Like most young lads I grew up knowing only of the common belt (or, sartorial gods forgive me, the elasticated waistband) in its standard leather or occasionally cloth form. Until my vintage conversion braces were something my grandfather's generation wore, or were seen used to comedic effect in the Laurel & Hardy films that eventually helped to steer me on to my current path.
Although I'd long held the desire to try a pair of braces for myself - subsequent to my interest in vintage - it wasn't until my declining health in 2007 and the abdominal surgery which resulted that I took the plunge and invested in a pair. By that time I was motivated as much by the need for the comfort that belts no longer afforded me as I was by sartorial considerations. Still, I imagine I would have ended up gravitating to them even without medical intervention so I can't really quibble too much about the way I came to embrace them. So with braces now a staple part of my wardrobe, it strikes me as the time to be writing a bit about them and the various forms they can come in.
The top two factors in favour of clip-ons are their ubiquity and low prices. Although they can be found in most high street clothing emporia they are still a rare breed there, usually consisting of the standard evening wear black, white or (occasionally) gold, the somewhat lamentable novelty patterns and the "skinny" varieties favoured by hipsters and the like. More on those points later.
Practically every online [vintage or vintage-inspired] clothes retailer will have a decent selection of clip-on braces, however. I tend to use Tom Sawyer Waistcoats or Darcy Clothing but you may have your own preferred source and indeed any of the shops in the Classic & Vintage Clothing & Accessories list to the left should offer something for all tastes and purses. Yes, that's right - most of my braces are clip-ons, in spite of all I have said against them. Of course I would ideally like proper leather-ended button-on braces and that is still my goal but if, like me, you have limited funds and several pairs of belt-looped high street trousers then there is still a lot to be said for clip-ons.
They are not the only avenue open to those of you unwilling or unable to stretch(!) to button-on braces, however. It is possible, for example, to buy clip-on buttons, which work in exactly the same way as clip-on braces but allow for the use of leather-ended braces that are usually the preserve of properly-tailored trousers. The downside is they still have all the negative qualities of clip-on braces as covered earlier.
There's much discussion about the placing of buttons too. General consensus seems to be on the inside of the trouser at the front and outside at the back (the former giving a clean appearance, the latter lessening any chance of discomfort from buttons digging into your back), although I've seen many a different variation (my recent Darcy acquisition, for instance, has all the buttons on the outside. Exactly where to put them for the best fit can depend on your body shape and is usually a case of whatever feels best, although there is advice out there which tells of ideal distances from pleats, seams etc.
The next attachment option I absolutely beg you not to take, as I simply cannot believe anyone could honestly think they are a good idea. I only mention them for the sake of completeness and, more importantly, as a warning. Ladies and gentlemen - the Instant Buttons for Braces. (I know, I apologise!) I first came across these some months ago and I'm still struggling to come to terms with the idea that anyone could seriously advocate hammering a screw through the waistband of your trousers. It is so, so wrong on every conceivable level. I don't need to tell you what that will do to the fabric of your trews. I daren't ask you to imagine what will happen if they're subjected to lateral forces, the kind of which might be applied by, oh I don't know, a tensioned length of elasticated fabric... Honestly, if you take only one thing away from this post, it's this - avoid these!
That's more than enough to be going on with for now, I think. This post is already threatening to become a bit of a monster, so I think I'll split it into two. I shall return with the second part of Braces with Bruce(!) - hmmn, not a bad alternative title - in a few days' time, when I will focus on the different colours and styles of braces available, plus some of my own daily experiences as a wearer of them.
But for now, Tinkerty-tonk!