Clip-On vs. Button-Hole Suspenders Is it okay to wear clip-on suspenders?

Are clip-on suspenders hopelessly tacky? If a man is going to wear suspenders, should he stick exclusively to suspenders with button-hole tabs? These are good questions, and they deserve good answers.

clip-on suspenders done well

There is a case to be made for clip-on suspenders, and that case is much stronger than the best case that could ever be made for the clip-on necktie or clip-on bow tie. There are a few good reasons why some men should sometimes wear clip-on suspenders, and why all men should feel comfortable experimenting with them.  The GentleManual sureys the landscape in “Everything You Need to Know About Suspenders,” but what’s still needed is a clear statement as to why men shouldn’t default thoughtlessly to clip-ons.

pin-clip fasteners

PIN-TERESTING: “Pin-clips” are alligator clasp fasteners with one or more pins inside the clasp. The pins ensure that the clips stay snug and secure on your waistband. They work well, but they puncture the material onto which they are fastened. All gator-clasps squeeze little teeth into the waistband, and over time this can compromise the integrity of the material. Pin-clips gnaw at the fabric immediately. Image: suspenderstore

Clip-Ons Aren’t Traditional… Or Are They?

Clip-on suspenders have been around since 1894, and the argument “One shouldn’t wear clip-on suspenders because they’re not traditional” is difficult to sustain. With over a century’s worth of history, they’re as classic as any “classic” could be. Scroll through collections of old photos and you’ll see clip-on suspenders in abundance, from the Millennials of 1900 to the ruffians of original punk rock. Heritage isn’t the issue. The real problem with clip-ons these days is two-fold. 

First, many of the big stores that sell everything from fertilizer to frozen french fries sell clip-on suspenders in their menswear departments. Marketplace ubiquity, affordability, and ease of use are the main virtues of mass-produced clip-on suspenders, most of which are made of semi-elasticated material. It is precisely this wide-distribution of low price clip-ons which gives rise to concerns about their street-cred.

When belts (and buckles) returned to the forefront of fashion, clip-on suspenders continued to appeal chiefly to three sorts of men: those who were accustomed to suspenders but never got on board with button-fastened ones; those who didn’t give a damn about actively presenting “a look;” and those whose style-sense tended to be at odds with trending notions of what counted as fashionable. Today the situation is a little dire. To put it bluntly, too many men wear clip-on suspenders with get-ups that make fashion police wish they were packing more than disapproving grimaces. 

Clip-on Suspenders are old-school. That’s not the problem.

And that’s the second issue: all clip-on suspenders suffer a bit from guilt-by-association. It’s unfair, perhaps, but that’s just how it is, and a man wearing clip-on suspenders risks finding himself in the same situation as the man who wears a clip-on bow tie: if you’re going to wear a bow tie (argues the purist), you should take the time and make the effort to learn how to tie one; and if you’re going to wear suspenders, accept the extra expense and hassle involved with adding buttons to the inside of the waistband of your trousers and wear button-tab suspenders. This is one school of thought.

Appliance vs Accessory

But how strong, really, is the analogy between the clip-on tie and clip-on suspenders? To settle the issue, we need to take note of an important distinction, the distinction between an appliance and an accessory

Don’t think of an appliance as a prosthetic, or as the category-name for things like ovens and toasters. Understand the word ‘appliance’ as meaning applied-to-use, and as pointing directly to a specific function. When suspenders (or belts, or anything) are worn solely or chiefly for function, and utility is the paramount consideration, then they are appliances and not accessories. Like belts, suspenders are trouser-securing tools.

Some men – depending on their build, and perhaps also their occupation – may find suspenders more comfortable, more convenient, or more flattering than a belt. If your line of work has you in a tool belt or utility belt, or if a belt buckle tends to interfere with your ability to get comfortably close to a bench, workstation, countertop, or piece of machinery, then suspenders may be the way to go. And if function is your overarching consideration, then there’s nothing wrong and a lot right with clip-ons. 

Utility? Go for it. Style? Tread lightly.  

