ACCESSORIES: SUSPENDERS, BELTS, HANDKERCHIEFS, AND JEWELRY


by Alan Flusser.

From the time man first chose to wear trousers, either leather belts, rope, or cloth sashes were used to hold them up. It wasn't until the time of the French Revolution, however, when short vests and trousers reaching to the armpits were worn, that the suspender first appeared. These early examples were merely straps of leather that fell directly over the shoulders and were fastened to the waistband of the trousers by means of a hook.

Within a short time, suspenders, which were originally quite heavy and rather uncomfortable, became the favored choice of nobility and were eventually considered the mark of any well- dressed gentleman. In fact, no properly attired Victorian man would have dared consider himself affianced to any young woman of breeding until she had presented him with a pair of suspenders embroidered by her own dainty hands.

In this country, suspenders were also considered the only choice of the well-dressed man, but by the end of the nineteenth century, this thinking began to undergo a slow yet inexorable change. This change was due, at least in part, to the uniforms men wore during the various wars that flared up during the late nineteenth century. Belts became more popular as shoulders were emphasized and waists pulled in, simply in an effort to appear more threatening and imposing.

By the early 1900s, folded belts were all the rage. They were fashioned by joining two -inch strips of cowhide, then stitching the edges to produce a rounded, pliable belt one inch in width. Also popular during this period was the Sam Browne officer's belt, which appealed not only to veterans but to other men as well.

But it was probably S. Rae Hickock, a successful dealer in leather goods, who did more than anyone to ensure the success of the belt industry when he began to manufacture belt buckles with etched monograms around 1910.

By the time American men returned home from world War I, they were wearing coarse yarn belts, which quickly caught the fancy of the general male populace. However, during the summer, when vests and jackets came off, belts went on as men chose not to expose their suspenders. Also during this period knickers became popular, further limiting the use of suspenders. And although suspenders maintained their popularity well into the decade of the 1920s, by the time the stock market fell, most men's trousers were being held up by belts.

Though they have recently experienced a renaissance of sorts, today suspenders are but a small part of the haberdashery industry. Belts, on the other hand, come in many colors, widths, and all sorts of materials, ranging from leather to fabric to plastic.

The first handkerchief, probably used either to cover the head or to wipe perspiration from the face, was made of small mats of woven grass. However, the first handkerchief solely for the face was used in conjunction with religion. These early handkerchiefs, called "facials," were simply small pieces of silk tissue used by priests at the altar and then left there when the service was completed.

In early times the handkerchief functioned both as a utilitarian accessory and as a showy dress item, carried in the hand as opposed to being tucked into a pocket. By the time of the early Renaissance, handkerchiefs were considered an essential accessory, prompting Erasmus to note that "To wipe your nose on your sleeve is boorish." Soon handkerchiefs became more ornate, at which point they also began to serve as tokens of a man's love for a woman, and vice versa.

By the turn of this century, handkerchiefs made of silk, linen, or cotton were de rigueur for the breast pocket of a gentleman's suit jacket, and he could not be considered properly dressed without one. Of course, during the 1960s most men eschewed handkerchiefs in their breast pockets, but today - as in the 1930s - they are still the choice of the well-dressed gentleman.

For the most part, a man's jewelry has always been utilitarian in nature, though this is by no means to say that it has not always been worn with an eye toward personal adornment.

Those of wealth and nobility were, of course, the ones who naturally gravitated toward jewelry, including rings, shirt studs, various kinds of pins, and recently, wristwatches, tie bars, cufflinks, and collar bars. Of all these, it is the wristwatch that is the most modern. Said to originate with the French, it came into vogue during World War I, when it was worn by soldiers in the trenches.

Today a man has several choices as to the kind of jewelry he can wear, jewelry that should relate to his style of dress. It is possible to select jewelry that enhances one's appearance while at the same time serving a practical function.

Many man feel that once they have selected the proper suit, shirt, and tie, the other accessories can be added with little further consideration. Yet the fact is, the use of a handkerchief or jewelry can subtly alter the mood or entire effect of the ensemble. Besides, where one must be somewhat conservative in one's choice of suit, shirt, and shoes in order to be properly dressed, the choice of suspenders or belt, handkerchiefs, or suitable jewelry allows a welcome freedom.

