A Brief History of Suspenders

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Larry King's suspenders officially retire on Dec. 16, when the veteran broadcaster hosts his last episode of Larry King Live. Often red, sometimes blue — once even a blinding yellow — they have been his trademark ever since 1987, when he needed something to hold up his pants following some serious post-heart surgery weight loss.

The first suspenders can be traced to 18th century France, where they were basically strips of ribbon attached to the buttonholes of trousers. Benjamin Franklin is said to have worn them — although it's probably best not to ask how historians know that; back then, suspenders were considered an undergarment never to be seen in public. In fact, visible suspenders were considered risqué as recently as 1938, when a town in Long Island, NY tried to ban gentlemen from wearing them without a coat, calling it "sartorial indecency." The ban was later overturned after residents complained.

In the early 1820s, British designer Albert Thurston began to manufacture the first known modern day suspenders (known as "braces" in Britain). The fashion of the day dictated that men wear high-waisted pants — so high-waisted, in fact, that a belt could not actually be used to hold them up. Thurston's suspenders attached via leather loops; the company still sells them today.

Original designs show suspender straps made of a tightly woven wool (known as "boxcloth") and attaching as an "H-back," meaning they join together to make what looks like an uppercase H. This was later replaced by the X-back, which in turn morphed into the Y-back. Today, all three models are available — although, unless you're a U.S. firefighter, H-back suspenders are pretty rare.

One of the first U.S. patents for suspenders was issued in 1871 to Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) for "Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments," that attached to everything from underpants to women's corsets and were designed as an alternative to suspenders, which Clemens reportedly found uncomfortable. Metal clasps were invented in 1894 so that suspenders could be clipped on rather than buttoned, meaning that pants no longer had to come with buttons sewn in the waist, as they commonly did at the time.

Suspenders fell out of favor in the early 20th century, when lower-sitting pants no longer required them. But suspenders didn't disappear completely. Doctors even recommended suspenders to patients with extended bellies. "There are more big stomachs caused by the wearing of a belt than any other one thing I know of," said a Chicago doctor named Dr. V. S. Cheney in 1928, urging people instead to practice "posture, exercise and the wearing of suspenders." And actor Humphrey Bogart wore them in many of his movies, as did British actor Ralph Richardson, who liked his suspenders so much that when World War II broke out, he ran out and bought six pairs in anticipation of fabric rationing.

In the 1960s, British skinheads adopted suspenders as part of their working-class look — often attaching them to tight blue jeans that didn't really need help staying in place. One of pop culture's most famous hooligans, Alex DeLarge (Malcolm MacDowell), wore them in A Clockwork Orange.

Working women — or those who simply wanted to dress like them — adopted suspenders as part of the Annie Hall "unisex" look in the 1970s. A 1986 People magazine article recommended that "fashion-forward teens" let their suspenders hang from their waist, arguing that drooping suspenders were "very sensual." The following year, suspenders became associated with obnoxious wealth through Michael Douglas' portrayal of ultra-capitalist Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's Wall Street. Two years later, uber-nerd Steve Urkel from the TV sitcome Family Matters gave the fashion accessories a completely different vibe.

Suspenders were largely absent from people's closets in the 1990s and early 2000s — that is, until hip-hop style icon Fonzworth Bentley popularized the preppy dandy look. Recent years have seen a fascination with early 20th century culture (think: speakeasy-themed bars, mustaches, fedoras) amongst a certain subset of people — usually young, usually in major cities — who like to dress the part.

In interviews, Larry King claims he doesn't know how many suspenders he owns (in a 2009 interview with TIME, he estimated his haul at 150). But they are clearly his most iconic feature. Janet Jackson (of 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII "wardrobe malfunction" fame) gave him a pair with open holes around the nipples. "I wore them once," King told Variety in 2007, "they were cute."