On the other hand, if you intend to wear suspenders with a bespoke or fitted-suit (in which case you’d not even need a belt), or specifically as part of a style-astute ensemble and you don’t really need them to hold-up your trousers, then your suspenders are not an appliance but an accessory. Here, the analogy with the bow tie is very apt: if you can’t choose the right bow tie and tie it properly, perhaps it’s best not to wear one; and if you are now and then trading your belt for a pair of suspenders, rise fully to the occasion and take them seriously. If you’re donning braces with a passion for fashion and an eye to being someone’s eye-candy, clip-ons can make or break your intended look. 

Why The Buttons Really Matter

button-hole-suspenders

Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, showing why button-hole suspenders are a notch above clip-ons. Note the absence of belt loops on the trousers. This explains the necessity of the suspenders, and shows how button-hole braces present a sleeker, tidier look.

Suspenders fastened with buttons (or studs) can bring their own problems, but here’s their primary virtue:  they communicate that you have made a very deliberate decision to wear suspenders. Anyone can whip off his belt, snap-on a pair of alligator clasp suspenders, and fancy himself an insouciant dandy. And let’s be snobby for a moment: button-hole braces are not typically available in like likes of Target, and button-hole braces often cost much more than the “fast fashion” clip-ons found in H&M. This is no criticism or indictment of Target, H&M, or fast fashion. But whatever clip-ons may or may not imply, button-hole suspenders do say three things about a man:

He aims to source, own, and wear unique, quality merchandise — he puts effort into getting the gear.

  • He puts thought into arranging his ensemble — he puts effort into getting the look.
  • He cares equally about big details and subtle details, and pays attention to their interplay — he puts effort into getting it all right.

Button-tab suspenders evince attention to detail

Let us say it again: as an appliance, there’s nothing wrong with clip-on suspenders. Contemplated as accessories, though, clip-ons are the easy way out, and they scream I couldn’t be bothered with the buttons. And that’s problem — because bothering is the heart and soul of style. Button-tabs say: you did bother with the buttons, and you did so because you do appreciate details and do make an effort to look your best. Clip-ons dodge the extra steps. That’s the rub.

Button-fastened braces will, on the whole, be pricier, but the range of product available to you is much more extensive. This is the second reason to have buttons sewn into the waistband of your trews: if you intend to wear suspenders regularly, set yourself up to enjoy a much wider range of quality options. Not to labor the point, but here too the comparison with bow ties is apposite: there’s a world full of interesting, well-made self-tie bow ties, and there are gorgeous top-shelf button-tab suspenders out there.

You have more high-end options when you have buttons.

So: are clip-on suspenders a sartorial abomination, or just cheap and cheerful? The answer is: both. If you are wearing a pricey suit, or have invested in alterations in order to give a good suit a bespoke fit, then take that extra step and have buttons added to the waistband. Clip-ons will drag down your ensemble and undermine the value of the tailoring. If function is not your main concern and you are just experimenting with different casual looks and ensembles, clip-ons are not necessarily tacky, provided that you take them as seriously as you would any other accessory.

When Clip-on Suspenders Are Okay

  1. You are wearing suspenders solely for reasons of comfort or convenience.
  2. You are wearing suspenders because they are best suited to your occupation or to whatever it is you will be doing in them.
  3. When you are wearing a dinner jacket and cummerbund, the cummerbund hides the tabs/yokes of the suspenders (the part that connects to the waistband of your trousers). Since none can see whether the fasteners are clip-ons or buttons, clip-on suspenders with a tux will work in a pinch.
  4. You are making an effort to look like a dork, and the suspenders are part of your dorky ensemble.
  5. You are going for a period look — and that’s any period after 1894 — and you are indifferent as to whether or not people appreciate that clip-ons are more than a century old.
  6. You are wearing suspenders to hold-up fishing waders, field-trousers, or something similar. If you’re wearing belted trousers, and you’re going to wear some kind of sporting or protective trousers over them, then clip-ons are fine. Many of these sorts of trousers anticipate this and are made with buttons or studs for suspenders; but easily-sourced and inexpensive heavy-duty industrial-type clip-on suspenders can turn any oversized jeans (etc.) into protective workwear. Having a pair on hand isn’t a bad idea.  
  7. You are experimenting with suspenders generally before taking the plunge and having buttons sewn into your waistbands.