Suspend your disbelief for a moment, and travel back to a time before belts held up wayward trousers. Really? Truly? We would not lie to you.
Suspenders had been holding up pants for centuries before the craze of the late 70’s and early 80’s seized the fashion and brought it to back in the form of colorful clip-ons. Whether the look was borrowed from the brace-wearing skinhead faction or from Dad’s closet, suspenders became the fashion accessory to wear with the return of the fedora hat.
Suspenders were created in the 19th century as a device to keep men’s britches (pants) up. Made of sturdy fabrics like leather, twill, or fancy cotton brocades, suspenders attached to the center back of pants via buttons, and ran over the shoulders to attach to the front of the pants. Men wore their pants high-waisted, and the concept of a belt being wrapped around the low chest was not particularly appealing. These ‘braces,’ rather than belts, were the primary means to pant security until the 1950’s. The waist level of pants moved from the high waist to the hips, and belts were now a more comfortable choice to hold the pant at that height.
When Woody Allen’s 1977 blockbuster Annie Hall featured a masculinely dressed Diane Keaton, the ‘Annie Hall’ look became an overnight trend. Ladies everywhere slipped into men’s clothes, adopting the suspender look as a proponent of the unisex style. Thin elasticized bands with clip-on tabs made wearing suspenders a cinch: they were a quirky accessory that didn’t require the buttoned pants of yesteryear, and could be easily applied or removed by unclipping the tab from the pant waist.
Mork from Ork of Mork & Mindy reignited the fad for suspenders when he popularized rainbow-striped, clip-on suspenders with his wacky outfits. While suspenders no longer were necessary to hold up pants, their presence was strong when worn over a tuxedo-front t-shirt.
The 80’s kept the trend going strong, as suspenders joined the parade of clothing offered in a variety of pastel and/or neon colors. And if you ever found yourself without clothes, suspenders hold up a barrel like nothing else. Just ask Elmer Fudd.
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