A belt is a super simple item that often gets overlooked. This is unfortunate; after all, belts perform a great service to us insofar as they hold up our trousers and thus prevent us getting arrested for indecent exposure. Belts deserve love too!
In this article, we’ll go over some of the basic style rules of belts including:
You can click one of the links above to jump ahead to a particular section or you can read the article from start-to-finish.
Note: If you’re looking for information on braces, please take a look at our guide to suspenders.
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.
A Very Brief History Of Belts
We say “very brief” because if we were to dive as deep as possible, we’d be going back to the Bronze Age and working our way forward from there. Fun as that exercise might be, it’s more suited to an academic paper than anything else. Let’s fast-forward to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Around this time, the belt was a decorative and utilitarian part of the military uniform, particularly for officers. They were worn extremely tightly, so much so that they pressed into the wearers’ stomachs. This gave a trim look to the physique, creating the illusion of wider shoulders and a larger chest. It had the added utilitarian benefit of supporting a saber, a convenience surely valued by military men.
As the 1920’s approached, men started wearing belts as trouser waistlines lowered, and the practice has continued to this day. Despite menswear enthusiasts’ affinity for braces over belts, belts are still much more popular among the masses.
Belt Buckles & Styles
Disclaimer: this particular discussion of belt buckles will not deal with Western buckles. They are their own animal and can be found in a forthcoming article about jewelry.
- “Plain” leather: The classic option that works for the lion’s share of men the lion’s share of the time. A can’t-miss option for any situation.
- Woven leather: Defined by diagonal criss-cross weaves, these are casual belts that don’t have defined holes because they don’t need them; you just stick the prong wherever it makes sense to do so.
- Surcingle: A preppy springtime classic, these belts have leather ends and trim with a stretchy cotton body. Available in innumerable colorways, this pairs beautifully with chinos and khaki shorts.
- End Tip: Belts with metal tips on the end are referred to as “end tip” belts. Typically a casual style, former President George W. Bush was known for wearing these with his suits.
- Brass: Brass buckles can be smooth and bright so that they resemble gold, or they can be variegated and rustic-looking. They pair best with brown belts.
- Nickel: Anytime you see a belt buckle that looks silver, it’s actually nickel. This is the preferred hardware color for most situations.
- D-Ring: In the most unsurprising turn of events ever, the buckles of D-ring belts resemble a capital D.
- Square: Typical of thinner dress belts but sometimes seen on casual ones, square buckles are just that: square-shaped.
- Rectangle: Another style seen on both dress and casual belts, these buckles are shaped like rectangles
What Size Belt To Buy & How Belts Should Fit
This is a pretty common question, and as such, we gave its response its own page. Check out our belt sizing guide for more information.
Men’s Belt Formality Guide
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.
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.
Parting Thoughts: 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. You can learn more about this by checking out our guide to braces.
For more writing on men’s style, we invite you to visit our style home page.