How Did the Belt Win? (Ep. 221)

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(photos, right: Elevationphoto; left: sexyninjamonkey)

Our latest Freakonomics Radio episode is called “How Did the Belt Win?” (You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes or elsewhere, get the RSS feed, or listen via the media player above.)

The gist: 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?

Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people, ideas, and music in this episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

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[MUSIC: Rudy Pusateri, “Fashion Funky”]

Do you ever notice something that’s so commonly used that it’s practically ubiquitous — even though it doesn’t work that well? We get used to things. But does that mean they really make sense? I’m sure some examples come to your mind — maybe some medical practice, maybe a political practice, maybe even something where the stakes are really high. Like … hmm … belts?

STEPHEN J. DUBNER: So Levitt, list for me if you would, all the accessories and items of, let’s say, jewelry that you wear in a given day.

STEVEN LEVITT: You include a belt?

DUBNER: Sure, let’s include a belt.

LEVITT: Okay. A belt. Yeah, I’ve never worn a watch. I’ve never worn jewelry. I don’t, um —

DUBNER: No cravat?


DUBNER: You ever wear a pocket square?

LEVITT: I’ve never worn, in my life, I don’t think I’ve ever had a pocket square, and I certainly have never worn a pocket watch.

DUBNER: Hmm. Cufflinks?

LEVITT: Only when forced to on tuxedo days.

DUBNER: Uh huh. And so for someone who wears no sartorial accessories, why the belt?

LEVITT: Boy, you’ve left me speechless. I don’t know why I wear a belt.

Steve Levitt is my Freakonomics friend and co-author. Now, you’d think when I asked Levitt why he wears a belt, he’d give the obvious answer — to hold up his pants. That’s what a belt is for, isn’t it? Or is it? The late comedian Mitch Hedberg once wrestled with this question:

HEDBERG: I got a belt on that’s holding up my pants. And my pants have belt loops that hold up my belt. I don’t know what’s really happening down there. Who is the real hero?

On today’s episode, we too will wrestle with this and even more pressing questions about the belt. Hey, don’t laugh it off. There are health implications; there are economic implications; there are of course aesthetic implications.

We also look at another solution to another problem — one that really is life and death — that just about everyone believes in. Even though they probably shouldn’t.

*     *     *

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.


Classic Corrella: I mean, well I am a belt person, because it does help keep up the trousers.

Rachel: They’re needed if you can’t keep your pants up.

Robin Blades: I always wear trousers that are a bit big so if I don’t wear a belt I’m in trouble.

And reason number two: style.


Molly Etling: I love belts. I wear belts all the time. I think they complete an outfit.

Chuck Heaphy: Yes, I always wear belts. They look good.

Edward Qian: I got a belt on right now. I wear belts like pretty much everyday. I’d feel naked if I wasn’t wearing one.

So there’s a lot of pro-belt sentiment out there. A lot of belt wearers, a lot of belt lovers. Let me 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; I find them uncomfortable. And 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 with someone who feels the same way …

[MUSIC: Ruby Velle & The Soulphonics – My Dear (from It’s About Time)]

DANIEL SEFCIK: For me it really started back in about 2010 when I was teaching physics in high school.

That’s Daniel Sefcik.

SEFCIK: I’m a data admin for Newbold Advisors as well as an instructor for Lone Star Community College.

DUBNER: Gotcha, and you live where, Daniel?

SEFCIK: Spring, Texas. Basically north Houston.

Okay, back to when he was teaching high school:

SEFCIK: And at the time I had a belt that wore out, you know, I’d had it for several years, and I thought for a second while I was looking for a new belt about the physics of what I was getting. And I was like, well, wait a minute. This basically works the same way as a tourniquet. You know, you strap it on, pull it tight, and hope your pants don’t fall down. But the physics of a belt — it pushes in, and hopes that it creates enough friction to have your pants not fall down. Well, that didn’t make sense. Here I was talking to my students about physics, and what direction gravity was pulling and moving things, and here I was wearing a belt. And I thought about it a little bit, and I was like, well, wait a minute. I need something to pull up, if gravity is pulling down.

