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Clean shirt, he thought. He unbuttoned the top buttons of his trousers and spread his knees, squatting slightly, to hold them up. Fool thing to do, he reflected. Do it every time. (He tucked in the deep tails and settled them; the tails of this shirt were particularly long, and this always, for some reason, still made him feel particularly masculine.) If I put on the shirt first, wouldn’t have to do that fool squat. (He finished buttoning his fly.) Well (he braced his right shoulder) there’s habit for you (he braced his left shoulder and slightly squatted again, readjusting).

A Death in the Family by James Agee

Does 'brace' here mean 'reinforce' or 'freshen up'? Or something totally different?

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  • I can't find a definition for this brace used as a verb (though it can mean "swing arms about"), but I believe that this brace is used to mean "to wear braces", where braces (British English) means the same as suspenders in American English. Aug 3, 2016 at 8:16

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The meaning of brace here is probably to put on a brace, and a brace is one side of a pair of braces (British English) or suspenders (American English). So he is probably pulling the appropriate brace/suspender over his right shoulder and then then pulling the other one over his left shoulder. Braces these days are considered old-fashioned, old-school, but on the other hand, things usually go out of style and then come back in style.

See Oxford 1.6:

braces - British term for suspenders

The author is just using the article of clothing (brace) as a verb to mean put on or attach the article of clothing. It is akin to the sense of to brace = To encompass, surround, gird, encircle; also, causally, to put round, make to surround and To clasp, fasten up tightly, gird: sometimes with a reference to one or other of the senses of brace, etc (Oxford English Dictionary).

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Advertising photo for braces, from Black Lapel. From a blog article: Brace yourself: how to wear suspenders.

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