A belt is a thing that goes through your belt loops to add some reassurance that your butt crack won’t show while you're walking around or bending over.
When should you wear one? Whenever there are belt loops on your pants. Having belt loops and not wearing a belt is similar to having a circus without a monkey, something is missing. Fancy people like to call it a fashion faux pas (the s is silent). Sure there are different belts for a variety of pants, but one rule is firm when a belt loops a belt is required.
Before we hop into all the complexities of belts and what to look for there is just one really simple rule, style your belts like you would style your shoes.
Shiny leather shoes look great for formal occasions and the same with shiny leather belts.
Casual outings have a wide variety of looks for shoes, and the same is true for belts.
The best advice for styling a belt is to match your belt to your shoes. If your belt matches your shoes it is in style unless your shoes are totally off, which in that case there isn’t much we can do.
Often it is recommended to even buy the belt from your shoe manufacturer to match the leather perfectly. This is a waste of money, shoemakers make shoes, not belts, and no one is going to compare the exact color of your belt to your shoes. However, if you have OCD and lack creativity buying a belt from your shoemaker will ensure you are always “in style”.
The most prolific portion of the belt is the strap. It is the band that goes through the belt loop and is the main defining feature of the belt. A different strap really defines the belt's purpose.
A thicker strap is better for a “gun belt” (around 1.5 in) while a thinner belt feels more refined and goes perfectly with a suit (around 1in-1.25in). However, a bigger man should also consider picking a slightly larger belt because it makes them look a little more “proportionate”. No one wants to have the little hand whopper effect but on your gut and in reverse because of a tiny belt.
Once you have the belt width picked out the next consideration on the strap is the material. There are so many different materials to pick from it will make your head spin. There are two firm categories, leather and non-leather.
Full-grain leather belts are the most versatile and standard looking. It is just a leather strap with possibly some sticking on the side for extra flair. It is important to note this is a full-grain leather type. Not fused, vinyl, or faux leather. All of those (except maybe vegan leather…maybe) are no good. They will not last very long before they just decide to literally break in half. I am a big guy, but it still seems ridiculous my belt would snap completely in half. Full-grain leather belts are for sure the most used, and the first belt one should buy.
Braided leather belts are slightly more intricate belts that are exactly what they sound like. Leather is braided together to form a belt. They are perfect for the summer months or for anyone wanting to look a little preppier. They typically won’t last as long as a solid Full-grain leather belt so it isn’t a typical “daily driver” but it's a very solid option.
Getting more into the statement belt category we get exotic leather belts. This means leather such as alligator, ostrich, snake, or any other leather you can think of that isn’t a cow. These belts typically work really well when the shoes match the belt exactly. They also can provide a strong contrast to an outfit and spice something up if you need a focal point. Doesn’t hurt to have people admiring your waist.
Western Tooled Leather belts are firmly in the showpiece category. These belts have elaborate stamped patterns in leather that give the belt a unique pattern and make it look almost like art. It is very common in the Western side of things to use these belts, but it certainly takes a certain type of individual to pull them off. I highly recommend looking at some for the artistic portion of it regardless.
Think of the military-type belt that is a solid canvas with a small buckle at the front. Can be very practical and looks great with a utilitarian look. Definitely won’t drag a lot of attention to itself alone.
These belts are making a resurgence down here in the south. It is a needlepoint pattern topped with leather. They look super classy, and the needlepoint design's only limit is your imagination. These belts are super expressive and gather a lot of attention. They can be hard to shop for because of the wide variety of patterns.
This is more seen on women, and is exactly how it sounds. A belt made from a braided piece of rope. Hollister made it really popular back in the day, and it still has a small following.
Next up in the anatomy of a belt is the hardware. An important thing to look for here is a solid piece of solid metal. Depending on the belt the buckle may not be able to be changed out, so a bad buckle will result in a ruined belt. Belts can be found being made out of nickel, silver, rarely gold, or brass. I highly recommend a solid brass belt buckle because of its value. It isn’t super expensive, but it is highly durable and will last forever.
The buckle material is most important, but the buckle also needs to look super nice. There are a variety of different belt buckles to choose from.
This is the standard buckle you probably grew up on with a box of metal and a rod through the middle that sticks up through the belt hole. It looks super nice for formal belts and is also really common and casual belts. This is really the basic belt buckle.
These are the massive belt buckles you see cowboys wearing after winning a rodeo. They can display all sorts of different information and are often more artistic in nature. It seems you always inherit or earn a plate buckle, so I’m not even sure where to recommend buying one, but they are typically a hit.
These are buckles that snap over the leather and remove the need for holes. They are the predecessor for these new belts that have unlimited adjustable sizes. These belts can look nice, but the fit is sometimes not the most secure, and they are better suited for belts that aren’t really holding anything up.
D-ring belts have a prong on the back side of the metal that sticks down into the hold instead of up through the hold. They create a more hidden buckle function and make the belt look sleeker and more modern.
Buckles are the point of differentiation they are lots of companies are designing their own custom buckles. Gucci has the snake, Hermes, the H, Channel the double C. Most of these designs are a take on the D-ring or plate buckle but cost a little extra for the brand. I do have to admit, they look pretty awesome.
Outside of the buckle, there are sometimes screws, snaps, or end caps. The screws and snaps allow for the changing of a belt buckle. Just like the buckle, they should be solid metal, like brass. Screws, like Chicago screws, are known to be more durable because of their ability to not wear down with receptive snaps, but a snap belt won’t just break after a few buckle changes.
End caps are a fancy piece of metal that is put on the end of the belt that goes through the buckle. These are typically very ornate, and again, very common in Western culture. They aren’t commonly used in production anymore.
Now that we have all the material options out of the way let's start discussing actual use cases. Most belts these days are broken into two uses. Formal use or casual use. Ask discussed, the different intended use for the belt changes the materials and size chosen.
Formal might as well be synonymous with understated. You really don’t want too much attention being drawn to a formal belt. With this in mind, they are typically made with cow leather or crocodile to provide the most inconspicuous profile. They are also often a little narrower to fit through smaller belt pants. A formal belt is polished and will shine. It is pretty uncommon for a formal belt to not be leather, but I have seen a few needlepoint belts snuck into formal events, please form your own opinion on how that looks. The buckle on a formal belt is usually a frame or artistic buckle.
Causal belts get all the leeway. Since they are your “daily driver” they are typically made to last for a long time. This includes using thicker leather and widening out the strap. They can be polished, but are often times not to better fit in with the color scheme of pants like jeans. Any material can be used for a causal belt, and the wide use case means just about anything goes buckle-wise. With this in mind, a causal belt can be an accent or a focal point. Focal point belts are often fancier and can be thought of as “conversation starters”. Think of a massive belt buckle saying you are the number one steer raiser in the western united states. That would be a focal point. Meanwhile, casual belts are more like chameleons. They blend in, do their job, and accent the rest of the wardrobe. They are like salt, elevating all the flavors.
If you are wearing tight patterns and bright colors an accent belt is likely better, however, if you feel like your wardrobe is a little dull and needs a spice of life consider looking for some of these showpiece belts.
By far and away the most popular belt colors are black and brown. Why? They are the most common leather colors and really can enhance the grain you see in the belt. Also, they are the most common shoe colors, which if you remember, is exactly what we are trying to match too.
Brown matches most shoe colors, and black matches the rest. So, we recommend starting with one black and one brown belt. With these two colors in your closet, you will have most outfits covered. If you become a real fashionista you can start expanding into green, navy, and even orange belts, however, you have to ensure you have the shoes to match the buckle first.