DUBNER: So if you’re looking for something to pull pants north while gravity is pulling them south …

SEFCIK: Well, that’s suspenders. And so I took a look around and started wearing them, and they were exceedingly comfortable. And so from there on out, I was like well, I’m not going to get any more belts.

DUBNER: So your argument is that suspenders are essentially superior to belts in terms of the function that belts are supposed to serve, which is holding up pants. Correct?

SEFCIK: Absolutely. And that they’re superior as well in comfort.

DUBNER: Okay. So, let’s say for a minute that I buy your argument hook, line, and sinker — or belts and suspenders as some people say. No offense to you at all, but why does it take until 2015 and a high-school physics teacher near Houston, Texas, to ask this question that surely millions if not billions of people have had opportunity to ask before which is, “Why are we wearing these suboptimal things when there’s something not only that doesn’t have to be invented, but already exists, that does the job better?” Why were you the guy?

SEFCIK: I would not subscribe something quite so grand to myself, but as far as why belts rule, the apparel choice and the choice of holding up your pants, I’d honestly say that it’s mostly social momentum.

Ah, social momentum. Is it true that the belt is superior to the suspender in the eyes of the people who create social momentum?

[MUSIC: Panorama Jazz Band, “Martinique” (from Come Out Swingin’)]

“I mean, suspenders have an image problem.”

That’s Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of the Museum at F.I.T., the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York.

STEELE: You think of them as being worn by people who are maybe too fat to be comfortable wearing a belt, so you have that image. You have some cool images like punks wear suspenders, but even that is a very aggressive kind of look. So belts on the other hand seem much more normative.

But how did belts become normative? Obviously, we need to take a step back.

CHLOE CHAPIN: My name is Chloe Chapin and I’m a fashion historian and I teach theater design at Reed College.

DUBNER: So Chloe, not to be too forward, but what are you wearing right now?

CHAPIN: That’s a great question. I’m wearing jeans, a V-neck t-shirt, and a sweater and suede shoes that have purple soles.

[MUSIC: J. Cowit, “One Level At A Time” (from Our Princess Is in Another Castle)]

DUBNER: Okay, so let’s talk briefly about the history of pants, please.

CHAPIN: Pants were theoretically invented by the Eurasian horse riders of the Eurasian steppes in the Bronze Age, so maybe 3,000 B.C.

DUBNER: And they were wearing what before pants?

CHAPIN: Like a tunic or a wrap. You could think of like a kilt or a sari or a sarong. Any big kind of cloth that you could wrap around the body, that would need to be held up. So belts existed before pants did.

DUBNER: I see, and belts were worn where? Were they worn more midriff?

CHAPIN: Yeah, I think you could think like Braveheart or one of those kind of things, where you would use it to cinch the clothing around you and also as a way to hold up your sword belt.

DUBNER: Okay, so they were functional in at least two or more ways at once.

CHAPIN: Exactly. They would hold your clothes onto you and also hold accessories on to you as well.

DUBNER: But then if you want to ride a horse all day, pants are helpful.

CHAPIN: Right, it just helps with the chafing.

DUBNER: Oh with the chafing, right.

CHAPIN: But they were not considered fashionable with fashionable societies. Like, the classical world, the Greeks and Romans, they never wore pants. They were considered barbaric. You could say pants really entered into the fashion lexicon — based on the Western European system — in the early 1800s. Like, 1820s was when trousers first started to be worn. They had been wearing breeches, which were slightly different and they only fell to the knee. So these new trousers were cut very high-waisted, like above your belly button, so you had to have suspenders to wear them because a belt wouldn’t be functional.

DUBNER: And they were worn almost always with suspenders then?

CHAPIN: Correct.

