Trafalgar Limited Edition Braces: Support your local Brace manufacturer.
Why do I like Trafalgar Limited Edition braces? It all started when a girlfriend presented me with a pair for a graduation present. The ones with the Wall Street bull and bear on them. She said, through mischievous lapis eyes, that I reminded her a little of both animals; kind of like a bully-bear.
Bull and Bear. The original Bully-Bears, invoker of hopes, dreams, romance memories and the spirit of a nation.
Ahem, needless to say my glee at receiving a gift was put on pause and an eyebrow went up on that comment. Without looking downward, I continued unwrapping my gift, revealing the pinkish-beige silk braces. They were so…grown up and beautifully rendered. I held them up into one of the finger beams of light rushing through the chapel stained glass on that brilliant spring day and wondered at how the silk sparkled (almost winked) like precious metals.
I had never seen such art built into what had always been a functional afterthought of getting dressed. My father had often worn braces as had the set of people I grew up around but never so decorated. Those that I had previously seen worn had always been either plain solid or two color striped barathea from Brooks Brothers.
Gazing upon my gift, my face flushed and an involuntary smile pushed up the corners of my mouth. My arm slipped around her well channeled bare back as she kissed me and giggled while doing so. “You like them?” she thrummed in my ear while silky ashen locks brushed my cheek. How could I not have? Since that moment I have been a collector of Trafalgar braces.
Braces for trousers themselves became prevalent during the Victorian era in England. Loose, stove pipe like trousers replaced the tight fitting pantaloons with loops under the feet for support. Braces were mostly unseen in an age when the removal of one’s jacket in public was thought boorish. Consequently, decorations appeared on the straps (or ribbons) of the braces in wild and colorful themes and patterns. In fact, braces from this period often bordered on the “psychedelic” as befitted that age of absinthe.
In the USA, braces were worn too. Both the heavier type from England and the plainer sort from the likes of Brooks Brothers and J. Press. However, it took an American maverick to truly come up with a version in keeping with the light hearted, more carefree spirit of the American male that was taking shape in movies during the 1930s. This image, to counteract the very real pain of the depression era, served as a role model for men to “pack all their troubles in an old kit bag” just as British soldiers had learned to do a generation earlier whilst suffering the trenches of Northern France.
These American braces were originally a series designed by the legendary, if somewhat mystical, New York City haberdasher, Calvin Curtis. He sketched out various designs of braces for smartly dressed men around the country in the 30s through the 60s (or thereabouts). He actually designed a pair for FDR! His brace designs have appeared in many movies from the black and white era such as Inherit the Wind (1960) and Sabrina (1954). The silk he used was softer and thinner, and the tabs were made of glove quality leathers. Lean but strong; they echoed the American feeling during the 1930s and 40s.
Spencer tracy summing up with the support both of Calvin Curtis and of the Good Book in Inherit the Wind.
Unfortunately, Calvin Curtis stopped procuring these wonderful braces and no one else seemed to care to put the effort out to continue offering them. During this suspended period of style, the Calvin Curtis brace became forgotten by a sexually revolutionized, belt wearing male populace.
Indeed, The craft of weaving delicate denier silk braces of this type, which possess this depth of color and that slight, prosperous glitter which makes them so coveted, had been all but lost to posterity when eight of the old style looms needed to weave the silk properly were found by enterprising American, Marley Hodgson in the mid seventies (who also founded Trafalgar based in Norwalk, Connecticut) in an old French mill.
These ancient looms were restored and reunited with the original Calvin Curtis patterns, many of which were lent to the company by enthusiasts who had a last cherished pair of Curtis braces in their possession. It is safe to say that without their selflessness some of these Calvin Curtis patterns might have been lost to refined dressers forever. In any event, the Curtis braces were copied and reissued in limited editions of one thousand each. They received immense acceptance and were “embraced” by the yuppies of the eighties. I admit I was skeptical and believed that the purportedly limited number of each brace was a marketing gimmick but apparently this is in fact the case.
Each of the original Calvin Curtis designs was clever and timeless with just a hint of abstract imagination so evocative of the jazz era. Because during this “black and white” period it was considered odd for a person to talk about fantasy and science fiction outright, ordinary items expressed more abstractness than is evident today. Therefore both overly active imagination and artistic freedom flowed into mainstream items. Add to this that Mr. Curtis had an elevated sense of taste and a master’s eye for what men of affairs find handsomely alluring.
Therefore, in terms of Calvin Curtis brace designs we realize the back view silhouettes of a male and female cat sitting on a clothesline and gazing at the moon together, their heads tilted against each other and the entire scene rendered in a navy background with white design. Very abstract, very stylized but speaking comforting volumes to any who observe them, evoking the wry understanding that we all get when an emotion has been cleverly and simply portrayed to us through use of animals. The net result for the wearer is a piece of indisputable sophistication and tongue-in-cheek humor.
Like the famous race ticket from the movie “The Killing” these braces evoke a time when it was acceptable for men to take a lady to the track.
Another pair has the drawing of an old fashioned race track ticket and a jockey and horse in the winners circle with a victory wreath. From an age when going to the track (and wearing your track suit in double breasted Prince of Wales wool, rather than brown velour) was a diversion for members of the ton.
The reissued Calvin Curtis designs sold well for a number of years but most of them have now been retired. One reason is that Trafalgar tired of running the same patterns over and over. Another reason apparently is there were complaints by customers that the Curtis designs were too simplistic and did not have enough blue in them to go with the age of the French blue shirt. This is a shame and Trafalgar needs to rethink re-circulating the original Calvin Curtis designs (Especially the Corps of Cadets in 3 different colors) which do evoke the spirit of a less whirlwind, less commercial age.
