« Freakonomics Radio

221. How Did the Belt Win?

2015-09-24 | 🔗
Suspenders may work better, but the dork factor is too high. How did an organ-squeezing belly tourniquet become part of our everyday wardrobe -- and what other suboptimal solutions do we routinely put up with?
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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like dealt so Levitt List for me, if you would all the accessories and items of would say, jewellery that you were in a given day, you include about a sure. That's include about ok both the I've, never worn a watch one truly I don't No, no however, where a pocket square I've never in my life, I don't think I've ever had a pockets were, and I certainly have never won a pocket watch cuff links only when forced to tuxedo days in for someone who wears no sartorial accessories, why the belt for you left me speechless,
I don't know why were above that Steve Levitt Plan for Economics Friendly CO, author now, you think when I asked leave it, why he wears about you, give the obvious answer to hold up his pants until the belts for its net or is it the leak median Mitch. Hedberg once wrestled with this question, I got a belt on, that's all my pass, my pants. hold up my bell, I dont know what really happened and down air. Who is the real here all on today's episode. We too will wrestle with this and even more pressing questions about the belt. The laugh it off There are health implications around the pelvis, There is a nerve that lives are called the lateral, far more continuous nerve. There are economic implications till we believe that this was a sleeping giant for market. There are, of course, aesthetic implications. You look ridiculous if you were
tucked insured with that a belt, and we look at another solution to another problem, one that really is life and death that just about everyone believes in even though probably shouldn't, and what we found in the data was really remarkable about the facts, and the mythology just didn't seem to line up farewell at all from the w and my see this is for economics, radio, the pot cast that explores the hidden side of everything. Here's your host, Stephen Governor, the conventional wisdom, seems to hold that wearing a belt is the right thing to do for at least two obvious reasons number one utility of you. I am
a person because it does help keep up the trousers. You know there are needed if you can keep your pants. I ve always been transit, ribbit too big. So if I don't wearable, I'm in trouble and reason number two style, I loved house, our about all the time. I think that completing outfit yes, I always whereabouts, they look. I gotta belts on right now, we're belts. I pray much everyday. I feel like make it if I was so there's a lot of pro built sentiment out their lot of belt where's my belt lovers, and we get this right out in the open. I am not among them. I don't like belts very much. I don't think they work. very well on them. Uncomfortable. I'm always reminded of this on the rare occasions that I do wear a belt when I take it off at the end of the day and instantly feel much better. So I was happy to have a conversation a man who feels the same way for me. It really. started back in about two thousand
at hand. When I was teaching physics in high school, that's Daniel, Sefton, I am a data and for new bald advisers, as well as a instructor Loan STAR Community College, an you live where Daniel Spring Texas, basically northeastern ok, get back to when he was teaching high school and at the time, had a belt that we're out, you know, had had it for several years and I thought of second, while I was looking for a new belt about, the physics of what I was getting an ice like, but wait a minute. This basically works the same as tourniquet you strapped on pullet, tight and hope. Your pants, don't don't fall down, but the physics of a belt it pushes in and hopes that it creates a friction too have your pants not fall down all that didn't make sense. I mean I was here. I was talking to my students about how physics and direction gravity was pulling in moving things and here
wearing a belt- and I thought about it- a little bit like but wait a minute. I need something to pull up if my gravity is pulling down. So if you're looking for something to pull pants north, while gravity is pulling himself that's suspenders and so take a look around started wearing on, and there were sitting the comfortable and so from their own out like well, I'm not gonna getting more belts, so your argument is it. Suspenders are essentially superior to belts in terms of the function that belts are supposed to serve, which is holding up pants, correct, absolutely and that their superiors well in comfort. Ok So let's say for a minute that I buy your argument hook, line in sinker or belts and suspenders, as some people say no offense to you at all, but why does it take until two thousand and fifteen and of high school physics teacher nor Houston, Texas?
