By Tim Mureau -
They give a powerful look, they can make you elegant when worn in the right way or just extremely cool when worn in the other right way. They’re fun, but above this all they also have a function. They keep up your trousers and make sure you won’t have to lift your trousers every 10 seconds, perhaps one of the most useful inventions ever. I’m talking about good old braces!
The story of braces
Where do braces come from? And who was the first to wear them and set the trend? Well as far as we know Benjamin Franklin, in 1736, was the first man in history to wear them and those days they were called Gallowses in the USA. And since he was the first to start the Volunteer Firefighters in Philadelphia, USA he demanded from them to wear red braces as part of their uniforms. A tradition that has remained untill today. So whether Benjamin Franklin was the founder or not we aren’t sure about, fact is that he was the first one of whom we know he was wearing them. We hop over the ocean and a couple of years later to 1792 to the French revolution where men started wearing their trousers with braces and that became a true fashion item over there. How it came to be exactly is unknown, but the fact is that it played a role in making braces more popular and well known worldwide. They also refined the braces by using different materials, ways to attach them, sizes and so on.
On the opposite side of the channel the item didn’t remain unnoticed and a young British Designer by the name of Albert Thurston decided to start manufacturing his version of the meanwhile popular fashion item; braces. The braces Albert Thurston was making were the first modern day braces and exactly the same as we know them today. They were made out of boxcloth (still a popular material for braces today) and had the leather loops which we all know. The fashion of that era was to wear high waisted trousers which were so high that in fact a belt couldn’t hold them up. Braces were the perfect solution and so the young Albert Thurston found himself a solid business which is continuing till the present day.
In 1894 the metal clips were added to them by the Americans so that they could also be worn on trousers where buttons weren’t sewn on in the places where the braces should be attached. Also this version remains existing in the present day however it isn’t the most popular one since people don’t like the aesthetics of it.
In the 20th century braces fell a bit out of favour since the trousers were getting lower waists and they weren’t a necessity anymore. Braces are not seen on everybody anymore, however there are some people who wear them with great style like Humphrey Bogart for example. In the following years it would stay like that and some people would be able to make braces their trademark like TV host Larry King or the fictional character Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street. Whether that made braces a typical fashion accessory for people in the financial sector is unclear but it’s definitely been a stereo type for some time. Since a couple of years we see more and more people wearing braces again since the high waist trousers are more fashionable thanks to the growing amount of people that love bespoke tailoring and classic menswear. Besides that, braces became an accessory again with which you can set yourself apart or express yourself.
Modern day creativity with classic braces
Over the last decades we’ve seen more and more creativity with braces in good and bad ways. We probably all know the elastic examples that contain Mickey Mouse or motifs from playing cards like hearts or spades. Those were by the way mainly produced with clips even though there are some examples with the leather loops as well. But thankfully there have also been more tasteful developments in braces. Think of braces that had silk with art printed on it, or various striped ones in tones of the Regimental stripes that we see in ties or blazers. But some also started to experiment with fabrics like wool for suits and jackets, tweed, flannel or even linen. Amidé Hadelin did a couple of exciting projects with for example Irish linen from the old British cloth merchant W. Bill. But also tweed from Abraham Moon we find in his small but tasteful collection of braces as well as flannel from Fox Brothers. A personal favourite of mine are the F.lli Tallia di Delfino wool braces in the colour Havana. A pair you can match with nearly everything in your wardrobe and a fabric from a very good mill in Italy who’s name you hear too little of actually. It’s a step away from the classic boxcloth and gives a twist to this classic but suddenly again very popular fashion accessory.
A good friend of mine who many of you may know is Francesco Maglia, the umbrella maker from Milan, and people who know him probably know already which direction I’m going now. Francesco has probably the most iconic braces I’ve ever seen in my life. Maybe you’ve ever seen these braided leather belts that are so handy because you never have to make any extra holes in them? They’re used very often on casual wear. Well, Francesco Maglia wears braces made from this braided leather, but half as wide as the normal size of braces. I have to utter a warning here, this looks amazing and when you see it you think; I want this! However when I tried it for myself I found out that I look ridiculous in them since I’m a bigger guy and very narrow braces are just not proportional on me.
Braces and proportion
And that brings us to the last topic on braces; proportions. Proportions are of course important with everything in life and so it is in clothing. We all know the books of Alan Flusser who teaches us very well about this. Basic rules like not taking very thin lapels when you’re a bigger guy and vice versa. But also the choices you make in shirt collar or in your tie knot. The key is to make choices that are proportional and therefor flattering. So when you are a bigger guy, don’t go for narrow braces. Another thing to think of is that when you’re having nice and wide braces, please don’t wear them with a very narrow tie. The moment your tie starts to be more narrow than your braces something is going wrong. I’m personally not a fan of narrow ties but if you decide to wear one, then choose yourself some more narrow braces as well to keep up the proportions.
I’m not sure if this fits into the topic of proportions for everybody but for me it does. Braces look the nicest when they’re worn with trousers that have a higher waist. It simply looks more flattering and it gives the look that the braces are doing what they are meant for; making sure your trousers don’t drop. If you prefer trousers with a lower waist it might be better to go for a belt. However at the end of the day it’s all your choice of course.
And last but not least; make sure you go for braces that have the correct length for you. If you are bigger or taller, then the normal size of braces might be too short for you. What will happen is that in case you have clips and you sit down, the braces will pull tight and the clips won’t hold anymore, and before you know it your braces are fired off up to the back of your head. In case of the leather loops it might rip your trousers partially or fire off the buttons holding your braces. I’m telling you this out of experience and can assure you that it isn’t something you would like to experience. Thankfully some companies sell longer braces, like Amidé Hadelin for example. If you ask for this they will for sure be happy to help you out finding the right size.
After all braces are - besides being a fashion accessory - made for your comfort and safety. Your trousers won’t drop, you won’t come in uncomfortable situations and you look good in them as well. The only advice I can give is; brace yourselves and wear your trousers with dignity!
Tim Mureau – was born in Holland, and has always been travelling around the world looking for the finest artisans. He’s interested in all things handmade, and can’t stop talking about fine watches and menswear. He has worked in various menswear stores, has been a sales representative for a number of artisanal clothing manufacturers, and is now active as a journalist focused on watches and menswear.