Defending Australia with Braces


Sepia Saturday has suggested that we talk about braces.

Militia Training Sorrento 1928

In the 1920s and 1930s the defence of Australia was entrusted to indivudals like this lovable bunch  seen here under the supervision of the elegant Lieutenant Charles Fricke. From the props I’m thinking it might be a washing up detail.  And of course you couldn’t wash up properly if your trousers kept falling down around your ankles, hence the braces as visible on the chap on the left, high-waisted trousers with the braces attached to buttons sewn on the trousers. This photo is of men who were part of the Australian 7th Battalion. which at the time was centred on Castlemaine in Central Victoria . The photo  was taken at Sorrento on Port Phillip Bay in 1928.

The  Australian Citizen Military Force, known as the Militia,  was established after World War  I and  gradually evolved into a part-time voluntary service. It could only be used within the boundaries of Australia and it’s strength and quality varied with the changing economic conditions in the country.   The training included an annual six day camp but this  was not always possible for some workmen.  Lt. Fricke’s wife referred to the Militia as ‘playing soldiers’.

The braces were also used for holding up a man’s underpants.  Underpants had small loops sewn onto the waistband. First the shirt was tucked into the underpants, then the loops went over the bottom of the braces before they were buttoned onto the trousers.

This structural work was then usually hidden by  a coat, waistcoat or knitted vest.

But braces weren’t the only hold-uppers that a man needed  Sox also had a habit of falling down so if you were aiming to look a bit more presentable and didn’t want your sox bunched up around your ankles you held them up with sock suspenders.

 sock-suspendersIt is said that the sight of a man in his boxer shorts and socks with suspenders ended more than one romantic evening prematurely

I remember when I was about 9 years old holidaying with a childless aunt and uncle at Hastings on the coast of   Westernport   Bay.  They lived in a four room cottage on an orchard.  The weekly trip into town was always an occasion to put on some decent clothes.  Once when I was ready I walked up the hall to my aunt’s bedroom in that very silent way that children have and announced at the door “I’m ready Auntie”. The picture is vivid in my mind of my uncle in shirt, voluminous knee-length boxer shorts, sox and sock suspenders, prancing to a hidden corner of the room as though he was on hot coals saying words that probably meant Get that Child out of Here ! I wish I had a photo of the image in my mind.  Perhaps one day in the future we’ll be able to transfer an image  from brain to computer.  Wouldn’t that be loverly ……. well sometimes.

Apart from trousers and sox there is one more item of men’s clothing that needs a bit of help  – shirt sleeves.  If the sleeves were too long they would hang  down over the hands, or if working in an office with pen and ink they were in danger of being spotted with ink.  Hence the sleeve garter, an elastic band in fabric or metal to wear on the upper arm so that the sleeve length could be adjusted.

Sleeve garters

Sleeve garters

And so the unseen braces, sock suspenders and sleeve garters help produce the well-dressed Capt Fricke at home in Castlemaine in the 1930s.

E3 Cmaine  at Adelphi c1936Napolean may have said that an army marches on its stomach but I say an army washes up in its braces (and perhaps its sleeve garters too).

And for more stories about braces go to the links on Sepia Saturday.

22 thoughts on “Defending Australia with Braces

  1. Jo in Melbourne Aus

    Love it, great photos and ideas there – and men think women are fussy dressers! I agree, those sock suspenders sure would have been a turn off 🙂


  2. Alan BURNETT

    Good gracious, I had forgotten all about sock suspenders and sleeve garters although my father used both at one time or another. Thank goodness things are less formal these days and elastic is a lot more reliable.


    1. boundforoz

      Well I’ve learned a new word today. Jack the lad ! I like it. I could have said larrikin but I hesitated to use that word as these days it seems to have acquired a more nasty meaning, not just a nice lad with a bit of the devil in him, a twinkle in his eye and sometimes his own slightly skewed interpretation of the law. Look at the twinkle in the eyes of the front three.. And it’s only a black and white photo but the lad standing back right looks like a Bluey to me – red hair and few freckles on his nose. I’ve spent a lot of time this week looking at lads and wondering who they were


  3. Pingback: Flags of Australia | Bound for Australia

  4. Mal

    I remember as a youth that my Grandfather, who lived with us, always wore braces, and used to keep his long johns up with them as well. When he died, in 1965, my Dad started wearing braces and I used to feel embarrassed when he removed his jacket in public, and chastised him for it. I remember him saying that when I got to his age (50) I would need them because a man’s anatomy changed over the years and his gut becomes larger than his hips. I didn’t believe him, but having reached 65 I can confirm that he was definitely right, and I wear braces just like many of my school contemporaries. My sons disown me when I am in my shirtsleeves, but interestingly, my Grandson often wears braces when he is working as a builder.



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