Belts and Braces: The Origin Story
Braces' Humble Beginnings:
Originally considered to be undergarments, braces can be traced back to eighteenth century France. Initially they were worn beneath clothes and consisted of ribbon strips that attached to buttonholes in trousers.
Visible braces were considered to be quite risqué as late as the 1930s, so they were purely a functional accessory in the beginning. They became a necessity as the trousers of the time were high waisted and didn’t have as much tailoring, making belts impractical to use.
In the 1820s, a British designer named Albert Thurston created the modern braces from tightly woven wool called box cloth. Thurston’s initial design was for the H-back braces, though this style is no longer common. Today, you’ll more likely find X-back or Y-Back braces.
Suspenders Arrive in the United States
In 1871, one of the first US Patents for suspenders was issued by Samuel Clements. While you may not recognise this name, you may know him by his pen name of Mark Twain.
Yes, you read that right. The author of classics such as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn brought braces to the United States. His application referred to them as 'Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments'.
In 1894, as fashion developed and metal clasps were created, those became an important addition to the suspender. The ability to clasp suspenders onto trousers was generally considered to be a more comfortable fit than the previous buttoning method.
The Rise of Belts
Fast forward to the first world war, and braces/suspenders were far less popular. As men were drafted to fight, their fashion changed. In the trenches, men became accustomed to trousers that were tighter fitting and sat lower on their waists, making belts a more practical choice.
Post-war, many men kept the tighter trousers and belts instead of returning to their previous civilian fashion choices. As a preference for belts grew, the use of braces declined.
Belts have remained a common part of fashion since their initial rise in the early 1900s, similarly following an evolution of materials and styles. You can check out the Heritage Traditions belts, adding some flair to an established favourite.
The Fashion Evolution of Braces
Eventually actors such as Humphrey Bogart began to popularise braces as part of their visible fashion choices, wearing them over shirts instead of as undergarments.
Next they became popular with the British skinheads of the 1960s, attaching them to jeans, more as a fashion statement than for any functional need. In the 1970s working women took inspiration from Annie Hall and began wearing braces for a more neutral look.
In 1986, some fashion magazines suggested letting suspenders hang from their waistband for a “fashion-forward look” and today you might see them as part of the ‘hipster’ style or used for dressing smart.
Braces have come a long way over the last century. Check out the Heritage Traditions braces which add a modern twist on this classic accessory.