The humble belt. It may not seem like much, but without it, your style credentials – not to mention your trousers – can quickly fall down.
A simple strip of leather or canvas that separates top from bottom, this age-old accessory can be used to tie a look together or punctuate it, adding colour and depth. It’s a prime example of the idea that the smallest details often make the biggest difference. That’s what makes a good selection of belts a must for any self-respecting gent.
“Selection” is the key word here, because not all belts are created equal. Formal and casual settings demand different styles. And with each comes a variety of leathery and canvas subcategories. From the colourful to the classic, here we rundown the must-own belt styles, along with the info you should be armed with prior to parting with your cash.
There are four key materials to consider when selecting a belt: leather, suede, canvas and woven. All can be worn in casual settings, but only the first should be worn formally. If formal is your end goal, opt for a slightly thinner style (somewhere around an inch in width) with minimal detailing and a classic metal buckle fastening.
Belts are traditionally sold in sizes that correspond to waist measurements. You will either find a single measurement (e.g. 34″) or a range (e.g. 32″-34″). The former signifies the distance between the start of the buckle and the middle hole of the belt. For the latter, the first measurement is from the start of the buckle to the closest hole (i.e. the tightest the belt can be fastened), while the second runs to the middle hole.
When it comes to width stick between an inch to an inch and a half, which will ensure your belt is not so skinny that it won’t fill your trouser loops, but doesn’t look so wide that it passes as a weightlifting aid.
Along with the material and width, the buckle of a belt determines how dressy or casual it is. Tongue buckles are the most common for classic leather belts, while D-rings are popular on casual, canvas belts for the summer. Also consider the type of metal – some people’s skin can get irritated by nickel, so it can be worth spending a little more to ensure higher quality hardware.
Belt colours don’t stop at black or brown. For leather, they’re the two classics all men should own, but in terms of woven and canvas belts, the options are endless. A bold, woven belt can be a good way to add a dash of personality to an otherwise subdued outfit and also has the potential to become a hallmark of your signature style.
Key Belt Styles
When it comes to finding the right belt to match your tailoring, width and material are the most important factors. A formal belt will be leather and slightly thinner than a casual one. Colour really depends on the shade of the suit and what other leathers you’re wearing. A chestnut belt and shoes with a navy suit, for example, is a timeless combination that always looks good. If in doubt, though, it’s impossible to go wrong with a black belt and matching shoes.
Casual Leather & Suede
For smart casual dress codes or just basic day-to-day duties a casual leather or suede belt is the go-to option. These tend to be slightly wider than their formal counterparts and buckles can be more elaborate than a simple tongue closure. Don’t go too elaborate, mind – aim for “classic and timeless” rather than “WWE wrestler”.
Thanks to the ongoing high-fashion/streetwear crossover, canvas belts are enjoying a resurgence in popularity. They’ve been made cool once again by taste-making brands like Off-White and Alyx, but you don’t have to be a slave to fashion to get involved. Opt for muted, earthy colours and a canvas belt will make a handy addition to your weekend wardrobe, bringing a touch of Ivy League sophistication to even the most basic of looks.
Another preppy staple that has a lot going for it. First of all, it just plain looks good and offers a way to inject some texture into any outfit. Secondly, it’s comfortable – the webbed construction provides increased flex and stretch, allowing for the natural variations in waist circumference we all go through. Stick to wearing it with chinos, jeans and shorts and you won’t ever put a foot wrong.
The Best Brands For Men’s Belts
Luxury brand Bottega Veneta is globally renowned for its leather goods, the majority of which are hand-crafted in Italy using the intrecciato method, an ancient leather weaving technique that gives their belts a unique appearance and increases durability. This intensive manufacturing process, combined with only using the finest quality hide, ensures price tags are suitably high, but you won’t ever regret the investment.
Polo Ralph Lauren
New York’s premier outlet for preppy staples is good for most types of belt. Our favourites, however, are the label’s Ivy League-style canvas options. They’re comfortable, full of character and offer a simple way to put a fresh spin on the tried-and-tested chinos & OCBD combo.
When it comes to woven belts, you’ll struggle to find better than Anderson’s (featured image, top). Parma in Northern Italy is known for its premium-quality leather goods and it just happens to be where the label has been crafting its ware for the last 50 years. Vibrant, multicoloured belts are Anderson’s speciality, but it’s also possible to find low-key suede and leather options, too, for those who want to keep things understated and refined.
Leather-goods manufacturers don’t come much more esteemed than British brand Alfred Dunhill. The label has been crafting the finest leather products on the face of the earth since the late 1800s and has remained the label of choice for many dapper gents ever since.
When they’re not busy piecing together exquisite bags and luggage for the most discerning consumers, Mulberry has a sideline in keeping trousers hoisted as stylishly as possible. These belts may sit at the upper end of the market, but the quality and materials are second to none. The pebble-grain options come highly recommended.
Dos And Don’ts Of Belt Styling
- DO match your leathers in formal settings
- DON’T wear jazzy, canvas belts with tailoring
- DO select narrow styles for formal dress and wider styles for casual
- DON’T go any wider than a couple of inches
- DO invest in a high-quality belt that will stand the test of time
- DON’T get sucked in by trends and wind up with something you’ll cringe at the mere thought of in five years time
- DO use colour to spice up smart-casual outfits
- DON’T team vibrant belts with other statement pieces
- DO go beltless from time to time. Sometimes no belt is the best-looking belt of all.