So the belt came along well before the suspender, but there was a time when suspenders took the lead role in holding up pants. How, then, did the belt win? Well, pants themselves became more widespread, worn in more circumstances — by coal miners, for instance, who carried heavy stuff in their pockets and needed those pants held up. Recreational sports were becoming more common.

CHAPIN: The problem with suspenders is that they’re attached to your shoulders. So if you’re doing any movement where your hips and your shoulders are twisting or moving at different paces, like fighting or sports, a belt might be more practical for you. Because you can just imagine, like, you lift your shoulders [and] if you had on trousers it might give you a little bit of a wedgie.

DUBNER: OK, so the belt was —

CHAPIN: Whereas a belt wouldn’t do that.

DUBNER: A wedgie preventer, right?

CHAPIN: Yes, exactly.

[MUSIC: Dorian Charnis, “Chunky Funk”]

The fashion curve was also changing, then, as always. Chapin points to the early 1920s, when pant waists were lowered. The end of World War I brought a burst of military-inspired fashion — including belts. Cowboys switched from suspenders to belts, in part because a belt 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 of strength, of accomplishment. The suspender, meanwhile, would go on to become the symbol of … what: Urkel? The cater waiter?

But if there’s one person you’re looking to blame for taking the belt mainstream, it’d probably be …

CHAPIN: The Duke of Windsor. He was a very small man, so it’s possible that some of the things he helped to popularize were things that just looked good on him. If he was a very rotund gentleman, he might have made suspenders popular instead of belts.

The Duke of Windsor — known before his abdication in 1936 as King Edward the Eighth of the United Kingdom — embraced the belt. At the time, Chloe Chapin says, the belt was seen as a casual, very American thing.

CHAPIN: And so oftentimes what these princes were known for was for wearing and making popular a fashion that an older generation would consider to be much too casual, whether that was morning coats or belts; they were often sort of trendsetters. It was like the people, his friends that were sitting next to him, and then those people would have dinner with someone else and they would be like, “Oh, after dinner I’m unbuttoning my jacket, just like the prince does. You know how I hang out with the prince all the time, because I’m so important.” And then one thing passes on to the next. It’s like a celebrity haircut today. You want to associate with someone you admire or look up to or think is fancy or 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 as primarily practical — as our friend Daniel Sefcik thinks about the belt and suspenders — well, maybe you aren’t thinking about it right.

STEELE:  Fashion is and always has been about much more than function. Back in the 19th 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 have used clothing and adornment to signal messages to other people. So whether or not suspenders are more “functional” than belts is kind of beside the point.

As Valerie Steele points out, this notion goes well beyond the belt.

STEELE: You can choose clothes that you think are more functional — you could choose to wear sneakers rather than leather shoes, or rather than high heels. But it’s all going to be relative in what you tell yourself is functional for you. It’s like people used to think pants were more functional than dresses. But really it’s all in your head what’s going to be important to you. I remember living in Indonesia and a very famous old artist was invited to come to England and he refused to come because he said to me with horror, “They’re going to make me wear trousers and shoes.” And this is so uncomfortable and horrible, instead of wearing a sarong and flip flops or bare feet. So the idea that clothes are primarily functional — it’s primarily about what makes you feel comfortable and confident.

[MUSIC: J. Cowit, “Spoiler Alert”]

I think you’ll admit  Steele makes a good point. That said, there is evidence the modern belt is — well, stupid.

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[MUSIC: Trip Deuce, “Best Is Yet To Come”]

The belt is a fairly ubiquitous item, at least for those of us who wear pants. Men are more likely to wear belts than women — in part because men are more likely to wear pants, but also because the male body is shaped more like a tube, without the nice rounded hip that prevents pants from slipping down. That’s unless you’re wearing very tight pants or perhaps pants with a drawstring or an elastic waistband, or pants that have been tailored to snugly fit your very own tubular male form.

