Style / February 2018

A History of Braces

While braces could easily belong to a bygone era, these accoutrements have moved past their purely practical purpose to become a fixture among the sartorially inclined.

Marcello Mastroianni wears clip-on braces on the set of 8 1/2, circa 1963.

The etiquette of black tie insists that you wear them. And most tailors speak in their favour for the better line they afford your trousers – indeed, the Prince of Wales and future Edward VIII once fell out with his tailor when he insisted on wearing his strides with belt loops instead.

Braces, for sure, are a curious contraption. More apparatus than accessory, they're the kind of thing befitting a patent, of the kind one Samuel Clemens – better known as Mark Twain – filed in 1871. Or as, in 1894, David Roth did for the first metal clip-on braces, the more practical but decidedly less elegant alternative to the button-in style, much as elastic, in style terms, doesn’t quite compete with the more traditional woollen box cloth or the silk pair in a regimental stripe from the likes of Sera Fine Silk.

Yet, despite being steampunk-esque, braces are something men often quietly become attached to – literally and figuratively – such that they can barely do without the sense of security that being strapped into a pair brings. When war with Germany was declared in 1939, the first thing actor Ralph Richardson is said to have done is dash to his tailors to buy six pairs of Albert Thurston braces, lest rationing make their later acquisition impossible.

He chose well: Thurston was established in 1820 as one of the earliest specialist makers of braces, helping to make the Y-shaped back – which replaced the X-back, which in turn superseded the H-back – the standard. It also introduced such contrivances as the Double Albert Extender and, more intriguingly, something referred to as the Chest Improvement Accessory – or CIA for short, and for its similarity to a shoulder holster. Said CIA was devised to force the shoulders back and improve one’s posture, something even more everyday braces tend to do.

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Josh Sims

Josh Sims is a writer on menswear, design and much else for the likes of Wallpaper, CNN, Robb Report and The Times. He's the author of several books on menswear, the latest 'The Details', published by Laurence King. He lives in London, has two small children and is permanently exhausted.