Teenagers and older trendies have news for those purists who think suspenders are meant to hold up pants. For the past year, the sharpest dressers around have been letting their braces hang limply from the waist. Drooping suspenders, which fashion-forward British teens popularized in 1985, have been spotted on students at Chicago's Art Institute, on high school kids in New York City and on the downwardly chic types on L.A.'s Melrose Avenue. "It's a mockery of a preppy theme," says L.A.-based designer Tony Chase. "Dangling suspenders are very sensual. They communicate that you're ready for action."

So, it seems, are the manufacturers. Leslie Cotler, a New York entrepreneur, began producing jeans and cotton pants with button-on suspenders 14 months ago and was surprised to see how kids let them dangle. This year he expects to sell more than five million pairs (at $30 each) and is instructing the models in his ads and fashion shows to wear their suspenders both up and down. Cotler's success has inspired other jeans companies: This month Lee introduces a line of men's stonewashed denims with suspenders.

The look does have some strings attached. "Your friends grab onto them, sometimes," says Mark Rogers, 20, of Queens, N.Y., "or if a sharp object passes you by, you might catch on it. That could be fatal." Still, trendsetters aren't about to let a little thing like the possibility of death stand in the way of a hot look. Besides, there's a pragmatic side to the unlikely style. "When you have nothing to do with your hands," explains Rogers, "you can always play with your suspenders.' "