In all these cases, a belt isn’t necessary — at least not as a functional item.The fashionability of the belt is, as we’ve established, a separate and perhaps more salient issue.

In any case, there are among us some men who are dissatisfied with the belt, who see it as a poor substitute for, say,  suspenders. Men like Daniel Sefcik of Spring, Texas.

DUBNER: So Daniel, let’s make you king for a day. Would you take action against the belt or in favor of the suspender? Or are you the kind of guy who says, You know what, I figured out a better solution for myself and if the rest of the world doesn’t want to get on board, that’s their problem?

SEFCIK: In the king-for-a-day scenario, I would definitely, if I could, issue everyone a pair of suspenders, probably either black or navy because that should fit most outfits, and say, Okay, for one week I want you to try it. After a week if you still want your belts, okay, that’s fine. That’s your option. I’m not going to be an oppressive king. I want to be at least a little beneficent there. But I think that given the opportunity to see and interact with your peers in a set of suspenders, coupled with the comfort and the functionality of suspenders, I think that would probably swing it to where we would see suspenders almost everywhere. And belts would kind of go towards the wayside.

Valerie Steele of the Fashion Institute of Technology thinks that Sefcik is — how shall we say this? — delusional.

STEELE: The thrift stores would be full of discarded pairs of suspenders. I mean, I think that you would find essentially no women wearing suspenders except for a handful who wanted to get that kind of Berlin-in-the-1920s, cross-dressing look. And you’d get a few fat guys and a few punky guys who would like suspenders. Maybe a few hapless guys who thought the Wall Street look circa 1985 was still stylish who would wear suspenders. But most people would keep on wearing whatever they were wearing before, belts or no belts.

Ouch! Maybe Valerie Steele is right. Maybe the belt is too firmly established as the winner of the holding-up-our-pants contest, and the suspender is irretrievably unfashionable. But before we just accept that and move on, let’s at least look at a few empirical differences between the two.

Belts, by squeezing inward rather than tugging upward, can be uncomfortable – and, if worn too tight, potentially harmful.

KEN HANSRAJ: Around the pelvis there’s a nerve that lives there called the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve.

That’s Ken Hansraj, a spinal and orthopedic surgeon in Poughkeepsie, New York.

HANSRAJ: Belts can compress it and cause thigh pain. And that’s called meralgia paresthetica. So if your belt is too tight and you do not have an adequate amount of girth or fat to protect you then the belt will be on the nerve, irritating the nerve, causing thigh numbness and sometimes pain.

Hansraj’s most recent book is called Keys to An Amazing Life: Secrets of the Cervical Spine. A lot of patients who come to him with pain in their backs or necks have something in common: they wear a belt and use it for something beyond holding up their pants.

HANSRAJ: When you have, for example, firemen or medical doctors or plumbers, people that carry a lot  of weight around their waist, they are not aware of the consequence of the weight. It’s not just the weight; there is a force-times-distance [factor]. And I can tell you from doing other studies that the weight you’re carrying around your waist probably weighs seven to nine times more to your spine because of the consequence of force times distance.

Suspenders, Hansraj says, can offer a lot more support for carrying the weight. That’s why you’ve often seen 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 aren’t a social norm – not yet, at least – and that the belt, for now, reigns supreme.

Perhaps, then, we should focus on at least improving the belt.

ANDREW HEFFERNAN: I think the way the belt market is at the moment, is broken.

That’s Andrew Heffernan. He’s a founder of a company called Beltology.

HEFFERNAN: And this is the idea of wearing a piece of leather around your waist with pre-punched holes that basically has no give, it’s like wearing a tourniquet around your waist. You know, it never fits properly and becomes very uncomfortable.

Heffernan did not start out in belts.

HEFFERNAN: I worked for years as a medical doctor in Ireland and then I went to work for Goldman Sachs as a banker and then I did my MBA at Harvard. And after Harvard I worked as a consultant at Bain & Company.