Suspenders and Belts

At least from the turn of this century suspenders have been identified with business wear while belts were considered an accoutrement of sports clothing. There are several practical reasons why suspenders are still the proper choice to be worn with the business suit, especially one with pleated trousers. Suspenders permit the trousers to hang best, supporting the front of the pants as well as the rear. They allow the pleat to establish its proper line and make the crease of the trousers more apparent. Additionally, suspenders are more comfortable than belts, which must be drawn tight around the waist in order to hold up the trousers. With suspenders, trousers can be worn loosely around the body, the only contact one feels coming at the point where the suspenders cross the shoulders. One might also note that during the summer months the wearing of suspenders actually promotes a certain coolness, as the roominess of the trousers around the waist area makes for improved air circulation.

Suspenders also have the added advantage of allowing the length of the trousers to remain constant. Normally, a man's trousers stretch at the waistband during the course of a day. Suspenders eliminate the need to pull them up two, three, four, or more times a day. For all these reasons and more, suspenders will always remain preferable to belts in dress wear.

Frankly, there is a simply no place for belts in the realm of tailored clothing. They cut a man's body in half, interrupting the smooth transition of the suit from shoulders to trouser cuffs. And they are particularly disruptive when one is wearing a vested suit. Either the belt creates a bulge under the vest or else it sticks out beneath it, completely destroying the line.

Today the finest suspenders are made of rayon, replacing yesteryear's silk. Produced only in England but available in American, they come with leather fittings and adjustable brass levers. (Elasticized suspenders are not a substitute; not only do they lack style, but they function poorly and are less comfortable.) The straps of most fine suspenders are cut in 1 or 1 inch strips. Any smaller and they will bind; wider, they feel unnatural.

Trousers to be worn with suspenders should have two buttons in the back that are equidistant from the center of the fork of the suspenders. In front, there are four buttons: one over each of the main pleats, the other two just forward of the side seam. They may be sewn inside or outside the waistband, depending upon personal preference. Trousers should always be worn larger at the waist so that they are actually "suspended" from the shoulders.

Needless to say, belts should never be worn in conjunction with suspenders. It is considered in poor taste. Therefore, if the trousers you're wearing are to be worn with suspenders, make sure your tailor removes the belt loops.

Perhaps the only person who might encounter some difficulty wearing suspenders is someone with sharply sloped shoulders. In such a case, the back fork of the suspenders can be raised to compensate. This may be accomplished simply by using the excess material from the hem of the trousers to make tabs that can be sewn to the back, thereby effectively raising the fork higher on the back, which in turn will keep the suspenders from sliding.

While almost all aspects of businesswear are designed to enhance the impression of seriousness of purpose on the part of the wearer, suspenders offer perhaps a singular opportunity to lighten up an austere image. There are no limits to the colors and patterns that are deemed acceptable. There are successful, serious men in the financial community who wear embroidered dollar-sign suspenders, and others who wear those embroidered with golf clubs or naked ladies. Against all vagaries of fashion, they have been doing it for years. No doubt they will continue to do so. When the opportunity is there, fine dressers make the most of it.

Belts

Once again, it must be emphasized that belts are properly worn only with sport clothes. However, if one does choose to wear a belt with a business suit, it should be simple, with a small buckle that does not call attention to itself. The buckle can be made in either gold or silver color, generally matching the color of the jewelry one wears. If there are initial embossed on it, make sure they are your own and not some "designer's."

The belt itself should be between _ and 1 inches in width. Its color can relate either to the color of your suit or the shoes you are wearing. It should never be so long that the belt's extra piece overlaps more than a few inches past the first loop after it's buckled, nor should it be so short that it just barely makes it through the buckle.

Simplicity and understatement should be the keys to dress belts. Perhaps the most elegant belts are those of black or brown pin seal, lizard, or the ultimate in luxury, crocodile. All take a simple nonornamented gold or brass buckle.

Handkerchiefs

The suit jacket is made with a left breast pocket not to hold pack of cigarettes or a pair of glasses but to hold a handkerchief. Without one, an outside breast pocket appears to be an unnecessary detail, and a man looks as if he hasn't finished dressing.

