Monday, March 22, 2010

Braced

The best anti wrinkle cream - for men, that is - isn't quite what you'd anticipate. If you worried and that's causing wrinkles on your face, then get rid of the worry. Okay, I'm talking about one particular worry here, though not the sort of worry some of you might envisage.

I suspect, if someone was to do a study on the subject, that men would spend perhaps a minimum of two full days of their lives, in hitching up their trousers. I probably spend even more time hitching, because I have one hip that seems to be slightly lower than the other, and so my trousers have a tendency to slip off that side more than the other.

This is possibly a reason why so many men keep their hands in their pockets a lot of the time: it isn't to keep their hands warm, but to keep their trousers from slipping. I used to work with an English singer who sneered at the way NZ men kept their hands in their trousers; she thought it looked vulgar. However, I note that English men do it just as much as New Zealanders.

Of course, these days, you can always become one of those people who let their trousers slip down until their butt is exposed, but personally that doesn't strike me as an ideal solution to the problem. And anyway, most of them seem to have just as much trouble as the guys who wear their trousers in the normal position. Maintaining equilibrium with trousers virtually at half mast is quite some achievement, and perhaps shows that these young fellers aren't as dumb as they look.

Recently, I had to pick another pair of trousers off the hangers because my regular ones were all in the wash. I discovered a pair that must have come in by the back door; I don't even remember buying them. It turned out that they were just a little large around the waist, which wasn't, unfortunately, a sign that I'd lost any weight. I could use a belt, but it wasn't quite tidy, so I reverted to using a pair of braces that were in the clothes drawer.

For the period that I wore these trousers I spent no time at all in hitching them up. A pair of shoulders with braces slung over them is a great way to avoid the hitching problem.

When I was young, it was quite normal for men to have trousers with buttons for braces built in, as it were. Trousers were covered in buttons at that time, what with the flies usually having up to half a dozen, and probably another couple: one on the left to hold the right side in place, and another outside on the right to bring the front into line. Men would have to go to the trouble of fitting their braces (which didn't have the snap-shut clips on them then) over the buttons, back and front, in order to get the day started. The braces varied as to how much give they had in them, but most would allow for considerable pull before the piece fitted over the button would give way.

I tend to think of most people wearing braces at that time, but in fact there were just as many belts around. It would probably make (another) interesting study to find out just when braces were the norm, and belts were, and how often the 'norm' shifted. According to a writer on Wikipedia: There have been several precursors to braces throughout the past 300 years, but the modern type were first invented in 1822 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.

After losing popularity in the first World War, as men became accustomed to uniform belts, braces were still standard throughout the 1920s. Because of their image as underwear,
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 buttons from the outside of the waistband to the inside. Though the return of fuller-cut trousers in the 1940s revived braces, they did not dominate over belts again to the same extent.

Note that Americans tend to call braces suspenders; the Brits don't, as suspenders to them are something that hold socks or stockings up.

These days you don't see many men wearing braces - although executives and lawyers in Hollywood movies seem to wear them as a kind of fashion statement quite regularly. And some well-known actors wear them off the screen as well. It appears braces ain't completely on their way out yet.
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