He saw an opportunity in what he calls the broken belt market.

HEFFERNAN: So, menswear is the fastest-growing part of the apparel industry right now. And accessories is the fastest growing part of menswear. And then when you dig into men’s accessories, you see that pretty much every accessory is growing at double digits except the belt.

[MUSIC: Soundstacks, “City Landscape”]

Americans buy about 180 million belts a year.

HEFFERNAN: And again, it’s been pretty close to that for the last few years. And this is in a context where — take socks for example — where colorful socks has been growing at like 40 percent at specialty stores. Gloves is growing, scarves, hats, pocket squares, tie bars, even ties was growing at one stage. And then you look at these numbers for the belt, and so the numbers were telling a story. So we believe that is a sleeping giant of a market.

And that’s why Heffernan founded, along with Anna Lundberg, the online shop Beltology.

HEFFERNAN: So number one, we think that there’s a change in functionality in the way you wear your belt. And number two is the idea that subtly your belt can become an expressive accessory.

Number two kind of speaks for itself. As for number one, the functionality issue — Beltology sells a stretch woven belt, which is popular in Sweden, Lundberg’s home country. The metal prong passes through the woven webbing rather than pre-punched holes. Which means it looks like a traditional belt — not like a camping belt, with the sliding buckle — but is, theoretically at least, a little more comfortable and a lot more adjustable. Heffernan believes the Beltology formula is working:

HEFFERNAN: In our first year, we did sales roughly of half a million dollars and in our second year we’re hoping to do sales of close to one-and-a-half million dollars.

I wish Heffernan and Lundberg all the luck in the world with their business, and if they can make the belt a little better — well, that’s nice too.

But I can’t help thinking that the belt, for all its mainstream acceptance, for all its style potential, for whatever functionality it has — is still a pretty suboptimal solution to the primary problem it’s trying to solve, which is holding up pants.

And it reminds me therefore of another suboptimal solution to a problem that’s a lot more important than pants:

STEVEN LEVITT: I started thinking about car seats when I was doing other research on auto fatalities related to drunk drivingAnd at the same time, I was taking my kids in and out of car seats every day, and I always had the feeling that they flopped around a lot and among other things what car seats do is they prop you up really high in the air, and as I was looking at data on car crashes I came to understand that there were really only two ways you could die in a car crash. One was that you were projected because you weren’t restrained at all and you slammed into the glass or were thrown out of the car. And the other was is if the space you were in collapsed around you and crushed you. And so in that principle it seemed like the lower the better when you were in a car. And so that was my intuition about car seats, is that they were floppy and they got you up in the air. And that might put you at risk. So then we looked at the data.

The data were from the U.S. government, which does a good job collecting information on just about every traffic accident in the country, including the causes, the occupants of the vehicles, whether any one’s been drinking — and whether the passengers were restrained by seat belts or, in the case of children, car seats.

LEVITT: And what we found in the data was really remarkable. It just, it seemed like the benefit of a car seat, a children’s car seat, relative to a child wearing an adult seat belt, was minimal. Almost zero. So in our research, in terms of fatalities, car seats didn’t help at all. In terms of injuries, mostly relatively minor injuries, it seemed like car seats had a small advantage relative to adult seat belts. But compared to the mythology that has arisen around car seats in which people seem to think, wow, these are the greatest inventions ever, the facts and the mythology just didn’t seem to line up very well at all.

DUBNER: Hmm. So if you’re really concerned about protecting kids in cars — the vast majority of whom ride in the backseat — what would be a better way to rig a car rather than add on car seats?

LEVITT: So I don’t even know the answer to that because there’s been so little thought and research put into it because the car seat has been king.