to ask this question that surely millions of not billions of people have had opportunity to ask before which is wire. Be wearing these sub optimal things when there's something not only that doesn't have to be invented but already exists, does the job better. Why were you the guy? I would not subscribe something quite so grand myself, but as far as why belts rule the the peril choice in that the choice of of holding up your pants, add ons. You say that it's mostly social momentum, social momentum. Is it true that the belt is superior to the suspender in the eyes of the people who create social movement, I mean suspenders, have an image problem. Valerie Steel is director and chief curator of the museum ef. I t the Fashion Institute of Technology,
in New York, you think of them ass, being worn by people who were maybe too fat to be comfortable wearing a belt say. Have that image? You have some cool images like pop, swear suspenders, but even that is a very kind of aggressive kind of look so belts on me. Her hands seem much more normative, but how did belts become known? Obviously, we need to take a step back my name's Chloe cheapen and I'm a fashion historian and aid teach theatre, design. It read college, so Chloe not to be too forward. But what are you wearing right now, That's a great question. I'm wearing jeans vinegar t shirt. sweater and swayed shoes have purple souls. Ok. So, let's, let's talk briefly about the history of pants, please.
Parents were theoretically invented by the eurasian horse writers of the eurasian steps in the bronze age. So, like maybe three thousand DC and they were wearing what before pants like a tunic or a rap fino sort of like you could They killed her sorry or ass a wrong and he just big kind of cloth that you would wrapper and body that would need He held up so belts existed before pants dead, The end belts were worn, wear them where they warn kind at more Madrid yeah. I think you could think like brave heart or one of those kind of things were you, use it just a kind of since the clothing around you and also as a way to hold up your sword belt, ok, so they were functional in at least two or more ways at once, exactly the aid they lead. Hold your clothes on to you and also hold excessive
his onto you as well. But then, if you want to write a horse all day, Panzer Helpful right, it just helps with the chafing or with the chafing right, but they were not considered fashionable with lake. The there's been a fashionable. Society is like the classical world, the Greeks and Romans. They never work hands and they were considered barbaric. You could say pants, really entered into the fashion lexicon based on a western european system, early. Eighteen hundreds like eighteen twenties, when trousers first started to be worn. They had been worrying breaches which risks ITALY differently only fell to the knee so these new trousers were cut very high, wasted like above your belly button, and so you had to have suspenders to wear them cause about wouldn't before and they were worn almost always with suspenders and correct. So the
came along well before the suspender, but there was a time when suspenders took the lead in the role of holding up pants. How, then, did the belt win? Well, pants themselves became more widespread, worn and more circumstances by coal minors, for instance, who carried heavy stuff in their pockets and needed those pants held up. Recreational sports were become more common. The problem with suspenders is that their attached to your shoulders. So if you're doing any movement that where your hips and your shoulders are twisting or or moving kind of different places like fighting or sports, a belt might be more practical are you cause? You know when you? If you can just imagine like you, lift your shoulders up, beacon, think that if you, if you had on trousers lemme, give you a little but of a wedge ie, so the belt, whereas I wouldn't do that. Oh Reggie,
renter right, then the fashion curve was also changing. Then, as always, cheapen points to the early nineteenth twenties when pant wastes rely the end of world war, one brought a burst of military inspired fashioned, including belts cowboys switched from suspenders to belts in part, because I felt could show off a buckle which might signify a rodeo victory. Other victory belts would come along for wrestling for boxing and achievement belts in karate, for instance, the belt became a symbol. spring of accomplishment. The suspender, meanwhile, would go on to become the symbol of what Ferko S can I met. Now then we are, I bigger cater waiter, but if there is one person you're looking to blame for taking the belt mean
it would probably be. The Duke of Windsor, is very small man, so it's possible that some of the things that he helped to popularize were just things that looked good on here, if he was a very rotund gentlemen, he might have made suspenders popular said adults, the Duke of Windsor, known before his application in nineteen. Thirty, six, as King Edward, the eve of the United Kingdom, embraced the built at the time closed, shaping, says the belt was seen as a cat tool and very american thing, and so often times what these princes were known for was for wearing and making part Hitler fashion. An older generation would consider to be much too casual, whether that was you know morning, coats or belts. They were often sort of trendsetters, his friends that we're sitting next to him, and then you know
