Saturday, September 22, 2012

Preventing and Repairing Broken Braces

Given the high level of pulling, tugging, and stretching that braces and suspenders endure, its no surprise that they break. And when they do, it can be an embarrassing moment, especially if your pants start slipping down. 

Where braces break 
On braces, the most common break occurs around the button holes on brace tabs (see diagram). This is where the braces experience the full extent of the pull on the button to hold the pants up.

There is an ongoing battle between the braces pulling on the button to hold up the pants, and the button pulling on the brace tabs to stay attached to the pants. Eventually, one or the other will succeed in breaking away, resulting in either a torn buttonhole and intact button on the pants, or a popped button and an intact buttonhole. 

Take for example, this picture from Norman Rockwell. You'll notice that the front, inner brace button has popped off, likely due to the sudden jerk to get away from the dog.

The battle of the button and the brace tab may be short-lived, if the button thread cuts into the brace tab, the thread will cause the tear. It's nearly impossible to repair a broken buttonhole on a brace tab, so it's recommended that buttons be sewn in just enough to hold the braces to the pants, but not so securely that the button doesn't pop-off when needed. This will help save many brace tabs and braces from being ruined.

The ability for braces to stretch is what makes them useful. But when braces are pulled or stretched beyond capacity, the buttons should pop-off to avoid the damages listed above. This saves the braces, and its an easy repair to re-sew a button on to a pair of pants to use the braces again, rather than buy a new pair of braces.

Here's some photos of people who could use a seamstress to sew on missing buttons. 

Both front, exterior brace buttons are popped off

The front left, exterior brace button has popped off

The front right, exterior brace button has popped off
Again, the front left, exterior brace button has popped off

Another example is presented below - this girl was a little over zealous when stretching her braces, or the button was not sewn on correctly. Regardless, the front, inner brace button is popped off (see below and close-up). This inner button is the common place for a button to be popped off in the front (although not always the case). This is because people pull your braces away from your body or you stretch the straps away from your body, putting the most strain on the front inner buttons, not the outer ones.
Notice the popped inner brace button
Close-up of popped front, inner brace button

When buying braces, inspect the brace tabs for firmness and quality - genuine leather is recommended (left), or woven material (right):

Secondly, a common place breaks occur is at the adjuster clip on the strap. The metal can wear down from frequent adjusting and use, causing it to lose its ability to hold the clip in place. A worn out clip will not hold the straps in place. 

A broken adjustor clip
A third place area suspenders and braces break is in their elasticity. Elastic straps wear down over time and become brittle. For instance, the braces shown below are starting to show signs of deteriorating condition.
Deteriorating elastic straps

A fourth place is around the brace tabs. These can become brittle, frayed, or simply wear out.
Frayed brace tab

Where suspenders break
Suspenders are attached pants and skirts with alligator clips that grip material. This is the frequent breakage point, when the clip fails to grip the material, either due to excessive use or poor quality. When you purchase suspenders, examine the clips for strength. If one of your favorite suspenders has a broken clip, head over to a sewing store and pick up a new clip.

Suspender straps may also be attached by buttons, rather than clips. In the photo below, both ladies are wearing the same outfit of shorts with suspender straps. The lady on the right hasn't noticed yet that her rear right button has popped off, leaving the strap hanging loose. This was likely due to the extra strain on the straps while riding.

Another area suspenders break is a tear on the brace strap. This is less common, but does come from getting snags. The suspenders are likely past repairs. However, before you throw them out, why not use the clips on another pair of suspenders?

Torn suspender strap

What to do with broken braces and suspenders
If you have broken braces or suspenders, consider re-purposing them by getting the necessary supplies from a sewing store. If the brace tabs are broken, you can try a leather store to inquire if they can repair them. If not, donate it to a thrift store and someone else may value your reject!

Discussion time:
  1. Where do your braces/suspenders break?
  2. Do you have any stories of braces or suspenders breaking at unfortunate moments?

Note: all photos are used solely for non-commercial use and to illustrate braces in fashion. No plagiarism is intended.


  1. The only time I’ve had one break was when the button thread had cut all the way through one of the brace tabs on the front. I got through the day by tieing broken leather tab in a knot so that it couldn’t pull through the connector to the straps. I liked that pair of braces so I found another pair of braces at a thrift store with the same style/color braces tab and used one of them to replace the broken one.

    Truthfully the only time I wear the button type is when I’m wearing a suit, given today’s styles that isn’t often. I generally wear the clip-on types. Most of the clip on types after a while starts to slip because the two sides of the alligator clip get bent away from each other over time. When that happens there is less clamping force holding them on to the pants and they pop off at unfortunate moments. By the way that can be fixed by slipping a pencil between the jaws of the alligator clip and gently, with a pair of pliers, bend the alligator clips together over the pencil. That works for quite a while but sooner or later the metal just fatigues so much that it never holds.

    I discovered Hold-Up Suspenders a few years ago, the owner of the company fixed the slipping problem and patented his design. The patents a little overkill but he did fix the problem. I was playing American style football last year with friends with a pair of them and someone got their hands tangled in one of the back straps below the cross piece while I was running. That one suspender clip came off but it was still locked to a piece of trouser material that had ripped off of my pants.