[MUSIC: Sarah Ozelle, “Amethyst Sky”]

Kind of like … the belt has been king. To test out the car-seat theory, Levitt and I contacted an independent lab that conducts crash tests. We commissioned two tests: a 3-year-old-sized dummy in a car seat versus a 3-year-old dummy in lap-and-shoulder belt; and a 6-year-old-sized dummy in a booster seat versus a 6-year-old dummy in lap-and-shoulder belt. Within minutes, we had some data:

LEVITT: And the adult seat belt did great. It would have passed all of the federal requirements that they have for car seats. But I think you and I both came to believe that ironically the people in this industry really weren’t that interested in saving kids’ lives. It seemed like they were more interested in selling products and avoiding lawsuits than actually reducing fatalities.

DUBNER: So you just answered my next question, which is Why, if car seats aren’t really that good at doing the one thing they’re supposed to do, why are they so omnipresent? I mean, really omnipresent because they’re regulated. I mean, how do you describe this kind of weird scenario? You’ve got auto-makers who aren’t responsible, right, for protecting kids in back seats really. You’ve got child-car-seat manufacturers who aren’t responsible, even if their stuff doesn’t work that well, and they profit from them, and then there’s the government who demands it. Is that weird triangulation the reason we’ve got this suboptimal solution?

LEVITT: Yeah, I think it’s a perfect storm of incentives leading to bad outcomes. The only people fighting car seats in this entire country, Dubner, are you and me.

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 belts and probably a million other things we use every day without thinking about too much. We form habits. We accept conventional wisdoms that may not be very wise. We think that once someone has come up with some kind of solution, there’s no reason to rethink it.

Well, I think we should all do a bit less of this. Our working headline for this episode was “Belts Are Stupid.” Out of respect for belt lovers everywhere, we ended up toning it down. But I’m not willing to let go of the sentiment — and I’m curious to know what else you think is, on some level, stupid. What’s something you encounter or use or think about all the time that could really use a makeover?

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And while we’re talking about stupid things — we’re working on another episode about the stupid things we do in a kitchen. We’re talking with a food-science guy who says we’re getting a lot wrong.  We’ll answer questions like, when is the best time to salt your burger? How long you should let your eggs sit before they go on the stove? And is New York pizza really better because of the water? And we’d like to put your voice in this episode too. What are some of the culinary secrets you swear by? Who taught them to you and … do they really work? No recipes, please. Make a brief audio recording — just use whatever voice memo app is on your phone — and e-mail us the file at radio (at) freakonomics (dot) com. Please tell us your name, age, and where you’re from. Thanks.

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Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC and Dubner Productions. This episode was produced by Audrey Quinn. Our staff includes Arwa Gunja, Jay Cowit, Merritt Jacob, Greg Rosalsky, Christopher WerthCaroline English, Alison Hockenberry, and Kasia Mychajlowycz. We had help this week from Matt Fidler.

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Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas behind this episode:PEOPLE



Martin Handwerker

Why is the salad served first?

You asked about other stupid things we do, and said that next week you'll talk about what we do wrong in the kitchen.

In the US, we serve the salad before the entree. If you're in a restaurant or have servants, this is understandable. A pre-prepared salad can be quickly dressed, and while you're eating it, the hot entree prepared. But when you're at home cooking for yourself, why cook and heat an entree only to let it cool while you eat your salad? Perhaps there are health benefits, but I suspect the real answer has more to do with tradition.

Bill Harshaw

As usual you city types miss some of the complexity of history. Think farmers. What did farmers wear (American Gothic)? Overalls, that's what. I don't know when they started wearing them, and I've only a vague impression that most farmers no longer wear them. I suspect they were worn as a work uniform, not quite coveralls, another work uniform, and that meant a social pressure against them.

So you have two trends, one a trend against overalls as too identified with work, and also a trend to upgrade jeans. People. :-(

Michael Mamanakis

Why settle for belt or suspenders when you could have both. The Army for years used the All-purpose Lightweight Individual Carrying Equipment (ALICE) which consisted of a belt and suspenders.

