In terms of practicality, a belt’s purpose is to keep your pants from falling down. But when it’s really working, it pulls your whole look together. There aren’t many rules when it comes belts (except for those logo-ridden buckles—lose ’em). Sometimes you want one that’s simple and understated. Other times, you’d like something to punctuate your outfit.
The Parts Of A Belt
Strap: The “belt” part of the belt. Covers your waist, typically made of leather.
Buckle – consists of frame and prong (see below)
Frame: Metal piece connecting to one end of the strap through which the other end of the strap passes.
Prong: Metal stick that rests in the center of the frame. Goes through one of the strap’s holes.
End Tip: Metal piece covering the end of the strap opposite the frame. Not found on every belt.
When Should You Wear a Belt?
In general, you should wear a belt with all pants (including jeans) that have belt loops. That’s what the loops are for! Leaving it off can look sloppy. Certainly with formal outfits, when your shirt is invariably tucked in, belts are essential. With more casual get-ups, when you’ll be wearing your shirt untucked, you can get away with skipping a belt, but you may still miss its functionality; remember that belts aren’t purely decorative — they help keep your pants up!
To maintain this function in the absence of a belt, you can choose suspenders as a stylish and fun alternative. Suspenders are a great way of dressing well for larger men — they’ll hold up your pants more effectively and reduce bulk at the waist. They also make a short guy look taller (or at least, they don’t make you look shorter by breaking the line of your body the way belts do.)
The one thing you don’t want to do is wear a belt and suspenders; it looks as if you either don’t know what you’re doing, or are just really, really worried about your pants falling down.
How To Pick A Belt
Belts are one of those rare items of menswear that you don’t have to spend a fortune on to get high quality. So waist not want not. You don’t need a dozen of them rolled up in your wardrobe, just a few choice staples to get you through every eventuality. Follow these rules to score an extra sartorial notch with your purchase.
Leather : Is is, of course, the most common type of material for casual belts, and as we learned in the dress belts section, you should ALWAYS choose a “full grain leather” belt.
This is actually even more important for a casual belt, if you can believe that, as many people wear their belt on a daily basis, and it will tend to break down quickly, unless it’s made from full grain leather.
Suede : It is another type of material that is commonly used for casual belts. It’s not quite as durable as full grain leather, but it typically has a full grain leather backing for extra strength and durability, and the nap on the front makes for a nice change from your standard leather.
Cotton : It is the last major material used for casual belts. It’s going to be the most affordable of the materials, and is also considered the most casual of the three types of belts.Cotton belts are unique in that they can use a standard D ring as a buckle, so the belt just folds over itself (which is also the most casual of all of the belts), or you can add a leather trim to the ends, and have the belt use a normal buckle with punched holes.
How To Colour Match Your Belt With Your Outfit
As with practically every piece of menswear ever created, bold colour heightens the likelihood of going catastrophically off-piste. With a few choice exceptions, you should be sticking to a core coterie of belt colours which are versatile and less prone to sending the rest of your outfit into complete and utter meltdown.
Formal vs. Casual Belts
Not all belts are created equal. Just like shirts, shoes, or any other article of clothing we wear, belts are made in various formality ranges. The main factors that determine belt formality or lack thereof are width and material.
Dress belts are leather or sometimes an exotic skin such as crocodile, alligator, or ostrich. The appearance can be matte or shiny, but generally plain, with an angular buckle. Colors tend to be black, burgundy, or various shades of brown and tan. The width of a dress belt should be 1.25″-1.5″. Wider belts have a more casual vibe, and belts thinner than this tend to be made for women.
Smaller, sleeker buckle
Thinner strap width
Thinner, softer, sleeker, strap material, sometimes with a sheen
Casual belts can be made from leather, cotton, and other materials. They’re available in a wide range of colors their widths can range from 1.5″ to 2″. Belts thinner than this are more dressy, and belts thicker than that have more of a pro wrestling champion vibe than anything else.
Broader strap width
Tougher, thicker, stiffer, more rugged, often matte strap material
May be leather, or different materials
Just as with shoes, there’s overlap between dress belts and casual belts. Dress belts are largely for wearing with suits and business attire, but can sometimes be paired with more formal sports jackets/ blazers and trousers. Conversely, casual belts are largely worn with jeans, khakis, and shorts, but can work with nicer chinos and more rugged sports coats.
But when an outfit clearly falls into one category or the other, you should choose the belt that best pairs with your clothes. If a dress belt is worn with casual pants, its proportions and materials will make it look too delicate, quite nerdy, and generally out of place. Conversely, wearing a casual belt with a suit will look jarring and throw off the formal effect you’re trying to evince.
How to Choose the Right Size Belt
Your belt size should be 1-2 inches longer than the size of your pants waist. So if you take a 40 in pants, you want a 41-42 inch belt.
Alternatively, you can work out the size of your new belt from your old belt. Measure from where you always buckle it to the opposite end of the strap, and get the closest size to that.
When buying a plate buckle, remember the throw (distance from chape to hook) adds to the length of your belt.
If you love a belt that’s the wrong size (or your size has changed since you bought the belt) DO NOT be tempted to gouge a hole in it with your pocket knife or kitchen scissors. It will be obvious, and the belt will end up breaking. Take it to your local cobbler to get a hole made properly.
Dress belts should only have a short tail end. You just want a few inches of leather to the left of the buckle when it’s fastened, long enough to tuck through the first belt loop or the loop on the belt itself if it has one.
Err on the side of shortness if you need to, rather than wrapping a long tail of leather around your hip a second time.
Casual belts can have a little bit more of a tail, although too long will still look awkward. Military-style canvas belts with brass buckles traditionally get their tails docked right down to the buckle.
How to Find a Quality Belt
Your casual belts can come and go, and you may actually like their being replaced every few years, so you can try some new styles. But with a more formal belt, you want something that you can use and enjoy for a long time.
A quality belt can last for years if not decades, so it’s worth investing in a top-notch piece that looks good and wears well.
Very similar-looking belts sometimes vary widely in cost. The quality of the leather is one common factor: calfskin is the most common material used for belts, and a good belt will have a soft, supple leather.
Flex the belt to make sure it hasn’t turned brittle or started to crack. Another good test of leather is to score the back very lightly with your fingernail — if a faint line appears, the leather is still soft and fresh. Old, hard leather will resist your nail.
Construction is the other major factor affecting the price of a belt. Look for small, tight stitching with no loose ends wherever the leather has been sewn.
Buckles attached with a snap on the back of the belt can be changed out, while a buckle stitched in place is the only one you can wear with the belt; some men may find the flexibility of a snapped belt worth paying more for, especially in good leather. Belts can be custom-cut at some leather goods stores.
General Belt Tips
Here are some tips that will ensure you always look your best in all your belts.
Belts match your shoes: Definitely true for suit ensembles and most casual ones. When you have non-standard shoes on such as green or purple, opt for a brown belt of similar darkness.
Belt hardware matches other hardware: Not a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s generally a good framework to keep all your hardware in the same color family. Silver cufflinks = silver tie clip = silver belt buckle, etc.
Never wear a belt with braces. As Glenn O’Brien once said, this is a case of extreme pessimism. This is indeed a hard-and-fast rule that, when broken, will have you looking foolish.