We know that braces today are a mark of a fashionable soul, combining vintage influences and modern styling to create a polished look that is always on message. But just where did braces come from, why were they invented and where does their fashion story lead? We’ve explored the long and interesting history of the humble suspender to understand how this utilitarian accessory transformed into a fashion icon.
As with so many fashion stories this one begins in France where a trend for rising waist lines made belts unpractical. The 18th century French gentleman attached cloth straps to his trousers with ribbon to prevent any embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions. This earliest relative of our modern braces was considered a most definite undergarment and would have been hidden beneath a jacket.
Early 19th century fashion saw a return to high-waisted trousers that favoured braces, and in the 1820’s intrepid British designer, Albert Thurston began to manufacture a more recognisably modern style. Pioneering ‘H-back’ designs evolved into ‘Y-Back’ and ‘X-Back’ braces and business boomed. As the century progressed, Victorian gentlemen recognised a good pair of braces as an essential part of their wardrobe, although they were still considered too vulgar for public display and always remained carefully covered with a well-cut suit. As we moved into the twentieth century braces took a backseat to the uniforms that became worn widely throughout World War I. Belts became the more masculine and utilitarian choice of the day. It seemed that braces may have had their moment and although still around, their popularity had waned.
A Modern Interpretation
The 1940’s marked a return to fashion favour for braces. Suit styles were wide legged and high waisted, a perfect partnership for the sharp ‘Y-Back’ button down braces of the day. Now, braces began to become fashion statement rather than practical underwear. Film Noir stars like Humphrey Bogart popularised this style of brace wearing which remains an iconic look. As the twentieth century progressed, braces remained a symbol of smart and elegant dressing although their everyday use dropped dramatically. In an interesting twist to their story they became adopted by counter culture groups like punks and skin heads in the 1970’s. Braces became a playful reference to a more formal past and a subversion of establishment rules. Women have embraced braces throughout history, as masculine and androgynous trends came in and out of fashion. However, the latter part of the twentieth century has seen designers embrace braces and create imaginative, high fashion designs that celebrate this traditionally masculine look.
As our love affair with all things vintage continues, braces remain a popular and stylish choice. The evolution of men’s fashion and booming interest in men’s formal wear means that braces are once again a symbol of sartorial elegance. Right now, the brace infiltrates casual and women’s wear with surprising regularity. A way to add interest and creativity to any outfit, it seems braces are here to stay.