most people would have dinner with someone else and they would be like. Oh after dinner, unbuttoning my jacket, just like the prince, does you know how high hang out with the prince all the time cause, I'm so important. you know and then one thing passes onto the next. It's like a celebrity or cut today you want to associate with someone that you, admire or look up to or think his fancy are important, and so you mimic their style, and this is where we must acknowledge that if you are the kind of person who thinks about clothing is primarily pray go as our listener. Daniel subject thinks about the built in suspenders. Well, maybe you weren't thinking about it right fashion is and always has been about much more than function. Valerie steel, again from if I t back in the nineteenth century, scholars used to think that fashion developed out of functional needs, but in fact
All the research has shown that throughout world history, people of used, clothing and adornment to signal messages to other people, so whether or not suspenders are more functional. Quota quote than belt is kind of beside the point. As steel points out, this notion goes well beyond the belt when you can choose Clothes that you think are are more functional, could choose to wear sneakers rather than leather shoes, or rather than high heels, but it's all gonna be relative and what you tell yourself as functional for you. It's like people used to think pants were more functional than dresses, but really it's it's all in your head was going to be important to you. I remember living in Indonesia and very famous old artist was invited to come to England and he refused to come because he said to me with horror, they make me where trousers and shoes and this
so uncomfortable and horrible, instead of wearing a ceremony and flip laughs or bare feet. So the idea that, clothes are primarily functional is primarily about what makes you feel comfortable and confidence. I think you'll Mitch makes a good point. That said, after the break, we look at some of the evidence that the modern belt is wealth stupid. We talk to a belt entrepreneurs and we talk about a different without that takes a conversation in a very different direction. The I think, it's perfect storm of incentives, leading to bat outcomes and do ass a favourite with you if you dont Artie subscribed, if we cannot with radio go, do it on Itunes or wherever you get your pot gas, and if Europe do go, tell about five hundred your closest friends they should subscribe to and that if they don't, you will spread vicious room
about them. Tell everybody they wear suspenders the belt, is a fairly ubiquitous item, at least for those who wear pants. Men are more likely to wear belts than women in part, because men are more They could wear pants, but also because the male body is shaped more like a tube without the nice, rounded hip. That prevents pants from
down at unless you're wearing, very tight, pants or perhaps pants with a draw string or an elastic, waistband or pants. It have been tailored snugly, fit your very own, tubular male form. In all these cases, a belt isn't necessary, least not as a functional item. The fashion ability of the belt is, as we have established, a separate and perhaps more salient issue. In any case, there are among us some men who are dissatisfied with the bell, who see it as a poor substitute for say the suspenders men like Daniel Septic from Spring Texas so Daniel. Let's make you king for a day, would you take action against the belts or in favour of the suspender or are you the kind of guy says? You know what I figured out a better solution for myself.
the rest. The world doesn't want to get on board, that's their problem king for a day scenario. I would definitely if I issue, everyone a pair of two spenders, probably their black or Navy Cosette, should fit most outfits and say ok for one week. I want you to try it after a week. If you're still wonder belts. Ok, that's fine! It that's your option, I'm not going I'm not gonna, be an oppressive, came on and will try to be at least a little beneficence there. But I think that, given the opportunity- and to see and interact with your peers were in us at a suspenders coupled with the comfort and functionality of suspenders. I think that would probably swing it
are we see suspenders almost everywhere and belts? What kind of go towards the wayside? Valerie steel of the Fashion Institute of Technology thinks that set chick is how shall we say this delusional the restore to be full of discarded pairs of suspense? when I think that you would find essentially no women wearing suspenders, except for it. and full who wanted to get that kind of you. Berlin in the nineteen twenties cross dressing, look and you get a few fat guys and get a few pankey guys who would like suspenders, maybe a few hapless guys who thought that the Wall Street Look Circa nineteen. Eighty five was still stand
should wear suspenders, but most people will keep on wearing whatever they were wearing before bells or no Valse ouch. Maybe Valerie Steel was right. Maybe the belt is too firmly established as the winner of the holding up her pants contest and the suspender is irretrievably unfashionable, but before we just except that move on, let's at least look at a few empirical differences between the two belts by squeezing inward, rather than took upward can be uncomfortable and if we too, tight, potentially harmful around the pelvis, there is a nerve that lives are called the lateral, far more continuous nerve. That's can HANS Raja Spinal, an orthopedic surgeon in Poughkeepsie New York Belts can can press it.
