View Full Version : Did You Know They Wore Braces in the 1860's?! by Aaron Young

01-02-2007, 09:04 PM
Note: This first appeared on Joe Strauser's Gentleman's Joe website and then Joe of the Tar Water Mess gave me permission to post it on the old AC, circa 2000.

Did You Know They Wore Braces in the 1860's?!
by Aaron Young

Yes, it is true.... Braces were worn by soldiers and civilian men during the War of the Rebellion. "Braces" during the 19th century was common terminology for suspenders.
Suspenders or braces are by far one of the most misrepresented reproduction items available today. In no way possible is it authentic for a reenactor to use modern day elastic suspenders. These are only exceptable for those portraying Ronald McDonald or Bozo the Clown.
Braces of this era were of the "X" type arrangement. Braces during the Civil War were not issued to the soldiers. Braces were not issued to Federal soldiers until 1883. The soldiers had to obtain them on their own. Therefore, these were items that the enlisted man and the officers had that could have been of the same quality. The men of the period took great pride in their braces. These were one of the few things the soldiers had that they could show their personal identity with. Charles Goodyear wrote about braces in his 1855 book, Gum Elastic and It's Varieties: "This (suspenders) is one of those articles with which fashion has so much to do, and the choice among the different kinds depends so much upon the fancy of the wearer, as well as upon the real utility of the article, that it may be considered presumptuous in anyone to assert absolutely what kind is best." Although braces were not items of issue, many soldiers wore them, if nothing else just to hold their trowsers up, due to the odd sizes of trowsers issued by the government. Belt loops were not seen on trowsers until the turn of the century.
Striped canvas pillow ticking braces that modern sutlers sell and claim to be authentic apparently were rarely used in the 1860's. Plain canvas ticking however, was quite commonly used for material. There was a wide variety of material used in making braces. Some popular materials were tapestry, velvet, woolen carpet, linen, and braided leather just to name a few. Flowers, birds, initials, flags, and many more designs were often embroidered in bright colors on the braces for decoration.
During the Civil War when trowsers were issued to the infantry, the majority came with five paper-backed tin buttons, for the fly and only four around the waist for braces. Therefore, many of the braces soldiers wore had four button holes, front and back. One button was used to secure each strap on the braces. The majority of the buttonholes and attachments were made of leather. It seems very few of the button holes were placed on the material itself. Only about 10% of period braces had the button holes on the material, instead of leather. Since a great deal of the braces were either sent from home or purchased from civilians, many of them were sewn entirely by hand.

"Braces." Military Dispatch. Vol. 1. 1993
Nichols, Nick and Ken Smith. "The Great Trowser Hoax - Part Three." Civil War Calvary Review. 1989.
Federal Enlisted Uniforms of the Civil War. Video tape by Smithsonian Institute. Washington D.C.: Roberts Video Pub. 1990
Note: Copying or reprinting of the above article is not permitted without the written permission of the author. Permission can be easily achieved by emailing: cotoneyejoe@juno.com (cotoneyejoe@juno.com).

01-03-2007, 02:59 PM
Interesting article. My Grandfather who was born in the 1880s always referred to his 'braces' as 'gallouses'. I wonder when this term went out of fashion? My father called them that too, and we both thought perhaps it was a Southern term? (they both came from TN old families) Can anyone shed some light on this word 'gallouses' being used instead of suspenders?

01-03-2007, 08:56 PM
I saw somthing dated 10-18-06 reffering to gallouses
"He came out with his overalls on, getting ready for school, but the gallous button on the left side of the bib was gone." I found it in an online archive so a assume the 10-18-06 was the post date.

In the New Colectors Edition The American Heratage Dictionary it says
ga-lus-es. informal. suspendersfor trousers [plural of gallus

I also saw somthing referring gallouses as a "hanging-tree"????

Among other text, i dont see anything dated pre 1871, or civil war for that matter, refering to gallouses

I hope someone else has better luck in the search.

Steven Flibotte
Liberty Hall Fifes and Drums

01-04-2007, 02:11 PM
Webster's Dictionary, 1849:

Braces: 11) plural, a pair of suspenders; the straps that sustain pantaloons, etc.

I was unable to find gallouses/galouses in any pre-1860 dictionary.

Hank Trent
01-04-2007, 03:07 PM
Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett. (NY: Bartlett and Welford, 1848)

GALLOWSES. Suspenders; braces.

His skilts [pantaloons] were supported by no braces or gallowses, and resting on his hips.--Margaret, p. 9.

From the 1859 edition of the same book:

Gallowses. Suspenders, braces. They are also so called in some parts of England.(same quote is used as an example)

Hank Trent

01-04-2007, 05:01 PM

I HAVE to get a copy of Bartlett's Dictionary of Americanisms!

01-04-2007, 05:18 PM
Why I didn't think to look the term up in some of my antique dictionaries, I'll never know. However, I did find 'suspender - straps worn for holding up pantaloons &c; braces.' This is from my original Webster's Dictionary, 1849. You want to know something really amazing, inside on the following page was a newspaper clipping of ships leaving the East Coast for California!

Virginia Mescher
01-04-2007, 05:30 PM

I HAVE to get a copy of Bartlett's Dictionary of Americanisms!

II have an origninal copy but it is online at http://www.merrycoz.org/voices/bartlett/AMER01.HTM

Hank Trent
01-04-2007, 06:20 PM
And for the later edition plus a few other similar books, search for intitle:americanisms at http://books.google.com/

Hank Trent

02-10-2008, 12:19 PM
I understand that this is an old thread, but I was not able to find the information I was looking for by doing a search - and this seemed a logical place to ask this.

The one thing missing from the above article is concerning the hardware used. Were any type of clasp or friction buckles documented to braces of the ACW period? I have only found photos of the prong-style susbender buckles being used (if buckles were used at all). But I am hesitant to say these were the only types of suspender buckles used since I can not be sure. They do seem to be the most common however.