An offhand conversation about what accoutrements are sexy -- cigarette lighters, women’s powder compacts, cowboy roping cuffs, wide-brimmed hats and so on -- led to some divergence about suspenders. There were a few other considerations that were a little surprising or puzzling -- like why is it that men’s cufflinks are sexy, but tie clasps are not? But the suspenders issue was a good clue.
It depends upon the suspenders.
When my male cousin, who is my age, reached his late fifties, he assumed the role of the “silver fox” and his daughters collaborated to provide him with some quite elegant high-end matched tie-and-suspender sets, often in prints that involved a lot of purple and blue, worthy of being worn to a black tie event. He, unlike me, didn’t shirk his piano lesson practice, so he is quite fond of spontaneously playing pop favs in cocktail bars. (He lives in Santa Ana, CA.) There his suspenders send a message of prosperous caution -- his pants will NOT fall down! And the insurance was QUITE expensive. But he -- a devoted Republican rightwing Christian -- cannot be accused of extravagance or vanity since it was his daughters who lovingly provided him with these accessories. (So he’s got his suspenders on in that sense as well. He despises embarrassment.)
Late in life Bob Scriver began to show “metabolic syndrome” by becoming apple shaped, so he really NEEDED suspenders to wear with his Dickies khaki. He chose utilitarian bright-red suspenders from the Browning Merc, same place that he got the khakis. On the other extreme, as an animal control officer, I lost weight and had to buy either suspenders or a belt. I opted for black suspenders which no one considered sexy, partly because at that stage of my life I was often covered in dog hair and puppy dribblings. I ALWAYS considered Bob sexy, no matter what he did or didn’t wear.
The point is that accoutrements become sexy by association with a person who is charismatic. It’s not just a matter of outright gender-assignment or even whether the object is inner or outer wear. When I was a child, I had terrible leg aches (they’ve come back now) and the doctor recommended brown laceup oxfords (in an era of Mary Janes) with nice warm full-length stockings. The latter would only stay up with suspenders -- a garter belt, really -- which had to go over my shoulders since at that age I had no waist. It was flesh-colored, basic, and much hated. In that time period, my father wore sock garters that fitted around his legs just below the knee. They had a kind of hideous deception about them, partly because they were just plain ugly striped elastic with little punched-out metal buckles and partly because his legs were bulgy and hairy. I think that maybe both child garter-belts and adult male sock garters are not made anymore.
Female garter belts almost died when panty hose came along. Oddly, panty hose were a boon to me in a reverse-suspender way, since I wore bras that came down to my waist -- or were supposed to -- but constantly rode up. I learned to sew little elastic loops on the bottom of the bra and then button them with pennies twisted into the tops of my pantyhose. Then “torsolettes” or “Merry Widows” came in (with bones) and they, reaching down to hips, had garters attached. They were miserable to wear but still more pleasant than Playtex rubber girdles -- the real torture and probably the real reason that women rebelled finally and just went with jiggles. Or jeans.
So there’s a difference between suspension devices on the inside where they aren’t supposed to be seen, recognized or admitted to, and therefore only sexy in a forbidden context, or ordinary visible-to-the-public suspenders.
There’s definitely an age element here. Little boy suspenders are awfully cute. The suspenders on bib overalls over t-shirts on pretty girls can be cute and flirtatious. (Over nothing at all, they are Omigod.) The suspenders on the excruciatingly handsome best man at a formal wedding can be heart-breaking, especially during the dancing afterwards when his jacket is off and his collar is open. Suspenders on an older working-class grizzled guy with a bit of a paunch -- I have to admit it -- strike a chord with me. Suspenders on me always trip me into little Charlie Chaplin riffs: funny walks, sidelong looks, and hooking my thumbs in the elastic. Tipping my air bowler and twirling my air cane. Not very many people find that sexy, especially in a woman approaching seventy -- but some do.
Just not as many as react to a sweet little rosebud-embellished white satin garter belt or maybe a black lace number with tasteful rhinestones.
There IS one kind of garter that doesn’t turn me on at all. Sheet garters. You know, the kind that go on the corners of contour sheets that won’t stay hooked over the mattress? They may be in bed, but they ain’t sexy. Mine don’t even do what they’re supposed to do. Floppy mattress I guess. Floppy: the opposite of sexy.
See, ties are floppy. That’s why tie clasps are not sexy. Suspenders are snappy. That's sexy.