Michæl Berk

Two things I've long thought were problematic/stupid/ineffective: Bicyclist Helmets and Dog Collars.
>> Helmets have long been proven in multiple studies to only be effective when the "crown of the head" (that is, the very top) is impacted, but most head injuries sustained on bicycles are from side-impact (front/back/left/right) incidents. So why are we so "stuck on the bike helmet" as being the perfect/optimal prevention of head-injuries on bicycles? And why are cyclists forced to wear them when drivers sustain more head-injuries per-trips than cyclists?
>> Dog collars have been very much like belts discussed in the podcast. My dog had a collar that he'd push up over his slightly-conic shaped head the moment I put it on. He has his chip, but his vaccinations and license come in the form of metal tags that he's supposed to be wearing. Isn't there a better solution - like putting that data on his chip (or in a central international database that his chip # corresponds to)?

Thanks guys!!!



So how do I, a non-vet, read the info on that chip? I've returned a number of wandering dogs by reading the tag info, sometimes before their humans realized they'd gone wandering.


First, a question: what the heck is a "pocket square"? I can only think of a carpenter's square small enough to fit in a pocket, but one that size wouldn't be of much use even if you're doing carpentry, would it?

Now to your main idea, I think you are wrong about the physics & physiology of belts, at least for men of normal body type. The waist IS smaller in circumference than the hips, and also of a different shape, so that a belt, or the elastic & drawstring of sweat pants, pulls the fabric in and holds the garment up without any sort of squeezing. Both convenient and comfortable.

Suspenders have other disadvantages that weren't mentioned. Suppose for instance that you want to take your shirt off. With a belt, you just do it. With suspenders, you'd have to take them off first, then have them riding on your bare shoulders.

Finally, for weight carrying perhaps you should look at backpacks. Once upon a time (Parris Island, ca 1870) there were knapsacks, which just had shoulder straps. Then a waist belt was added, which eventually
became padded and contoured, and it became a good deal more comfortable to carry a load with most of the weight carried by the hips.



Oh, for an edit function: that should have been Parris Island, ca 1970 :-)

David schmerb

i'm pretty sure it's because: balls.


You mention drawstrings and elastic waistbands, but don't mention what they actually are. Those items are internal belts. They may be built into the pants, but they are still belts.


In relation with this topic one could ask: Why do we wear ties?
Right now I cannot think in a practical reason for doing so, the only reason I can think is fashion.
But I think it would be an interesting issue to discuss.


Just who are you calling "we" here? Hereabouts they're mostly seen on Mormon missionaries, Jehovah's Witnesses, and similar doorbell-ringers.

As for why, I like the answer a local newspaper columnist came up with a few years back: in the kind of bars he hung out in, they made a good handle :-)

J. Gaw

Something that's stupid: English. Well, every language has its stupidities, but I'll pick on English because it's the one I understand best. From spelling to pronunciation to grammar, English is riddled with inconsistencies, needless complexities, and anachronisms. Given the importance of communication skills, these unnecessary costs of mastering English have extremely high consequences.

Oh, and QWERTY keyboards ... we're never getting rid of these, are we. Sigh.


Designated days off like Labour Day. It's chaos: some services are available and others are not and are either maddeningly busy or painfully slow. Most people are paid extra if they have to go to work, or have a paid day if they don't, which can be crushing on a small business. Those that have the bonus day off have it at the same time as almost everyone else, so movie theatres and restaurants and highways are full of people doing the same thing as you, and you spend your time fighting crowds, looking for parking or stuck in lineups instead of actually enjoying yourself. And then there's long-weekend premium pricing - hotels, campsites, plane tickets, etc, etc.

What if people had all those paid days when they wanted them? A whole family or group of friends could book a long weekend off at the same time, their workplaces wouldn't have to be closed for the day to accommodate, and the employer isn't subject to a huge payroll all at once. Where I live, people that have paid holidays generally have 14 per year, all spread out over various holidays. Wouldn't people like to at least have the option of taking all those days off at once or whenever they want to instead?



