Would the Empire have been half as great without braces? Would the thin red line have held, the battles been won, the treaties signed, the ruled cowed and decorum maintained if, at the decisive moment, a Chap had lost control of his trousers – laying bare, before an unsuspecting world, the lily white and withered shanks of the Englishman. The Empire builder’s Achilles heel. I fear not.
It’s no surprise that Braces and Empire reached their peaks in tandem. Shoulder to shoulder they marched into history, all conquering and omnipresent. If a Chap had trousers, he had braces. If he had braces, he had dignity. And a Chap with dignity can conquer the world. But as fashions changed and the use of braces waned, the light of the Empire guttered and failed, never to be relit.
To Begin at the Beginning
But let’s put tears to one side and return to the beginning. Not the birth-cry, for that exquisite moment is fogbound and unresolved, but the period. Revolutionary France and the fashion for increasingly high-waisted trousers. This chastening time saw a sweeping away of the more flamboyant clothing styles and the rise of a plainer, more practical style of dress, with an emphasis on quality and fit. A style that became associated with Beau Brummell and the Dandies.
These proto-braces, from which a man’s trousers were suspended, were often simple strips of silk, cloth or leather draped over the shoulder and fastened at the waist with hook or button. A practical solution that swiftly caught on. For, within a short period, they became the choice of all high ranking Chaps.
Originally viewed as part of one’s underwear, it was deemed unseemly to allow braces to be publicly glimpsed, with waistcoats traditionally concealing them when one’s jacket was removed. As recently as 1938, a town in Long Island, NY tried to ban gentlemen for ‘sartorial indecency’ – wearing braces without a coat.
However, it wasn’t until 1820 that the mode of braces we know today were first mass produced by Albert Thurston – using boxcloth wool for the straps. With the means of production assured, and the trend for high-waisted trousers fixed for the foreseeable future, braces began their inexorable rise to prominence within all sections of British society, only seeing a decline post WWI. In the U.S., one of the first patents for suspenders (as the Americans call them) was issued in 1871 to Samuel Clemens (better known as the author Mark Twain) for “Adjustable and detachable straps for garments.”
The Dying of the Light
The move from everyman necessity to minority accessory flowed from Edwardian to Elizabethan-era Britain, as low-cut waists and belts reached absurd levels. But the battle against extinction has been successful. Niche though the market is, the braces market remains vibrant and is currently on the rise. And Thurston’s still remain the yardstick against which all other braces are judged.
Aesthetics and the Chap
Trousers worn on the natural waist (over the hips, around the belly button), the slimmest part of the body, cut a more pleasing shape. For the crude belt crushes the natural line of one’s trousers, interrupting its flow. A clear fall from posterior to ankle also gives you height, as it lengthens the leg and shortens the trunk. When wearing trousers on the natural waist, the slight bulge all men have at the stomach is smoothly traversed with barely a murmur, unlike hip-balanced pantaloons, where the gut hangs over the belt. Braces also allow for a less seemly expansion of the waist. None of the unsightly loosening of belt and buttons after eating. Just a gentle filling of your garment.
The X, Y & H of Braces
A distinguishing feature of all braces is the ‘letter’ formed on the wearer’s back. Initially braces were joined together in such a way as to make a ‘H’ shape on the rear. In later designs braces were ‘X’ shaped, and finally, the ‘Y’ shape became popular and remains so today.
A Few Simple Protocols
Unless you are a neophyte of Gordon Gekko, there is little need for an incandescent rupture of colour draped across your shoulder. Braces have a personality that requires no reinforcement.
Ensure that they are finished with the traditional button fastenings, never clips.
Never under any circumstances wear both belt and braces. As Henry Fonda said in Once Upon a Time in the West, “How can you trust a man that wears both a belt and suspenders? The man can’t even trust his own pants.”
A Brace of Braces
The first, last and always of the braces world. In 1820, five years before Nelson’s Column was erected, braces were being manufactured and sold by Albert Thurston. And though Empires have risen and fallen, kings and queens come and gone, Thurston’s have remained. Doing what they do best: producing braces of the highest quality.
Thurston braces have been sported by kings, princes, presidents and businessmen the world over. At the outbreak of WWII, actor Sir Ralph Richardson ran to his tailor on Savile Row and purchased half a dozen pairs of Thurston braces in case of shortages. More recently, Daniel Craig sported a set of Thurston braces in Skyfall.
Hunt & Holditch
Originally established in 1840, Hunt & Holditch retain a deserved reputation as a supplier of quality gentlemen’s accessories. Their braces are made individually in England from quality Western European materials. These long years of experience have given the firm an enviable range of braces that cover both modern and classic, silk, polyester and boxcloth braces.
In need of trouser suspension? And let’s face it, what Chap hasn’t stared into this void at some point. Then perhaps a stroll down Darcy way might be just the ticket, for they supply a handsome range of braces to suit every taste and inclination. And that is not all. Established in 2004 as the Vintage Shirt Company, the range of products soon outstripped their name, and so Darcy Clothing was born. The company now produces a broad range of authentically styled period clothing to individuals, theatres and the film and TV industry.