This page is here for
the following reason:-
great care and pride in what they do. Simply putting on a
"costume" is not good enough if you haven't done some researching to
make sure that what you are wearing is as accurate-looking as possible.
Time and time again, we see gentlemen turning up at re-enactment events
wearing clip-on braces. Ebay is also awash with clip-on braces
being offered as "1940s vintage" or "1940s style". They are all
WRONG!!!! And yet, it is such a simple thing to correct if
you know a little about mens' trouser and braces history.
Braces have NOT always been the same!
OF A FASHION ITEM
"suspenders" to our American friends) are one of mens' oldest fashion
accessories. They first appeared in the 18th century when
gentlemen of the wealthier classes began to wear them to support their
breeches (type of trousers worn in those days). Such richer men
tended to have exceptionally good diets and regularly suffered expanding
waistlines at the dinner table. Braces came into fashion as they
allowed the trouser waistband to expand discreetly without the gentleman
having to constantly adjust the tightness of his belt.
Throughout the 19th
century, braces became more common amongst all classes. For the
undernourished majority of men who were very skinny, belts were often
not capable of keeping trousers up on a waistline so slim that hips were
practically non-existent. It was a man's worst nightmare for his
trousers to fall down in public - and braces became his salvation.
Belts were only used ornamentally, on the outside of clothing and coats,
while braces did the work of holding trousers up.
America, where anything invented or designed by anyone would receive a
patent protecting it from being copied by anyone else, one Samuel
Clemens became the first "inventor" to receive 3 patents on 19th
December 1871 for trouser braces he had designed himself. His pen
name was none other than Mark Twain, the famous author of
Before the discovery
of rubber and invention of elastic, in the early 20th century, braces
tended to be simply strips of cloth buttoned to the trousers.
Also until the early
20th century, braces were regarded as part of a gentleman's underwear,
and it was considered the height of bad manners to allow one's braces to
be seen in public! So now you know why waistcoats (or "vests" for
our American cousins) were invented. These allowed a man to remove his
jacket in warmer weather without exposing his undergarments including
It wasn't until the
first world war that people became more relaxed about seeing a man strip
off to his shirt, exposing his braces, to do some heavy manual work in
the summer sun.
tug-of-war underway in 1930s England. Note all the braces on show are
the classic 'V' shape rather than the later 'Y'. Also note the small V
notch at the back of the trousers. By the 1930s, the high cut at the
back of the waistline had started to become lower than in the previous
aftermath of a Luftwaffe raid on London, rescuers organise themselves.
A wealth of period detail is visible here, from hair styles of men,
down to the clothing and style of braces. EBay sellers please note -
NO CLIP ONS IN SIGHT!
By the early 1900s,
mens' trousers had developed to a certain pattern that is quite different
to how they are today. Unless you could afford a tailor, you
bought your trousers off the shelf to a size
which roughly fitted you. And if you were a younger brother
getting them from your older sibling, you had to make do with what you
were given. If they were a few inches too big - tough! You
wore them baggy and braces were the ideal method of holding them up.
Apart from the
material being much thicker and heavier than today's garments, trousers
had no waistline or belt loops. Brace buttons were either placed
on the outside of the waistline area or the inside , or a combination of
both (the standard was inside at the back, outside on the front).
Trousers were worn
above the waistline rather than today's standard of actually on it - or the
current younger generation's fashion statement of falling off the waist
and half way down the backside!
In Britain, these were sometimes called "hipsters". The seat area was often more baggy than we are used to today. To the rear, the top
of the trousers came up higher than the front, and often formed a 'V' notch, either side of which
the rear brace buttons were placed. This was for a number of
it made sure than
when you bent down, wearing just a waistcoat, the waistcoat would
not ride up and expose the bottom section of your braces; and
covered your kidneys (located in your lower back), helping to keep
them warmer in winter months - remember, homes weren't centrally
heated in those days, and a man working outdoors welcomed clothing
that kept his lower back warm!
