Trouser Suspension

Figure 1.--This Engish boy wears suspenders with his school uniform. This was very common until the 1940s, but now rarely seen.

A variety of devices and systems have been devised for holding up trousers. This is a problem which had to be adresses at the time that trousers emerged as a standard attire for men. Quite a variety of approaches have been utilized. Some like belts and suspenders have been worn by both mem and boys. Other devices, such as button arrangements and elastic waists have primarily been worn by boys. The popularity of these devices and age conventions have varied over time and among countries. With each of the major appraoches there ae many refinements and spin-offs. The approach to this problem is especially important in boys' clothing because boys tend to have narriow waists and require some device to hold up trousers.


The approach to hilding up trousers have varied over time. There were several different methods and the popularity of these different methods has vaired among countries and over time. A factor of course was the evolution of different types of trousers and their construction. We note suspension approaches in various decades. the 1900s and the 1930s. Often the type of trouser suspension is clearly observable in the photographic record. There are, however, many complications. Often coats, jackets, vests, and sweaters cover up the type of trouser suspension. We believe that with older boys and men until after World war I (1914-18) we are primarily dealing with susenders. After the War, belts become more important. Another problem is younger boys. Many boys wore blouses during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Suspenders were not worn with blouses. And belts were not very common. We are not entirely sure what type of trouser suspension was employed. A reader writes, "I'm not sure about trousers worn with blouses. IN Europe many military tunics were worn with suspenders holding up the trousers underneath the tunic--sometimes over just an undershirt, sometimes over a collarless white shirt. At West Point, cadets wear their trousers with white suspenders over white undershirts--suspenders that don't show when the tunic covers them. So I'm wondering if some boys didn't use the same arrangement with blouses. But I'm not certain.

Suspension Types

Quite a range of different approaches have been used to hold up trousers and also skirts without bodices. Perhaps the most common approach to trouser suspension was the standard belt, originally made of leather, but eventually made of many different materials. Some belts were plain and other highly embelished. Some trousers came with side tabs, some times attached to a kind of elastic inner belt. The buttons could be let out as the child grew. This was a style exclusively for children. It was common, for example, on English school shorts--but not on long trousers. Both men and boys have worn suspenders, but pants with the suspenders attached were a specailized style for boys. There were a variety of different types of suspenders. Some were separate items. Others were an integral part of the construction of the garment. Suspenders are another classic approach to holding up trousers. A very popular style for younger boys were pants with elastic wastes. I'm not sure when they first appeared, think in the 1930s, but this needs more investigation. Elastic waists were commonly made for shorts. Buttons have been widey used for keeping up the trousers of younger boys. Many styles have extensively used buttons. Often styles for very young boys use large buttons to make it easier for them to dress. The skeleton suit popular at the turn of the 19th century in particular used buttons. There was also a button-on shorts style that was popular in the 1930s and 40s.

Garment Modifications

Some trousers were specifically modified for specific suspension types. Here there were age conventions. Both men and boys wotr suspenders and belts. The most common modification in the late 19th and early 20th century was adding buttons to the waisband for attaching suspendenders. By the mid-20th century, belt loops were common on boys' trousers. There were also various types of suspender pants for younger boys. , including H-bar and bif-front pants. Another alternative was button-on clothing. This was also an alternative for younger boys.

Long Stockings

Another complication is the stocking supporters that many children wore in the late 19th ad early 20th centuy. American boys who wore long stockings with knee pants often wore suspender waists (a combination of suspenders for trousers and hose supporters for long stockings). We have many illustrations of this popular style on HBC. But suspender waists were worn over a dress shirt so that the suspender attachment to the trousers showed unless the suit jacket was buttoned shut. Boys often have very slender waistlines so that suspenders are practical for holding up their trousers whereas belts tend to let trousers slip down unless they are cinched very tightly. Bodices or underwaists coud also be for button-on trousers, especially for smaller boys."

Fashion Look

The question arises as just what is the appropriate height or level that pants and trousers should be worn. Men and boys wearing suspenders often wore their pants quite high, well above the waist. Notice one of the HBC pages on suspenders as an example of how high the waist is on the trousers that the boy is wearing. They go all the way up to the bottom of his ribcage. Such a high waist is only practical when trousers are held up by suspenders. After suspenders passed out of fashion and were replaced by belts in the mid-20th century, waists dropped down to a more practical hip level. There are still some men who try to wear their belts above their bellies, but they are mostly elderly. I guess they are the transitional generation between suspenders and belts. Some teenagers today go to the other extreme, wearing trousers that hang from their rumps instead of their hips. Did we of the hip generation look as absured in the eyes of the high-waisted men as the rump generation looks to us? I am not sure, but this rump fashion appears to be remaining a trendy teen-afe fashion. We do not see it carrying over to young men as they mature.

Country Trends

There were only a limited number of ways for boys to suspend trousers. The various methods were used in most countries. There were, however, differences in the preferences from country to country. We note, for example, more boys wearing suspender shorts on the Continent than in England and America. We yhope to develp more detailed insights as we develop this topic. These preferences varied over time. There was some differences among countrues as to the time line. We only have a few country pages at this time, but hope to develop more as HBC develops. We are working on: America, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia.


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Created: January 25, 1999
Last updated: 1:49 AM 11/11/2007