Tuesday, December 1, 2015

When Women First Started Wearing Braces

At the end of the 1800s, women started wearing pants - both for comfort and relating to the jobs they did. As a result, women began wearing braces to hold up the pants. Alligator clips (today's "clip-ons") had not yet been invented - all "suspenders" were button-on braces. 

Women wearing pants with braces during the gold rush
I came across on article from 1892 in The Chronicle that comically explained some downsides to women wearing braces.

Source: The Chroncile: Spokane, Washington
Thursday, July 28, 1892

Something About the Latest Mannish Fad in Feminine Attire
How to Meet an Emergency

She cannot successfully chase a busted suspender up her own back, and like men she must ask somebody to pull them down

Suspenders are becoming more and more in evidence on the shoulders of women. Even the stout women are wearing them. Leaving out of consideration, says the New York World, the cost of material for a very fat women’s suspenders, it does seem to be thoughtful that they ought not to wear them. Suppose they should become detached from their rear fastenings, what would happen! When, following some great emotion, or some violent muscular effort, a pair of suspenders, like a runaway balloon, break loose from their moorings and raise to the point just below any women’s shoulder-blades, it is useless for her to try to seize them with her own hands. She can twist and wiggle and make faces and thrust her tongue in her cheek and distort herself into all the shapes of a marionette, but she cannot grasp those suspenders. Generations of men have tried to do it. Ever since the first pair of trousers the stronger sex have purpled their faces and dislocated their shoulders in the same mocking, useless, oath-forcing attempt. And shall women succeed now in a day?

So what’s to be done if a women’s suspenders break lose in the back, say at Twenty-third street and Broadway? Will she fly to the haven that every women seeks when an accident, visible or invisible, happens to what she wears – will she go into a shop? It will, indeed, be a courageous women who will walk into a shop with the explanation, “Excuse me a moment, I want to button my suspenders.” But even if she be brave enough to do that, to endure the scornful smiles, to face the withering looks of the sales ladies whose suspenders are never unbuttoned until they so wish, here, if she be alone, is she going to button her suspenders?

Men have been trying to solve that problem for lo! these many generations, and, as they give everything they own and a great many things they don’t to women, women might as well have the benefit of their experience at once. The commonest thing for a man to do in such an emergency is to unbutton his vest, throw his coat taile over the back of his head, walk up to the first man he sees, turn his back to him and ask his help. If he knows the other man he says, “Old fellow, I’ve busted my gallusses. Yank ‘em down, will you?” If he does not know him, he is, of course, more distant – that is, in his speech. He may say something like this: “Oblige me, sir, by drawing down my suspenders. As you see, they’re broken.” And the other fellow, who it’s ten thousand to one, wears suspenders himself, has a fellow feeling and obliges.

Now, there is, perhaps the simplest method and the easiest to learn. Any women can say: “Oblige me sir, by drawing down my suspenders. As you see, they’re broken.” It may be that the man’s hand will tremble a bit, but there will be a fellow feeling still, and he certainly will oblige.

Menswear by Ralph Lauren - black pants with braces

If a man’s suspender button’s fly off when the rupture between his suspenders and his trousers comes he has as a last resort that may be stated at first as being the most discomforting – to a man. He can take off his suspenders and walk on the heels of his trousers. But a women would hate to take off her suspenders, for, strangely enough, she wears them for show, most unostentatiously, proudly, delightedly, with an air that plainer than words: “Be kind enough to observe, I have taken another step toward the emancipation of the sex.” Some women, indeed, choose the gaudiest colors for their suspenders. If a man were to wear suspenders as loud as theirs he would not be able to hear himself think. For example, all Philadelphia was delighted the other day by the sight of a red headed girl wearing red suspenders and a pair of red shoes. Men, on the other hand, hide their suspenders. If they don’t wear sashes to conceal the awkward end of the ugly straps.

If man does not take off his broken suspenders he makes an effort to repair them. Human ingenuity has exhausted itself in this direction. Men have used twine since twine has been made and tied their suspenders down. But, then again, men have had advantage of the fact that their suspenders were hidden. What women would walk down the street with her suspenders tied to her silk dress? She’d pin ‘em first, but pins would not hold on a man. Instead of pinning his suspenders he has always nailed them, if need be, with tenpenny nails. But its doubtful if the expedient of cutting, with a jack knife, a new buttonhole in a $100 gown will be generally adopted by women. Whatever they do, however, when their suspenders rise to their shoulder blades they will find it better than to grasp them. The women who pursues her suspenders up her own back will, after assuming a number of ridiculous postures, wind up by standing on her head, a position repugnant to polite society.

