year round instead of just a month for charity. It really was only a matter of time before this old-world staple made its way back in to your closet. And, aesthetics aside, they actually serve a functional purpose.
But basics first. Out of the two, braces are the more luxurious option. They're often made of quality satin, silk, with leather or grosgrain and have genuine hardware attachments. Braces are particularly helpful in creating a much cleaner silhouette when wearing a suit, especially if you're wearing a three-piece. They come with authentic leather or braided cotton fasteners that attach to the inside of your waistband, and are reserved for formal occasions. Your braces sit perfectly underneath the vest, hidden from view (but make a nice textual feature once you take your jacket off). UK-based design house Albert Thurston – which incidentally is also responsible for the current design features of braces – was the brand worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale.
Belts, on the other hand, have a tendency to break up the impact of the jacket-vest-and-pants combination, defeating the entire point of wearing a three-piece in the first place. And, as belts work by cinching at the waist, they also tend to make your shirt bunch up and look messy.
Suspenders, as opposed to braces, are considered the more casual option due to their clip-on function at the waist. They also tend to be a little narrower, mostly thanks to London's punk movement during the 80s, but it isn't hard to find a slightly wider pair if you want to maintain that Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko look.
As dress codes have become more relaxed, suspenders have become perfectly acceptable to wear around the office, and make an easy transition to weekend wear. They're also relatively more affordable than the button-up option, and easier to find as well. Depending on your budget, American Apparel and The Tie Rack have a huge range of inexpensive styles and colours.
The biggest bonus in choosing braces or suspenders is that they are actually quite comfortable and help hide any paunch that tends to expand your waistline in the colder months. Unlike a belt, braces allow you to wear your pants slightly looser, so they won't dig in to your stomach, whilst keeping the lines of the trouser in shape.
When it comes to choosing a style, the simpler the better. Whilst a thinner strap is perfectly fine for the weekend, for everyday use (i.e. the office) a good rule of thumb is no wider than one and half inches – or basically, the width of two fingers. Navy, black, grey or a subtle stripe are solid, versatile colours but - and this takes a bit of confidence - red can but a interesting way to add some colour to your outfit.
And if all of that hasn't sold you, braces and suspenders are the uniform of the original Wall Street anti-hero, Michael Douglas's infamous pro-greed Gordon Gekko; Steve Buscemi's Enoch “Nucky' Thompson in Boardwalk Empire; and yes, Christian Bale's Whitney Houston-loving, style-obsessed investment banker turned sociopath, Patrick Bateman.
What do you think of braces/suspenders? Are they fashionable again?