To belt or not to belt, the eternal question that has plagued the greats over the years, from Greek philosophers, to Victorian nobility, to modern gentlemen alike. Well maybe not the Greek part. Many a sleep has been lost by gentleman all over the world, separated by great distances, but bound together by their mutual desire for answers.
Luckily, we here at DNY have put together a nifty little guide that may help make that daunting decision a little less difficult.
Better known as suspenders, braces were the method of choice for holding up trousers throughout the 1800s until the early 1920s, when they ran out of fashion. Because the tension is hanging from the shoulders, this leaves a smooth and elegant looking trouser front, and is more comfortable around the waist with no stress around the waistband. Additionally, it allows the shirt to tuck into your pants and stay there, without the bunching around the waist. Suspenders are also the method of choice when wearing Tuxedos, because one should never, ever wear a belt with a tuxedo, ever.
However, there are four main disadvantages of braces in our opinion.
First, suspenders are best worn with high-waisted trousers, which help accentuate the legs and make a man taller. However, most men these days prefer medium to low-waisted pants, which doesn't suit the attachment of braces.
Second, and more fundamental, braces are inherently showy and a little peacocky in this day and age. We at DNY preach a well dressed yet discreet look, one where fit, texture and subtle elegance play a more important role than showy antics. Additionally, unless you want to be known as the bowtie or suspender guy at work or you work in menswear, you only have a limited amount of stylistic capital in your workplace. Adding a linen or knit pocket square will expend some of that capital, an elegant knitted tie will use up the rest. Braces tend to use up all your capital for stylistic expression, and in some cases more than what you have.
Third, is that frankly put, braces don't look good exposed, so they are best hidden by a waistcoat (vest to the Americans) or jacket. Waistcoats have greatly fallen out of fashion, and men these days tend to take off their jackets most of the time, leaving the braces exposed.
The fourth and final reason, is that suspenders are not very practical. You have to pull them off to use the bathroom, and if you're wearing a sweater on top, then you will have to unbutton the braces to sit on the toilet.
A recent study showed that over 80% of Americans preferred belts over suspenders, a number not surprising since almost every American you see is normally sporting one. Popular during WWI and the subsequent decades as the waistcoat started to lose traction, belts are now a staple of the everyday wardrobe. They provide a simple and easy way to fasten up your trousers, keep them on your waist and your shirt tucked in. Additionally, they can be good to break up a causal non-matching pants and jacket look, and can help bring the outfit together.
There are many different shapes and forms of belts, that we will need another article to cover the basics of how to wear a belt. But suffice to say, when wearing a belt with a suit, it is essential to keep it minimal, thin, and clean with no embellishments or logos. You have more leeway with more casual trousers and denim, mixing up the texture and material. Also remember to loosely match the belt to your shoes, maintain the same color, but not the same texture (no one wants to see a croc belt with croc skin shoes).
However, the belt is not without it's flaws, chiefly that it is uncomfortable to wear. It causes a lot of stress on your waist, is extremely uncomfortable to sit with, and has been shown to cause digestion issues. Additionally, belts leave the front of the trousers tight and scrunched up, and do not have the same cleanliness as braces or no belts.
The cleanest and most DNY-approved way to wear your trousers is to go beltless. This allows the pants to sit cleanly on your waist, without the stress on your stomach or your trouser front. Going without a belt gives the wearer an elegant sleek look, letting the jacket flow seamlessly into the trousers. From our experience, this makes a suit or pants-jacket outfit look much more put together. Additionally, the look also works well for high waisted as well as low waisted pants.
Not wearing a belt can take two forms, unassisted and side adjusters. Unassisted means that the waist of the pants fits just right, that you do not need a belt, brace or side adjusters to keep them up. It either requires you to have a flat stomach or to pay your favorite tailor a visit and have your trousers altered just right. The downside of this method is that the wearer does not have much leeway for weight fluctuation or big meals.
Whoever invented side adjusters should be awarded a medal, since they are an extremely practical way to wear pants, while allowing the wearer the ability to tighten or loosen the trousers as the day goes by. Side adjusters, as the name implies, are pieces of extra fabric attached to the side of the pants with a hook, that can be tightened if needed. There are other less common shapes side adjusters can take like an elastic band across the waistband that can be buttoned in several spots. Side adjusters offer the cleanliness and elegance of going beltless, while still offering the flexibility of weight fluctuation and lower maintenance of the trousers.
Despite that, finding trousers with side adjusters is not very common, often restricted to made to measure or bespoke offerings, so this option limits the types of trousers you have access to. However, I have heard of success stories where talented tailors have been able to take extra fabric from the trousers (normally when the pants are hemmed) and makeshift side adjusters, so that's worth a try if you have access to a good tailor.