How To Wear – Bow Ties and Suspenders
Bow ties and suspenders go together like peanut butter and jelly… if you wear them right.
Suspenders are one of my favorite things to wear with a bow tie. Whether they’re hidden under your jacket or in full display, suspenders can make for a great look with your favorite bow tie.
But of course, wearing suspenders could go really wrong, really fast. That being said, consider this post a bow tie and suspenders tutorial, where I go over how to wear suspenders and avoid the common fashion pitfalls that come with these fashionable elastic bands.
Before we get into it, let’s cover a few general points about suspenders.
First of all, what exactly are suspenders?
Suspenders are those elastic pieces of fabric that go over your shoulders to hold up your pants. They also go by another name, “braces”, which are button-on suspenders, and they’re traditionally worn in more formal environments and business settings. Think black tie, three piece suit, etc.. Suspenders on the other hand, have clamps with teeth. Where braces tend to be reserved for suits and tuxedos, suspenders should be worn with more informal wear such as with a pair of jeans, or chinos.
Are suspenders underwear… or what?
Up until the 1940’s, braces were considered to be underwear used to hold up men’s pants and would usually hide behind a suit coat never to be seen (unless you were a weirdo with your underwear hanging out). Today’s culture has shifted the perception of suspenders dramatically, and you can wear your suspenders or braces without a suit coat, and without fear of ridicule by
most folks. You always have those diehard holdouts who stick to pre-1940’s norms.
If you’re interested, click here for more information about the history of suspenders.
What about color, size, etc?
As far as style rules are concerned, my main rules still apply. These are: The 3-way contrast rule, contrasting in color, pattern, and pattern density; And, the rule of balance, balancing loud patterns with more conservative ones.
If you have a large pink plaid shirt, matching a pair of solid suspenders and a solid, subtly patterned bow tie provides a nice balanced and contrasted look.
As far as sizing, you can apply a couple of general rules:
- Big men = wide suspenders
- Thin men = thin suspenders
- The thinner and brighter colored the suspenders = less formal (.5inch – 1inch)
- The wider and darker colored the suspenders = more formal (1inch – 1.5inch)
Are bow ties and suspenders really a good idea?
The thing about wearing a bow tie without a suit jacket or a vest, is that you have a lot of white space to fill up. There’s a ton of real estate you have on your shirt that isn’t broken by other layering pieces. Personally, I don’t recommend wearing a bow tie and just a collared shirt unless your shirt is perfectly tailored, which means no blousing, a perfect fit around the shoulders, and perfect arm length. With these taken care of, you’ll maintain your clean lines. Without these, you’re going to look a little disheveled, with broken lines all over the place, but most people don’t have made-to-measure shirts, cause well, they’re expensive, so a pair of suspenders could go a long way for most people.
Suspenders provide a great way to fill up white space on your collared shirt, and will frame up your bow tie perfectly every time.
Need Suspenders? Here are out picks
If you're in the market for a new pair of suspenders, here are a couple of our favorites. We recommend Albert Thurstons if you can afford them, but Trafalgars are a close second. For a list and details of all our top suspenders, click here.
Common pitfalls when wearing a bow tie with suspenders.
1. Wearing Suspenders With a Belt
You never ever want to wear a pair of suspenders with a belt, you just don’t. Suspenders and a belt both perform the same task, but in different ways. Your suspenders float your waistline while the belt cinches it. Wearing both makes you look like you really don’t trust your pants to stay up.
Solution: Don’t wear a belt with suspenders.
2. Sleeve Bunching
When rocking a bow tie with suspenders, your sleeves, your shoulders and your waistline are all going to be visible, which means a fashionable bow tie wearer will make the effort to clean up these areas to maintain cleans lines.
It’s really easy to wear a shirt you’ve always worn with a suit jacket and attempt to wear it with suspenders only to find out the sleeves were a bit too long.
If your sleeves are too long, there will be fabric bunching at the elbow or at the wrist, which breaks the clean lines needed to maintain a proper fit.
Solution: Get your measurements from a reputable tailor and buy a shirt with proper sleeve length.
No room in your budget for a new shirt? Head to that same reputable tailor and have them shorten your sleeves. Absolutely no room in your budget for any of these? Roll up your sleeves (assuming the occasional allows for it).
Rolling up your sleeves make for a great casual look and solves for the bunching.
If you want to opt for professional tailoring,
check out this article I came across the other day on finding a decent tailor.
Solid advice on how to find a good tailor, especially if you’ve never used one before.
3. Proper Shoulder Fit
Another area you need to be aware of is the fit of your collared shirt around your shoulders. If you have a poor fit, either too small or too big, the shirt won’t lay on your shoulders nicely and your clean lines will be broken, which is of course, bad.
Solution: Same as #2, get your measurements and buy a shirt that fits. Unfortunately with shoulders, you can’t adjust this after the fact, so you really only have one option. Make use of that changing room!
4. Clipping Suspenders To Trousers
Last item ill mention, is wearing suspenders (with clips/clasps) and suit pants/trousers. I don’t recommend wearing suspenders with trousers as the clamp will end up ruining the waistband of your suit pants, resulting in a need for an expensive replacement.
Solution: Only wear braces with suit pants. And only wear suspenders with jeans or perhaps chinos. If you don’t have buttons on the inside of your suit pants, a tailor should be able to fix that no problem.
How To Integrate The Bow Tie And Suspenders Into Your Wardrobe
1. Pair Of Jeans With Bow Tie
I personally wear suspenders with jeans only. The teeth from the suspenders don’t affect the jeans that much, since the fabric is more durable than a suit.
Overall, it’s a look not a lot of folks wear, but it looks good and adds another dimension to your wardobe.
Although most of the bow tie is missing in this picture, it still looks damn good. Also notice the rolled sleeves.
2. Suit Braces And Bow Ties
Of course, the easiest way to integrate bow ties and braces is by wearing a pair of braces with your suits.
Or in this case, no suit jacket with a well tailored shirt.
If you’re now sold on braces and suspenders, I recommend checking out this brand review post, where I list the best brands for suspenders and braces on market, for all price ranges. From entry level, to premium stock, it’s all in there for your convenience.
Again, wearing suspenders can be a great way to expand your wardrobe and amp up your style game. Now, go forth and be The Bow Tie Guy.
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