    There is also a video on the Hold-up website that shows how to swap out the clips if you need to. So take a look and if you don’t like his styles just buy one pair and then swap the clips with a pair of suspenders you do like. All it takes is 10 minutes and a pair of pliers. The Holdup clips are better than the ones at sewing stores.

    1. @Anonymous: Thanks for sharing your experience with braces that broke, and glad to hear that you redeemed the pair with parts from a thrift store!

      As for your comments on clip-on suspenders, I agree that they do not last. Eventually, the alligator clips will widen and not grasp the materials.
      I am familiar with Hold-Up Suspenders and agree that they securely attach suspender straps to pants, but it comes at a cost. When the football player pulled your Hold-Up suspender strap, it torn the material from the trouser, causing significant damage to the trouser. If you would have been wearing braces with buttons, the button would have simply popped-off under the pressure and saved the trousers from damage. It is a lot easier to sew a button on rather than try to repair a torn piece of material from the trousers. So if straps are to be torn from trousers (and most eventually will), it is best to use buttons rather than clips. As the saying goes: why win the battle but lose the war.

  2. That was the only time Id ever had something like that happen. It was pickup game on camping trip (drinking involved). The jeans were old, the material was really a couple threads around the needle in the suspender clip. The pants werent ruined and the damage amounted to just a tear in the waist band of the jeans where the needle got pulled through. At the time I just clipped the suspender back on at another place and got on with the game.

    Everyone gets an opinion on clip on vs button on suspenders, I have both and heres I divide it up. With suits, button on braces only. With dress trousers with no suit jacket etiher button on or a stylish set of clip ons work fine for me, with or with a tie. With jeans clips on are fine. With jeans button on's I think are a little formal unless your felling timber in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Nothing wrong with putting buttons on jeans but most button on braces are jsut too nice for a jeans application. My opinion, I know some people disagree.

    I read through your tension essay. You had two questions
    (1) How do you find the tension in your braces/suspenders?

    Basically I find them using these limits, if the pants are riding up and giving me a wedgy then their too tight. If the pants leg hem is getting under my shoe heel the suspenders are too loose. Anything in between is OK.

    (2) Do you find your pants ride up by wearing braces?

    Yes, but they ride down if I wear a belt. I think wearing both belt and suspenders is kind of silly. So it really comes down to which you prefer belt or suspenders.

    1. @Anonymous: You are right that everyone has an opinion on how to wear suspenders, be it clip-on or button on, with suits, dress pants, jeans, or others. I think that there's both a functional and fashionable difference between braces and suspenders. From a stylish perspective, braces are more dapper and polished, while suspenders are casual. However, that doesn't mean someone cannot dress up a pair of jeans with button-on braces and a casual shirt.

      From a functional perspective, braces support your pants as more connection points to the pants than suspenders have 6 points of contact compared to 3 or 4 with suspenders. For this reason, it makes more sense for people that are heavyset, lumberjacks, and the portly to use braces for this extra support. These body types are better suited to braces regardless of their fashion choices.

      I agree with your comments on the 2 questions. It takes some time to find the right balance for brace tension and avoiding the pants from riding up, but once you get there, its very comfortable.
      Thanks for your comments. Enjoy wearing your suspenders and braces!

  3. Hello ; l have recently started wearing braces. I have recently gotten a pair of box cloth braces from Thomas pink
    I wear them with my Ralph Lauren trousers. These braces use U tabs ( Not V tabs ) . I was reading this blog and one sentence caught my eye : " Eventually one or the other will break away " Does this mean that at one point my trouser buttons WILL pop off ? Or is it just a possibility ? Bear in mind ; these are U tab box cloth braces . I chose U tab ; because V tabs suffer strain when we move sideways ( thus risking a popped button). I chose box cloth ; because elastic becomes brittle over time. But your sentence about the ' on going battle between the button and the brace tabs ' worries me a little. It's as if at one point ; no matter what l do ; the buttons will pop off . Is this the case ?

    1. @Anonymous: Thanks for your question.
      If you wear braces frequently (everyday), then you will notice this battle between the button and brace tabs. I have been wearing braces for more than 10 years and see it. Depending on the tailoring and workmanship when the button was sewn on, buttons are generally very durable. But I've found a button can pop off from time to time.

      Buttons do pop off occasionally, and you should not be alarmed - this is part of the design. Buttons are not guaranteed to pop off, but it happens more frequently then you think. In fact, one of my buttons popped off this week - the second time in the last 2 months. I wasn't doing anything strenuous, but the thread must have worn down over time until it simply had no more hold.

      You shouldn't be worried about a popped button - it's far better than the alternative of a torn brace tab. Brace tabs are under strain to hold up your pants. When the stress is too much, either the button will pop off or the brace tab will tear apart. This is far worse, as it's more difficult to repair a brace tab than sew on a button. Most people throw out braces once one single brace tab is ripped - such a waste. Leather makers can sometimes repair brace tabs, but it's more cumbersome and costly than sewing on a popped button. I would rather have a popped button than a torn brace tab any day.

      I have further comments on another blog post on clip-ons versus buttons that you may find interesting.

      Enjoy wearing braces!


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