and cause. The fly pain, thus call Morales your prosthetics. So if your belt is too tight and you do not have an adequate amount of girth fat to protect you, that will be on a nerve irritating the nerve causing. thy numbness and sometimes pain, HANS Rogers. Most recent book is called keys to an amazing life secrets of the cervical spine lot of patients who come to him with pain and their backs are next, have something in common. They wear a belt and use it for something beyond holding up their pants. When you have take, for example, firemen our medical doctors are plumbers. People are carry a lot of weight around their waste there, not aware of the consequence of the wait. It's not just the way. There is a force times distance, and I can tell you from doing other studies that the way
you're carrying around your waste. Probably ways. Seven, the nine times more to your spine because of the consequences of force times distance suspenders, he says can offer a lot more support for carrying that wait. That's why you often see loggers and construction workers wearing them, and a couple of police studies found that wearing suspenders, along with a duty belt, increased comfort and performance. All that said, I get it. I get that suspenders just are not a social norms,
not yet at least, and that the belt for now reigns supreme. Perhaps then we should focus on at least improving the belt I need to wait about market is at the moment is broken. That's Andrew heifers, him he's a founder company called belt ology. Then this is the idea of wearing a piece of leather around her waist with pre punched holes. That basically has no give like wearing a turn a k around your waste you'd never fits properly and becomes very uncomfortable heaven and did not start out in belts. I worked for years
the medical doctor in Orland, and then I went to work for Goldman Sachs as a banker, and then I do my MBA at Harvard and after, however, that worked as a consultant and Bain company. He saw an opportunity in what he calls the broken belt market. So menswear is the fastest growing part of the apparel industry right now and accessories as a father part of men's? Where and then, when you dig into men's accessories, you see that pretty much every accessories growing double digits accept about Americans, by about a hundred eighty million belts a year, but again it's it's been pre close it out for last four years, and this is in a context where takes ox, for example, or color Socks has been growing like forty percent, especially stores, gloves This growing scarves, hats, pocket squares, tie bars even ties with growing at one stage, an angle these numbers for about, and so the numbers were turning, so
So we believe that this was a sleeping giant market and that's why Heaven and found it. Along with Anna Lindbergh, the online shop they'll technology. so number one. We think there is a change and functionality and the way you worry about a number two is the idea that suddenly your belt can become an expressive accessory number to kind of speaks for itself. As for number, one functionality issue felt: ology cells stretch woven belt, which is popular in Sweden, Limburg, home country, the metal prong passes through the woven webbing rather than pre punched holes, which means it looks like the traditional belt, not like a camping belt with sliding buckle, but is theoretically at least a little more comfortable and a lot more adjusted heaven and believes
the belt ology formula is working in our first year we did sales roughly of half a million dollars and in our second year, were hoping to do sales of close to one and a half million dollars, I wish, however, in a number of all the luck in the world with their business and if they can make the built a little better, that's nice too, but I cannot help thinking that the belt for all its mainstream acceptance for all its style potential, for whatever functionality, as is still a pretty sub optimal solution to the primary problem. It's trying to solve, which is holding up pants and reminds me therefore, of another sub optimal solution to a problem. It's a lot more important than pants. I started thinking about car seats when I was doing other research on auto fatalities related to drug driving. That again is Steve, live it and at the same time, was taking my kids in and out
car seats every day, and I always had the feeling that they flopped around a lot and, among other things, would car seats. Do is a prop up really high in the air, and, as I was looking at data on car crashes, I came to understand that there are really only two ways you could die in a car crash. One was that you were projected because you weren't restrained it all new in you slammed into the glass or or were thrown out of the car, and the other was if the space you're in collapsed around you and crushed you, and so in that principle it seemed like lower the better when you're in a carbon. So that was my intuition about car seats is that they were floppy and they got you up in there and that my put at risk,
So then we we looked at the data. The data were from the: U S: government, which does a pretty good job, collecting information on just about every traffic accident in the country, including the causes, the occupants of the vehicles, whether anyone's been drinking and whether the passengers were restrained by sea. belts or in the case of children, car seats and what we found in the data was really remarkable, adjust it. It seemed like the benefit of a car seat. A children's car seat relative to a child wearing adult seat belt was was with minimal almost a year or so in our research in terms of fatalities,
Car seats didn't help at all in terms of injuries, mostly relatively minor injuries. It's you. My car seats had a small advantage relative to to dot seatbelts, but compared to the mythology that has arisen around car seats in which people seem to think. While these are the greatest invention ever the facts and the mythology just didn't seem to line up farewell at all. So If you're really concerned about protecting kids in cars by the vast majority of whom ride in the back, see what be a better way to Riga Car rather than add on car seats. So I dont even know the answer to that, because he has been so little thought and research put into it, because the car sheet has has been king kind of like the belt to speaking to test out the car seat. Theory Levin I contacted and independent lab that conducts
crash tests we commissioned to test a three year old size, dummy in a car seat, verses a three year old dummy in a lap and shoulder belt and a six year old dummy in boosters, versus a six year old dummy in latin shoulder belt. Within minutes we had some data and they Don T built the great it would have passed all of the federal requirements that they have for Carthage but I think you and I both came to believe that dumb that debt, ironically the for in this industry, fairly weren't that interest saving lives, it seem like they were more interested in selling products and avoiding lawsuits and then actually reducing fatalities, so you just answer my next question, which is why, if car seats aren't really that good doing the one thing they're supposed to do, are they so omnipresent? I mean really omnipresent because their regulated I guess the answer is I mean? How do you described this kind?
