Braces Are Slightly Disreputable – By ROBERT LYND

Saskatoon Star-Phoenix – Jan 24, 1948 

Braces Are Slightly Disreputable

By ROBERT LYND

It is announced that all-elastic braces, the sale of which has been forbidden since 1943, will soon be in the shops again.

This will be good news to Mr. Arthur Bryant, who has been telling the world through the columns of the “Times,” how without intending to, he has burst four pairs of utility braces asunder as effortlessly as Samson burst asunder the withies with which the Philistines bound him.

How strange it is that even the most austere of governments should have failed to recognize the part played by braces in keeping up not only the trousers but the morale of the male sex.

It is seldom that a man feels more helpless—more in a state of collapse, indeed—than when he suddenly realizes that his braces have broken on him. He lives for the time being in a nightmare world in which he imagines all sorts of dreadful things happening to him such as happen to Mr. Robertson Hare in an Aldwych farce.

He alone knows what has occurred, but he is in as twittering a state of apprehension as if everybody knew and he had become a butt for universal mockery.

If he is at a party when the accident happens either he hurries home or, if he is foolish enough to stay, he dare not stand up but sits with an imbecile grin on his face, hearing nothing that is said to him and wondering how without a cloak of invisibility he will be able to get away and make for the blessed privacy of home and bed where no braces are needed.

I have sometimes wondered why it is that in England braces have always been considered slightly disreputable. At least, it has never been considered respectable for a man to expose his braces even on the hottest day in summer. I have heard a woman denouncing her husband as a “lout” merely because during a heat-wave he took off his coat and waistcoat in the garden and sat in a deck-chair with his braces exposed to the glare of the sun. “Go in and get a belt,” she told him “and try to look decent.”

That is the English convention, indeed: if you wear a coat, you may wear braces; but, if you don’t wear a coat, you must for the sake of decency wear a belt. A leader writer in the Times—it must have been Mr. Bernard Darwin, I think—once confessed that he had exposed his braces when playing golf on a famous course. He got very little support from his own cowardly sex, however. Women have decided that to expose the braces is a breach of decorum as it once was for a man to smoke in the street or to go out in town without a hat.

Perhaps it was in order to impress on men what a sinful feature of the costume braces are that Scottish Puritans gave them the sinister name “gallows.” My own old nurse in the north of Ireland always called them “gallows,” or rather—giving the word a double plural and mispronouncing it—“galluses.” That is perhaps why I developed into a small kind of gallows bird early in life.

The time came, I admit, when with a certain amount of pride I wore a belt with a serpent fastener; for a belt was the symbol of sport like a football jersey or cricket flannels. But by now I have become a confirmed gallows-wearer and would gladly expose my braces even on a golf course if I were allowed to do so.

It is time that we ceased to look down on these humble utilities of our costume. We owe a great deal to them. Just think of the way the Greeks and Romans used to have to dress for want of them.

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