Another purpose for
braces was to help keep your underpants up. Believe it or not, but
until the development of elastic, mens' underwear needed another method
of support. Underpants had small loops sewn to the outside of the
waist area. With your shirt tucked into your underpants, you
looped the loops on the underpants around the bottom of your braces.
The advantage of this was that, unlike today's underwear, your pants
were held up so well that when you bent down, they didn't ride down and
expose your bottom. Today's builders might want to take note!
the early half of the 20th century, most - but not all - young boys wore
knee-length shorts until aged about 14. Getting your first pair of
long trousers, or "longs" was considered one of the first major steps in
graduating from being a "boy" to becoming a "grown-up".
And, as the formality
of wearing a suit whenever out of the house also began to disappear,
switched to wearing less formal sleeveless pullovers (sometimes called tanktops) that hid their braces from view whilst still giving them much
better freedom of arm movement.
From the 1930s to
early 1960s, turn ups on trousers were quite common. Button flies gave way to
zips. Pockets had flaps (sometimes buttoned down) - and then
didn't. Trousers were made so that there was some flexibility
around the waist - and unlike trousers today - there were a variety of
details which allowed the wearer to adjust the waist measurement.
This could be by:-
elastic adjuster hidden
inside the waistband that was tightened or released by
buttons at the hips;
a buckle and
strap arrangement either at the hips or to the centre rear of
on either side of the hips.
BRACES - PRE 1950s
The late Victorians
often had elaborately coloured and bold patterned braces which - as
mentioned above - were only seen by the wearer himself (or his lovingly
attentive wife who might have bought them for him as a present).
However, by the early
20th century, as gentlemens' braces became increasingly elasticated and
therefore more comfortable on the shoulders, they were usually fairly
dull coloured, plain or striped; sometimes with a simple repeating
pattern. If your braces were to be seen in public, then at least
they would be muted colours unlikely to shock anyone. The straps were usually around 1 inch wide, but could be
smaller - particularly for smaller men and young boys.
In Britain, all
button on braces in the early part of the century resembled the letter
'V' at the back, designed to be worn with the traditional high-waisted
trousers as described above. The connectors to the trousers
themselves had mostly been made of soft leather such as calf or
goat, but could also be made of braided cord - and later, elasticated cord.
As elastics also
started to be used around the waistline of trousers, the high-waistline
was gradually lowered. However, this resulted in the straps of
one's braces often slipping off the shoulders because the division of
the straps was lower down your back as a result - and could not be
adjusted. 'Y' shaped braces had been developed in America where
trouser waistlines had dropped the fastest - and these slowly began to
find their way to Britain from the 1930s onwards where they were
marketed as "high-back braces", because the division was much higher up
re-enactment, therefore, you can wear either the 'V' or the 'Y' shaped
variants, but be aware that the 'V' shape were still the more common at
that time. Due to the shortage of elastic, Army issue white braces
continued to be cotton fabric, unelasticated.
BRACES - 1950 to 1980
By the mid 1950s,
elasticated waistbands on trousers meant that younger men increasingly
preferred to dispense with wearing braces and switched to wearing belts.
The older and middle-aged generations however, preferred to keep with
the security of knowing their trousers were unlikely to fall down.
The straps were
sometimes made less wide, to make the braces not look so obviously
"heavy" in appearance. Narrower braces, sometimes known as "skinny
braces" became more fashionable by the early 1960s.
Clip-on braces first
appeared in Britain circa 1952/53. Although the metal clips had been invented
in America in 1894 and patented by a man called David Roth, they were
used to hold up ladies stockings and other "interesting underwear".
They only graduated to holding up trousers in the late 1940s where they started to be worn by fashion-conscious,
trouser-wearing American WOMEN as an easier clip-on accessory! Yes - for
However, clip-ons soon became popular with men, who found
it easier to unclip them when faced with an emergency visit to the
toilet for a poo. You could quickly unclip the small crocodile
clips and drop your trousers rather than going through the rigmarole of removing
your pullover or jacket if you were in a hurry. Clip-ons were
originally known as "quick release braces" for this reason.
