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Sleeve Garters: The 19th Century Menswear Trend Resurrected by David Beckham

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Heritage trends and retro fits (hello, dad jeans) have been a huge theme in menswear over the last several years — and this one’s taking it way back.

David Beckham, who’s arguably one of the most well-known tastemakers in the realm of men’s style icons today (despite spending lots of time nude), was seen out in Miami on Tuesday wearing what appeared to be a silver arm band of sorts over his lavender button-down. The Daily Mail identified the accessory as a sleeve garter, which seemed, in our minds, to be a much manlier way of saying “boy bracelet.”

We consulted Beth Dincuff, an assistant fashion history professor at Parsons, to get down to the bottom of Beckham’s silver shirt adornments. As it happens, the arm band has a history that’s much more about function than fashion.

"Daydreaming Bookkeeper" by Norman Rockwell, 1924.

“Back in the 19th century, men’s shirts didn’t have buttons at the sleeves, so they were a little looser. Men would wear sleeve garters to pull them up and make it a little shorter, especially for work — whether they were bartenders, cowboys, musicians…”

So how did they work? Picture a blouson waist: A sleeve garter holds the pulled up sleeve tight, allowing the top portion to billow out a bit over it — no rolling required. There are leather and fabric varieties, too, though Beckham’s silver version is pure class.

“It’s an interesting thing to bring back,” says Dincuff, who notes the presence of sleeve garters in the work of Civil War photographers like Mathew Brady. Norman Rockwell’s 1924 painting “Daydreaming Bookkeeper” features the subject sitting at his desk, a sleeve garter above his left elbow. They also found popularity during the Prohibition Era — though clearly, for Beckham, it’s solely a style statement.

This actually wasn’t the first time Becks brought out his silvery cuffs — a little digging turns up snaps of the now-retired soccer star and wife Victoria (then, much more tan and buxom) wearing them out for a fancy dinner in 2008. Good to know we aren’t the only ones who hold onto our low-wear items forever…

Are sleeve garters a menswear accessory trend you’d like to see reinstated, or should boys stick to their cufflinks and Ray Bans and call it a day?

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