weird snare. You ve got automakers, who art responsible rate for protecting kids in backseat, really got child car seat manufacturers who are responsive even if this doesn't work that well and they profit from them in and there's a government who demands it is that triangulation. The reason why we ve got the sub optimal solution. You, I think it's a perfect storm of incentives leading to that outcome. So the only people fighting car seats in this entire country Are you and make our research on car seats has been controversial? Not everyone agrees that car seats underperform, but the underlying point is a broader one for car seats and bell and probably million other things we use every day. Without thinking about too much, we form habits. We accept conventional wisdom that may not be very well
We think that once someone has come up with some kind of solution is no reason to rethink it. Well, I think we shall do a little bit less of that. our working headline for this episode was belts are stupid. Out of respect for belt lovers, we ended up toning down, but not willing to. Let go the sentiment and I'm curious to know What else you think is on some level stupid what something you encounter use or think about all the time they could really use a make over. Send us your ideas in an email at radio at four economics that com or give us a shout on Twitter, Facebook or Itunes. We can also latch onto a free subscription to this package and, while you're. Talking that stupid things work out another episode about the stupid things we all do in the kitchen. We will be talking with a food science guy who says we're getting a lot wrong. I will answer questions like when is the best time to sort your burger,
Should you let your eggs sit before they go on the stove and is New York it's a really better because of the water, so we want to put your voice in this episode is well. What are some of the culinary secrets? Use whereby who taught them too and most important. Do they really work? No recipes, please just go ahead and make a brief audio recording. Use whatever voice memo app, is on your phone and email us. The file at radio at for economics, dot com- please tell us your name age and where you're from thanks
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and remember to subscribe to this part cast on Itunes or wherever you get. Your pot casts hither, Stephen Double again, one more thing. If you like for economics, radio, I think you'll also like the latest episode of people, I mostly admire the pod cast hosted by my friend, I'm expressing co author, Steve Levin. Here's what it sounds like a guest today Sue bird. She collects championships she's for W Nba championships, five euro, the best about tapping ships to end she ate championships for
International Basketball Federation, world cups and for limpid gold medals, I'd love to talk about the economics of Professional Basque about so the average player in the NBA made eight point three million dollars into that the nineteen and in the W Nba the average with eighty thousand, is frustrating just now. I think. Actually, if you look at twenty twenty. Our minimum is now higher, but we all put in the same amount of work. So is it hard to swallow, knowing that somebody else's work is being rewarded at times by I live in reality, I understand business and economics. Some people look at us as like charity. They go will will help them out like an it in a terrible. What sense, not unlike this business
vestment way, and we think do look at us as an investment immediately. Its talked about how we don't make money- and it's like fifty years ago in the nba- did either. But people are willing to make that investment get behind it and growing people. I mostly admire you, can find on your favorite podcast up either Stephen dubbing again one more thing: if you liked the episode you just heard, we think you like something else in the friggin hammocks radio network. Look for this interview on the new podcast people. I mostly admire with host Steve, let my guest today Sue bird. She collects championships she's for W Nba championships, five euro, the best while championships to end she ate championships for
international basketball Federation World CUPS in four Olympic Gold medal. I would think that, in order to be the player you are, you would have to be a person who actually gets better under pressure rather than worth. Well. Obviously, there are people who are known for heading big. Shots are known for playing, while in big gangs that exists for sure, but I think we kind of frame it the wrong way. It's not that you're gonna make nine at it it's that you might make three at a ten, but somebody else's making zero it's on, whose most successful. It's like who's. The most successful the least successful, that is people mostly admire you can find it on your favorite podcast app subscribe now, so that you don't miss single episode,
Transcript generated on 2021-01-30.