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Style Wars: Braces vs. Belts

by Hollie Moat

Vivienne Westwood A/W 12 and Junya Watanabe A/W 12

Never trust a man who wears both braces (suspenders if you’re one of our American friends) and a belt. They both do exactly the same thing – hold your trousers up – and so to sport both at once means either you lack the common sense to deduce this, you’re a poseur, or you’re hiding something. Or in some extreme cases, a combination of the three.

And now that eye-wateringly tight trousers which remain glued to the body on their own are no longer in vogue, the question is which do you opt for, belt or braces? For the past forty years or so the former has over-taken the latter in terms of popularity, but with braces experiencing something of a renaissance within the fashion industry, the choice for the modern gentleman is no longer quite so clear cut. To help you with this quite obviously massive life decision, we decided to pit them against each other. Let the accessory battle commence….

In Pop Culture

Braces: Since belts weren’t actually de rigeur for much of the twentieth century, braces have the monopoly on the golden age of Hollywood, seen casually hugging the frame of iconic leading men like Humphrey Bogart and Cary Grant. Similarly, the sight of braces over an unbuttoned white shirt evokes images of the Rat Pack performing impromptu renditions of their classic hits over scotch and cigarettes at the end of the night. Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen resurrected braces from the sartorial doldrums in 1987, with their greedy New York bankers in Wall Street sporting garish and flashy colours as a form of peacocking in their world of wealth and greed. More recently, suave stars like Jon Hamm have taken influence from his show Mad Men and integrated them into their modern working wardrobes.

Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen in Wall Street

Belts: Having been worn by more or less every stylish man on some occasion or another this century, belts should have an advantage here. Unfortunately they’ve also been worn in some seriously questionable ways too – atop George Michael’s gyrating hips at this month’s Olympic Closing Ceremony being one case in point. Belts are also popular amongst the hip-hop fraternity, from blinged out and diamond encrusted at the turn of the Millennium to the gilded but more discreet numbers now favoured by self-styled fashion rapper Kanye West.  And let’s not forget that James Bond, the very definition of cool and sharp dressing prefers to wear a belt whether it’s with a tuxedo or a linen shirt. They are more suited to gadgetry after all.

Rodger Moore as James Bond

Winner: Braces – Frank Sinatra and classic Hollywood give them serious style kudos, whilst belts have featured in as many famous bad looks as they have good.

On The Catwalk

Braces: Whereas belts can be an afterthought on the runway, with designers and stylists adding them to outfits to accessorise, when braces appear on the catwalk it’s as a deliberate look. Directional Japanese designer Junya Watanabe sprinkled them liberally through his A/W 12 collection in soft buttery leathers and tough canvas, worn on top of lumberjack shirts for an air of quirky down-town cool. Thom Browne went for a different direction, using them to add to his collection’s feeling of daring and oddness – having them peek out subtly from shrunken jackets amid a riot of stripes and scarves and face ornaments.

Thom Browne A/W 12

Belts: Belts feature somewhere or another in practically every menswear catwalk collection but it’s rare to find them as a main feature. 3.1 Phillip Lim was a label that bucked that normality this season, making artfully looped and tied striking leather belts a prominent feature on sleek monochrome looks. British institution Vivienne Westwood was more subtle but just as deliberate in her use of the accessory, with monogrammed buckles proving to be the cherry on top of the cake of her beautifully tailored designs.

3.1 Phillip Lim A/W 12

Winner: Braces. They make more of a statement on the runway than belts, which often blur into the rest of the outfit.

In Real Life

Braces: Until recently braces were the choice for the man who wanted to stand out, a style statement. Patronage from the residents of hipster districts like Brooklyn and London’s East End, not to mention English boyband One Direction have made them substantially more popular – both a good thing and a bad thing depending on which way you look at it. Still, now that it’s been proven a pair of braces can look good paired with a flannel shirt and some jeans, they no longer need to be restricted to wearing with a suit – meaning they’re much more versatile in modern life than they’ve ever been before.

Jon Hamm

Belts: Most trousers these days are engineered to remain up of their own accord, yet belts remain one of the most popular menswear accessories on the market. There is something so resolutely masculine about the combination of leather and metal that’s unlikely to ever date, and a sleek, discreet version worn with a suit adds to the feeling of getting dressed up.

Kanye West

Winner: Belts. They are far easier to wear, and there is one for every occasion life can throw at you. And with braces you can run the risk of looking like a poseur.

Braces won two rounds but belts clinched arguably the most important. Since they’re both perfectly acceptable these days it’s really down to personal choice.



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