A simple white handkerchief is all that is necessary to complete the business ensemble. It is also the least expensive way a man can quickly elevate his level of style. The handkerchief, like the hose, gives a man one more opportunity to do something a little out of the ordinary, something a bit more inventive. A white handkerchief placed in the breast pocket of a dark suit offers a touch of elegance and is sure sign of a confident and knowledgeable dresser.

The finest white handkerchiefs are made of linen with hand- rolled edges. While they are difficult to find today, they are worth searching for. The virtue of linen is that because of its inherent stiffness, it retains its starched quality throughout the day. It is the only handkerchief fabric that looks as fresh in the evening as it did in the morning, when it was first folded.

While a white linen handkerchief is the easiest choice for many, since it is always proper, for those more adventuresome dressers, there are handkerchiefs in colors and patterns. In this case, it is generally the tie that is the determining factor in choosing the proper pocket square. The pocket square must complement the tie, though it should never directly match it in pattern or color. Some of the nicest colored handkerchiefs are made of linen in traditional Oxford shirting colors, or in pure white with colored borders. Another possibility is silk. These come in a wide array of solid colors. But instead of solids, wear silk in the traditional English ancient madder patterns, such as paisley or foulard. The colors in these are muted and give a more subtle effect.

If your tie is of silk, a handkerchief of a dry linen fabric looks best, while if your tie is of wool or cotton, silk in the breast pocket will add the proper textural balance to the chest area.

There are four ways to fold a handkerchief properly: square-ended, puffed, multi-pointed, and triangle fold. The multi-pointed and the triangle effect are certainly the most elegant and are for use with handkerchiefs of linen or cotton with hand-rolled edges. Silk handkerchiefs look better with the puffed method. The square end (or TV fold), a popular style in the 1940s and `50s, seems a little staid today. Yet whatever method is chosen, the placing of the handkerchief must not appear overly studied. The material should show above the pocket no more than an inch to an inch and a half.

If you choose to have a monogram on your handkerchief, never let it show.

Jewelry

For men who like jewelry, there is plenty of opportunity to wear it when one is dressing up. There are the collar bar, tie holder, cufflinks, watch or key chain, wristwatch, and ring. Almost all are functional, but each may add an element of elegance to the wearer. Men's jewelry looks best when simple. Leave Florentine gold to the women. Stay away from rococo and baroque designs. If you want to wear something a little different, do it with humor or whimsy, not ostentation. Try cufflinks in the shape of hearts, or perhaps a tie clip in the shape of a tie.

If you wear cufflinks, never choose those with a clip on one side. They look as if you could only afford the gold or jewel on the outside. The best-made cufflinks and the most elegant ones are those with matching sides. After all, cufflinks are supposed to link both sides of a French cuff, not clip them together.

If you choose to wear a collar bar, select one in a gold or silver safety-pin style. Contrary to popular notion, holes made by the pin in the collar will close up after the shirt is washed. The clip models occasionally have interesting designs but never hold securely to the collar edge and must be adjusted throughout the day. The bar with a ball on either end, one of which screws on and off for use, is also very smart. The shirt collar must have holes sewn specifically for this particular bar. When worn properly, this method of securing the collar is not doubt the most elegant.

The wearing of a tie holder is optional, but it certainly produces a neater, more controlled look. It should not, however, be large or gaudy. A narrow gold bar with a plain design or a small clip looks best. The clip should never dominate the tie or stand out. It should be placed in the bottom half of the tie at a forty-five-degree angle downward, adhering to the rule that nothing ought to cross the body directly.

The most elegant watches are those with thin faces, trimmed in gold. The thinner the watch, the dressier it is. If you choose a pocket watch, make sure the chain is long enough to create a natural curve.

As a general rule, the color of all jewelry a man wears ought to be the same. If your cufflinks are a gold color, then your collar bar should be the same. Unlike female jewelry, men's jewelry should never be the focal point of what is being worn. Its role is functional and in this regard one might well adhere to a tenet of the architect Mies van der Rohe: "Less is more."

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