The lady has a popped right-side exterior button

Here is another important point: Women may as well come to the same conclusion as have men, that it is useless to try to repair a broken pair of suspenders when the leather in the metal ring tears. They may be sure that when that leather attached to the ring in the back from which the suspenders radiate gives way it’s all up with the suspenders. They may sew that leather, they may clamp it, they may reinforce it with steel chains if they like, but it won’t hold anything thereafter. That’s one of the mysteries of suspenders. Another is that a buckle from one pair of suspenders was never known to fit another pair. So it will be useless, if they wear “real, true” suspenders, for women to preserve their buckles except as curios. The buckles may be gravel like those old Italian cups and dagger hilts, they may be heavy with gold, but they will never fit any other suspenders than those with which they were bought. The suspender manufacturers take care of that.

Yet another mystery of suspenders lately developed is, what do a women’s suspenders support? But, of course, that must remain a mystery. A very interesting and peculiar fact is that no women has been seen with her suspenders hanging from her waist. Walk into a newspaper office, for example – if you can – on one of these days when the mercury is soaring. There sit the men, their shirt sleeves rolled up, their suspenders kicking around their heels, perspiring; there are the women, cool and imperturbable, their suspenders where they ought to be – that is, where they ought to be on the men. But there must be moments when a women’s suspenders hang from her waist. Fancy the graceful sweep of her arms as she raises them, try to imagine the lovely curves as she carefully puts them in place.

Olive Borden in The Country Beyond (1926) with popped suspender buttons

The first and most natural result of the women’s appropriation of this article of apparel is that some young men are now embroidering suspenders for their sweethearts. That is almost too painful for contemplation. But, if they will do it, the young men should be very careful in their choices of mottoes to embroider. Suppose such as weak minded youth should embroide “I Love You” in blue silk on his girl’s suspenders, and then the suspenders should break after the word “love.” That would double the young women’s woes, for not only would she have a pair of broken suspenders to grapple with, but also the question, “Whom does he love?” Perhaps nothing could unite them – the suspenders. Again, although blue is always the color of true affection, the young man must observe his lady love’s complexion and her habit of dress before choosing the silk for his embroidery. Thus there will be many with such symphonies in colors, as that girl in Philadelphia with red hair, red suspenders and red shoes.

Discussion time:
  • What do you think about women wearing braces or suspenders?
  • Do women face different issues than men when wearing braces?
 Note: all photos are used solely for non-commercial use and to illustrate braces in fashion. No plagiarism is intended.


  1. Personally I'm OK with women wearing suspenders. I have a few questions as to why a female(of male for that matter) wearing the below-the-hip-style popular today would wear suspenders. But, women need to hold their pants up as well and at the end of the day that's what suspenders do. I also think the average woman's body shape is a bit more conducive to pants staying up than an average mans.

    The author of this article I suspect in todays world would be a considered a male chauvinist pig. I think he was more taken aback by woman having the temerity to wear pants than anything else. I suspect a male would go through the same issues as a female if a suspender button popped in back. I doubt seriously your average male in the same predicament would be asking another male for help pulling his suspenders down, I certainly wouldn't. If it happened to me I would likely duck into a secluded spot and button the loose brace tab to the remaining button on back and get on with the day. I suspect a woman would do the exact same thing.

    Which brings me to one humorous note, it looks like suspenders popping off were an issue in the 1800's. Given the amount of times the issue has shown up on this blog, maybe those button on braces for everyday use aren't such a great idea. The one good thing about the clip on type is that if a clip slips it can generally just be reattached in seconds.

  2. @TheGuyInSuspenders: I agree, women experience the same problem as men when wearing pants and must counteract gravity.

    Historical accounts and vintage movies show buttons popping off. Generally it's for humor - a character's pants dropping generally brings a laugh. Why do clowns wear such large pants if not for that reason?

    Outside of comical moments, braces do a superior job of holding up your pants. If a button were to come loose, the brace tab stays anchored to the pants from the corresponding tab. That's the purpose of having 2 buttons attached to each anchor point on the front sides and in the back. I have never seen both buttons pop off at the same time (unless its for comical relief).

    Clip-on suspenders are easier to attach, but are also less reliable and slip off the pants easier. I've found clip-ons to need constant reattaching throughout the day, where buttons would have stayed attached.

    I mention buttons popping off in this blog as some people have a fear of it occurring frequently. If the buttons are sewn on correctly, using strong thread, there's nothing to worry about. It's like a button popping off a sweater or jacket.

    This blog strives to explain and describe everything about braces, and buttons popping off is one of those things that happens.

    Do you strictly wear clip-on suspenders or also button-on braces?

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
    Elastic Shoulder Brace

    Keep Posting:)


Thank you for commenting on Everything About Braces. To maintain a civilized discussion forum, moderators may decide to remove messages at their sole discretion if considered to be offensive.
Join our social media community on Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/backtobraces/ and Instagram at https://instagram.com/backtobraces/