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BRACES / SUSPENDERS
Suspenders (American English, Canadian English) or braces (British English) are fabric or leather straps worn over the shoulders to hold up trousers. Straps may be elasticated, either entirely or only at attachment ends and most straps are of woven cloth forming an X or Y shape at the back. Braces are typically attached to trousers with buttons using leather tabs at the ends or with clips. Outside the US the term suspenders or suspender belt refers to a garment used to hold up stockings, what in American English is called a garter belt.
There have been several precursors to braces or suspenders throughout the past 300 years, but the modern type were first invented in 1820 by Albert Thurston and were once almost universally worn due to the high cut of mid-nineteenth and early twentieth century trousers, a cut that made a belt impractical. During the nineteenth century, they were sometimes called gallouses. Samuel Clemens, known for his work as the author Mark Twain, patented "Adjustable and Detachable Straps for Garments," becoming one of the first to receive a United States patent for suspenders in 1871. After losing popularity during World War I, as men became accustomed to uniform belts, braces (suspenders) were still regular attire throughout the 1920s. Because of their image as 'underwear', some men switched to belts during the 1930s as the waistcoats which had hidden braces became worn less. This also signalled the switch of position of the securing buttons from outside of the waistband to the inside. Life magazine stated in 1938 that 60% of American men chose belts over suspenders (braces). Though the return of fuller-cut trousers in the 1940s revived braces, they did not dominate over belts again to the same extent, however in the UK they remained the norm to wear with suits and dress trousers.
While they have been in and out of fashion over the last century (alternating with belts in general preference), there has been a brief resurgence in interest due to the styles seen in films like Wall Street and period dramas such as the 2008 re-make of Brideshead Revisited.
Showbusiness wearers include actor Martin Shaw as his TV alter-ego Judge John Deed, and Daniel Craig — particularly as James Bond, 007. Many business people, newscasters (such as Larry King in the United States) and professionals such as lawyers also wear braces. John Barrowman playing Captain Jack Harkness in the TV show Torchwood often wears braces, as does Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor in Doctor Who. The Simpsons character Lenny, one of Homer's friends, wears a blue pair over his green shirt. Steve Urkel from the 1990s family sitcom "Family Matters" wears a collection of suspenders in each episode he stars in.
Narrow, clip-on style braces are also a typical part of skinhead, and to a lesser extent, punk fashion. In skinhead and punk fashion braces are typically between 3⁄4 and 1 inch (1.9 and 2.5 cm) in width. To some skinheads the colour and placement of braces (either up around the shoulders or hanging down from the waist around their buttocks) may have political significance.
Materials used for making suspenders have also changed over time, with newer additions such as rayon, a hard-wearing synthetic fibre, now offered as well as the traditional Woolen boxcloth exclusive to Albert Thurston remain available but are very costly, a style often worn by senior lawyers in London. Silks webbing, but generally a high quality rayon and elastic webbing are most common, and occasionally tubed suiting cloths from mills such as Dugdale Bros of England.
Good quality smart braces were traditionally considered white collar, or upper or upper-middle class wear. They were made to be attached to trousers by buttons sewn onto the waistband. One noted manufacturer is Leicester based Albert Thurston who have a reputation as a high-end manufacturer and have supplied costume designers for actors such as Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond in Casino Royale and Skyfall and Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street There are relatively few other manufacturers in the UK, but the classic button-on 'reform' end is also quite widely available in the USA.
In traditional or formal settings, it is considered a faux pas to wear both belt and braces at the same time, though this has not always been the case among all classes in the past. Further, braces were traditionally considered as an undergarment and, as such, considered inappropriate for them to be seen. From their invention until World War II, the waistcoat, or a jumper or cardigan for coolness in summer, covered braces for the sake of dignity. Similarly, jumpers and jackets kept the shirtsleeves hidden. In the inter-war period, however, men began removing jackets in public, and so this sensibility was being eroded over time. It is perhaps only in Britain that a few 'die-hards' still consider it "gauche" to wear (for example) brightly coloured braces or suspenders without jacket. Generally, it is now considered acceptable fashion, on both sides of the Atlantic, for men's braces to be seen.
The trousers for suspenders have buttons in order to attach the leather tabs; these may be either on the outside (traditionally) of trousers that do not have belt loops. With belt loops, buttons would be sewn on the inside of the waistband. Such trousers might also have a high back in the fishtail shape, though this is not so common now; this style may also have an additional adjuster strap at the back as well as the two side adjusters placed on most belt-less trousers. Buttons should be placed about 3 to 3.5 inches (7.6 to 8.9 cm) apart, an equal distance from the back seam. At the front, the first button should be set over the main pleat or crease, the second button again about 3 to 3.5 inches (7.6 to 8.9 cm) apart. It is important to place the buttons in the correct position as trousers with braces should be slightly loose to hang correctly.
It has become fashionable for some younger women to wear braces, again a style that emerged from both Mod styles in the late 1960s through to Punk Rock styles of the late 70s into the 80s. One particular exponent of this fashion was Eurythmics vocalist, Annie Lennox, whose fashion styling was akin to cross-dressing as a male character, with her dark suit and red braces. Unisex fashion not only featured women wearing trousers and braces, but men in skirts with braces as an essential accessory.
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