I am sensitive to the fact there exists only a few looms which can weave the silk properly (The silk is woven in the actual strap width) and that it takes quite a lot of time to create enough yardage to make up one thousand of any particular design. I also find many of the new patterns agreeable. However, the classic Calvin Curtis designs somehow keep us in contact with our past, and with those old movies, with Film Noir and the Thin Man series.
Many of the new designs I do not like, but just as many I find to be excellent and in keeping with a modern day continuity of Calvin Curtis’ vision. The one with the skunk on it is especially appropriate for certain professions.
Although I do like wearing braces, I sometimes wear a belt instead. And, I have been known to forego both, satisfied with the simple d-ring waistband adjusters. However, there are times when a pair of braces is the only thing that make you feel complete and secure. Silk is stronger than steel filament of the same micronage and there is a certain sense of security involved in sporting a pair. In fact armed with the knowledge that your pants will never slip or distract you with the need to snuggle them back up with your hands (not a terribly well mannered movement) you can walk boldly into your day, superhero like. If you are taken to wearing simple suits and accessories, the braces are that hidden indulgence of color or pattern. Something to excite wonder if you are ever required to remove your jacket in the presence of a lady. And a woman will notice and comment favorably on them more frequently than will a man.
The brace straps themselves are just wide enough and narrow enough not to cause discomfort on the tops of one’s shoulder. To the wearer, they are almost unnoticeable because of their feather weight. Additionally, the silk is thin and fine enough to not show through the jacket of your finely tailored suit. This is especially important with more delicate materials and summer suit cloths where the possibility of the outline of a heavier pair of rayon braces is equivalent to a woman’s fear of “panty lines”.
I know there is a wavelength out there amongst men interested in clothes about matching the leather of the brace tabs to their shoes and belt. In fact, the silk loops evident on many of Trafalgar’s braces which were originally created for comfort under formal wear’s vest or cummerbund, were adopted by Trafalgar to eliminate the need for concern over leather color matching. However, I have to say that I have never been a slave to that particular neurosis and do not consider it a worry that need be addressed. Sometimes the mismatch is what keeps one’s style more squarely in the male, rather than female, realm of “Matchy-matchy”.
Over time the silk will fray a bit on the edges and will develop a broken in, softer feeling. Just trim the fraying strands with scissors and appreciate the patina of it all. However, should the tabs sag too much, the elastic lose its snap and the silk fray enough to push you to the limits of propriety, you can always send the braces back to Trafalgar’s reconditioning department for a nugatory fee. The author has gone this route many times for a most satisfactory outcome.
In terms of artwork, there are many different themes offered, most of them universal but some of them catering to a specific profession or interest. I have to say I am not totally restricted by a theme but a lot of others seem to be. Once when I wore a pair with a golf motif a man asked me for my handicap, when I replied I didn’t play, he asked why I was wearing those particular braces. I said, you mean I can’t wear these braces unless I play golf? He replied with a solemn but resonant, “NO.” I felt it an interesting take on the western mind’s ability to assign images.
There have been some amusing downsides to wearing braces. I have had my braces snapped from behind by malicious passers by, including one time when one rear inside button came spiraling out of my pants due to the excessive strength of the “snapper”. Once, a child on the commuter train following his mother and sister off the railcar came scurrying back, his sole intention to pluck (bull fiddle style) one of the frontal ribbons of my Calvin Curtis specials. A cheeky monkey to be sure, but demonstrative of the all too bold American spirit found in our nation’s youth. Still, I did actually stick my foot out and trip the little blighter which combined with his haste to escape my clutches made for additional comedy.
The positive points of braces have far from made up for all of these indignities. In braces, I am a sartorial soldier. I can stand in a more military fashion, stomach in, chest out and shoulders straight. I am secure in the knowledge that my trouser cuff will never slip under the back of my shoe. Additionally, I can wear my pants more loosely (and the pants themselves can hang more fully) than would be the case with a belt. This is a welcome comfort factor, and if you are given to day dreaming about romantic liaisons, it can cover a multitude of sins.
Whenever I see someone else wearing a pair of Trafalgar limited edition braces, I think more of them. I think there must be some quality to them that I may have missed. You really must have some additional facets to your character, perhaps you are from a more rarefied circle, and perhaps you have tastes. Even for me, it is an item, when viewed on another, which commands admiration and respect. In a world where you are increasingly what you wear, this item assists in defining you as a man of ways and means.
I have many pairs of Trafalgar braces but none more treasured than that original pair of Bull and Bear braces given to me years ago by a square faced daughter of Fairfield County. I have acquired another dozen of the very same pair, thanks to eBay and a thriving after-market for Trafalgar braces of yesteryear. I wonder how many others have pleasant memories associated with owning a gift given to them by someone with privileged tastes. It seems each time I wear a pair of those bull and bear braces, I relive that first loss of innocence, passing from boy to dandy, becoming ever more aware of beautiful things in this world.
A current collection of Trafalgar braces can be found at: www.limitededitionbraces.com
If you cannot find a stockist near you, or are a haberdasher looking to add these products, you can always contact the company directly at 203-853-4747.
Matador suspenders for images of a fabulous country, Ole!
Pussycats in Love, an abstract image from our art deco past.
Chinese art, delicate and cultured with a neutral buff colored back drop for use on almost any colored shirt.
America Hurrah! FDR deployed the New Deal and saved the world for democracy wearing a pair like this, designed for him by Calvin Curtis, Haberdasher extraordinaire.
Vroom, Vroom! Every boy loves race cars and these are a stylish way to keep in touch with that passion.
Memories of college activities for the Old-Boy crowd Curtis designed his wares for.