Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Gallows, Bretelles, and Braces

Suspender or brace, French or English, early 19th century, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 38.1223a

In order to assist in keeping my dear Kenny Dean's pants aloft, for he is indeed a slim lad, I have set out to make him a pair of braces. Ideally braces authentic to 1800-1810.

Braces seem to have really become a thing after the first quarter of the 19th century. In the 1820s, a manufacturer by the name of Albert Thurston began mass-producing braces in London. Patents were filed by manufacturers as business on this accessory began to pick up. The history of braces past that point is fairly easy to locate, but I am trying to pin down the form that braces took before that decade.

I was unable to find an image of the eminent Albert Thurston,
so here is a picture of Daniel Craig in Thurston suspenders, instead.
Because a little Daniel Craig never ruined anybody's day.

Trawling through online museum collections yields a number of suspenderish items catalogued as, "early 19th century," or the still more vague, "19th century." However, a couple of prints popped up, the most interesting of which is the following, ca. 1790s (found via Ran Away From the Subscriber). The signage in this print advertises, "nete Gallows for Breaches," (gallows are another term for braces). The bright red braces advertised can be seen hanging on a line inside the shop. Interestingly, these are criss-crossed braces, and I haven't been able to find any museum pieces catalogued under this time period that are attached like that.

The British Museum, 1935, 0522.1.204

Having established, if somewhat tenuously, that braces were a solid thing in the 1790s, I cast about for some extant pieces.

The following pairs, located at the MFA, utilize the spring-elastic system seen on garters of around the same period. I am puzzled, however, as to how the braces were kept on at the other end - there is no buttonhole or clip! Is something hidden under there? Was one end tacked down and the other left to be buttoned on or off?

Brace, French, 1800-1830, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 43.2006a
Braces, French, 1790-1820, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 41.181a

My favourite museum, the MET, had very few results that approached my preferred time frame. However, this interesting bit of something popped up, which appears to have a flap covering something at one end (and no buttonhole at either end, so maybe the dark red under-flap contains a buttonhole or buckle of some kind): 

Suspenders, European, mid-18th century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, C.I.44.8.50a, b

And finally, one more 1791 print that indicates the braces/gallows buttoned at the front. This is a satirical print, though, and shows the braces crossed at the front (which seems uncomfortable and impractical), so it must be taken with a grain of salt. But there are definitely braces involved at this point in time! 

The British Museum, 1878, 1014.8
The above examples at least give me a point at which to start. I am encouraged that at least one of the above examples uses pre-embroidered ribbon (to all appearances). Not sure if I am up to embroidering all those tiny scenes that seemed so popular on other pairs of braces at the time period.

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