An everyday something that is just plain stupid...shaving. Specifically women being expected to shave their entire lower half of their bodies. It's impractical, uncomfortable, and can lead to downright pain if you get an ingrown hair. I am sympathetic to the social pressure and job requirements that many men have to shave their face/neck, but really women get the worse deal since it is a much larger surface area in some equally sensitive (not to mention intimate) regions and you face serious social backlash for going au naturale.

Dan M

I just had to comment about the description of the physics of belts. It's not FRICTION that holds it up. That would be true if we were cylinders. It just makes the waist of the pants narrower than the hips.

Monte Montgomery

Why do we have graveyards?

They tie up a lot of valuable real estate, often in the middle of cities. You can't put crops or buildings on them. Once they're full, you can't keep selling space in them (unless you go more than two bodies deep, which nobody seems willing to do). You have to pay people to mow and weed them.

People who believe in an afterlife rarely claim that that life is lived in the same body we spent our "earthly existence" in, so why preserve the body? And people who DON'T believe in an afterlife have no use for the container that we live our singular, finite life in. Those left behind who require some form of physical reminder of their friends & family who have joined the choir invisible have many other, less wasteful options at hand, from naming a brick in a building to endowing a chair in the Economics Department. In fact the only people I can think of who have a legitimate interest in the continuation of cemeteries are funeral directors and embalmers, who are numerous, but whose lobby must be far less powerful than, say, the NRA's.

So tell me, o Freaks: why do we have graveyards?


Kamlesh Sodani


I am addicted to your podcast and I really like it.
I think you do a great job.
I have some comments on the car seat issue.
Your conclusion based on test was that car seats are not better solution. However, I think that it is better option for toddlers. They can not seat on their own. In addition, think of single parents driving their kids to day care everyday. How would they handle their kids while driving.
I do agree that we need better option to current car seats.

Thanks again for great podcasts.


I want to know whether "organic" produce is actually better for me, isn't all produce organic?

Also if fashion really weren't a concern wouldn't overalls or a body suit be the most practical? Then there isn't a need for a belt or suspenders.

I really like your comments regarding car seats and safety belts, I've always felt that was an industry with an incredible lobbying arm. It's an easy argument to make and politicians require little in the way of facts to create new laws requiring car seats, in spite of a lack of any real evidence supporting their safety claims.


Purses and high heels are cumbersome and dangerous. Beauty is best shown through a marriage of aesthetic and utility. Both of these items make life harder.


So close!! Belts are hardly the problem. The real problem was brushed upon in the podcast: *pants*. Chloe Chapin mentioned that pants were the barbaric invention of horseback chafing prevention and that no civilized person wore proper trousers until a couple hundred years ago. The takeaway, then, is that belts are awful :-)

It's pants that are the problem!! I've tried suspenders. I think they're far more stylish but the problem is that you either tuck in your shirt or wear them under your shirt, which chafes your shoulders unless you wear two shirts, the overshirt being untucked, and as was mentioned in the podcast, they're extremely inconvenient for anyone who moves their shoulders during the day.

Finally, the reason I wear a belt isn't so much to hold my pants up as much as it's to hold my pants in one place. I wear loose pants and without a belt, they tend to twist and get out of line. They still do it with a belt but much more manageably so.

There's nothing better than a belt but that's only because we're wearing pants. If I could go out without pants and have it be socially acceptable, I'd be all over that.

Other stupid things:

- Neck tie
- Non-erasable pens (unless of course you need 10 pens for 89 cents because of how much document signing you do)
- Chip bags (when Pringles-style cans are so much more effective)
- Lack of standardization in electronics (when reusable parts or generic "three or four sizes fit all" would vastly reduce cost and waste)
- Pants (for goodness' sakes, how much riding have most of us done in the last 10 years?)
- Most of the way we use food (was stoked to hear about this at the end of the podcast!)
- Shoe laces (why not velcro everywhere?)