The early clip-ons
were plain coloured or simple striped, but were all the modern narrow variety, with straps
about half an inch wide. Almost all were what are known as the 'X'
type, although at the rear, the two straps never crossed. They
were pulled together by a sliding plastic clip which could be adjusted
to the wearer's preferred height to prevent the straps falling off the
shoulders. This infinite adjustability made them more popular than
the traditional button-on varieties, which went into serious decline
from the 1960s onwards.
Fairly plain coloured,
striped and muted patterns - braces slowly went out of fashion.
Snubbed by most of the the younger generation, by the 1970s it was only
older and middle-aged men who continued to wear them. They did,
however, become popular with young skin-heads, the bovver boys who wore
them dangling around their jeans, or otherwise proudly over their
shoulders over the Fred Perry T shirt as a symbol of something
A pair of
braces from the late Victorian period. Notice the intricate stitched
pattern of birds sitting on branches.
and below: Typical braces of the
1920-1940s were over 1 inch wide
and with a striped pattern.
the 1960s, brace straps had become narrower
Example of the early type of clip-on braces which appeared from the
early 1950s in Britain.
BRACES - POST 1980s
In 1978, actor Robin
Williams appeared in an American comedy series as the alien Mork in "Mork
and Mindy" sporting various pairs of brightly coloured, wider braces, which
showed that younger people could still wear them as a fun accessory
in the early 1980's, Michael Douglas appeared in the film "Wall Street"
also wearing braces (button on) - and this seemed to start a fashion
craze as young British city wheelers and dealers took to wearing them in
the office. Perhaps they were trying to emulate their successful
(and older) bosses who still wore them in the boardroom.
Then, the "fashion
designers" got to work on changing the basic design!
From the 1980s,
clip-on braces came in narrow and wider widths, with all kinds of
colours, patterns, pictures and even words! The traditional white
plastic clip at the rear was sometimes replaced with a metal cross-over,
literally allowing the brace straps to cross over each other in a proper
From the mid-1990s,
the 'Y' shaped clip-ons appeared, with three clips rather than the usual
four (only one strap attaching to the trousers at the rear).
Some eBay sellers refer to these as "1940's style", but they will
NEVER be what was worn in the 1940s.
Braces which looked like more traditional button-ons also appeared with
small crocodile clips in place of the 6 leathered button-holes.
When Tommy Walsh started wearing extra-wide braces on TV gardening
programmes, a whole new fashion craze for wearing braces to attach
garden and other tools to was started.
keep re-appearing as an occasional fashion accessory. The latest
Doctor Who (Matt Smith) has been wearing them, albeit the ultra thin
clip on type, whilst older men in the media such as Larry King prefer
the wider button on variety (and has kept wearing them through several
Mork from the planet Ork was a snazzy dresser - he even fixed pin
badges to his braces!
shaped clip-ons appeared from the 1990s onwards. Some Ebay
sellers claim they are "retro 40s style"! Compare them with
the 1920s/1940s braces shown above and see if you agree - or not!
example of fashion designer tinkering: these are post 1990s - the leather
ends going from small twist to wide splay are Italian/American inspired. The
Paisley pattern definitely screams MODERN!!!!
The most recent development
since 2000 has been to replace the 6 button holes with 6 clips.
Braces by the Albert
Thurston Company are in a league of their own and highly sought after!
This traditional button-on style seen in the first half of the 20th century are still
EVER WONDERED WHY.....?
Why do some older men
continue to wear braces, long after they have drifted out - then in and
out again - of fashion over the last few decades?
They wore braces
throughout their childhood and young adulthood. Its what many
of them still feel more comfortable and secure with.
braces up over your shoulders every morning is a lot easier
than fiddling with a belt buckle with arthritic fingers; and
waistlines and hips still struggle to keep trousers up, even with a