Clothes should hang from the shoulder, not the waist. I think Oscar Wilde said it first. But I am happy to repeat a greater man’s words. We are talking, of course, about a chap’s trousers. The frequency with which one must avert one’s gaze from a fellow’s attire because of the crumpled mess around his shoes is increasing. He might be otherwise well-dressed – decent suit, properly cut shirt, handsome tie, fine shoes – yet the hang of his trousers lets him down. Clearly, he has yet to learn the Golden Rule of the Wardrobe: a gentleman must wear braces.
Only with this essential item of equipment can the all-important meeting of shoe and trouser-end be controlled to perfection. Too short and the effect is comical; too long (the usual fault nowadays) and the appearance is slovenly. With a straight back, the trousers should hang with the crease clearly defined; at the shoe the trouser-end should rest on the front of the shoe with a pleasing indentation in the trouser-leg just above. How far the back of the trouser-end should hang down the back of the shoe is a matter of individual preference. Personally, I do not care to have it closer than 2 inches to the pavement.
So what sort of braces to buy? Not those which clip on to the trousers. These are vile, vulgar things. They not only damage the fabric into which they bite for their grip: they also indicate that the wearer’s trousers are without buttons for braces – a sartorial solecism of the highest order. The braces, then, must button onto the trousers – indeed, bespoke trousers should be made with backs for the purpose – in the form of the letter M, of a higher or flatter form according to the house style of the tailor. (The positioning of such buttons also requires thought. I stipulate that they should be on the outside of the trousers at the front, but on the inside at the back – so that when I drive the Royce without my jacket they will not make impressions in the leather. It is surprising how difficult it is to make tailors follow this simple instruction.)
All my braces have been made by the ancient firm of Albert Thurston Limited. (To avoid the necessity of constant readjustment, I find it convenient to have a separate pair of braces for each pair of trousers.) Founded in 1820, its shop in Panton Street – near Leicester Square in London – was adorned by a mounted stag’s head. The shop has long gone – although the taxidermist’s work remains in the form of the firm’s emblem – and the business has removed to the Midlands. So it is Leicester which is now the home of the splendid braces which support many of the most important trousers throughout the world. Often the braces will bear the name of the retail outfitter, but they will have been made by Albert Thurston Limited.
I thought they were made of felt. But I was wrong. Richard Kew, the current managing director of Albert Thurston Limited, put me right. The material is box cloth – so named because it was used for the great coats of those who travelled sitting on the boxes on top of mail coaches. It is thick woollen material, shrunk to half its size – to increase both its tightness and its resistance to fraying when cut. You might also have encountered it as the covering of your billiards table.
I wear only red braces. But, if your preference is for the discreet, they are also supplied in shades of blue, purple and pink. (Pink? Let me delete that reference to discreet.) I used to cut them to suit the trouser length, but now I rather like the red streaks running down over my waist so I leave them unmolested.
The leather fastenings are made of goatskin and those at the front (the “runner ends”) are constructed so that they will adjust slightly with the body’s movements. I like them in brown or black, but white is also available.
So far – remarkably – I have managed to wear out only one pair. (The caustic might regard this as more a comment on the number of my suits than on the longevity of the braces, but let such nonsense pass.) They are still wearable (just), but the elastic fork at the rear has shrivelled and the appearance is no longer acceptable. Prices in England for the straightforward, classic design will be £35 to £50, depending on the shop you patronize. I find the lowest prices at T.M. Lewin in Jermyn Street. Braces with designs upon them – of animals and cartoon figures – can cost around £100 a pair. They are most definitely not my tasse de thé.
But the plain red ones assuredly are. In fact, I will not be seen out without them. A gentleman’s trousers need braces. And those braces must be made by Albert Thurston Limited. Clothes should hang from the shoulder, not the waist.
Albert Thurston Limited
3 Frog Island, Leicester LE3 5AG, England.
Telephone +44 (0)116 2627515
Fax +44 (0)116 2513607
T.M. Lewin Ltd
103-106 Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6EQ, England.
Telephone +44 (0)207 930 4291