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Belts 101

Belts, both functional and fashionable, come in an assortment of styles, colors and types, and without one, make a pair of pants look naked. Like everything else we wear, belts are a reflection of our personality and fashion sense, and have the ability to make or break an outfit.

Belts give our body a balanced look, separating our upper from our lower; creating symmetry no matter what our shape or size is. And let’s not forget their original purpose – they hold our pants up. It’s safe to say that most men own and wear belts, but it’s also safe to say that the “how to’s” of wearing belts is often misunderstood. We’re going to take a look at belts in this article, where I’ll explain the simple rules of belt wearing: from what to buy – to how to wear them.

Types of Belts

Belts fall into two categories: Formal and Casual. Formal, or dress belts, should be worn with dress and suit pants, or any formal attire. They are a thinner belt, between 1 and 1 ½ inches wide, and typically have a glossy finish that shines.

Casual belts are worn with casual pants like jeans and sport slacks; including business casual attire. They are typically wider than formal belts, and can range in width up to the width of the pants’ belt loops. The finish is usually flat and muted; although there are many casual belts that have a slight sheen to them, depending on the leather. If in doubt, rely on the wider width to indicate it’s casual.

Pay attention to details by coordinating belts, shoes and watches according to the different categories. If you’re wearing a suit, be sure to wear dressy accessories. If you’re sporting a more casual look, make sure your leather accessories reflect that. Do not blend different colors, finishes or styles together. A shiny, patent leather belt would not look good with a casual pair of nubuck shoes.

Belt Buckles

Buckles are often, but not always, another indicator of formal and casual belts. Typically, formal belts have a small, refined and fairly conservative gold or silver toned buckle that looks dressy.

Casual belt buckles come in various metals, sizes and logos. Keep in mind, the larger the buckle, the more casual the belt is. Theme or logo buckles aren’t as popular as they once were, nor are initial buckles, but they’re still used, especially by truck drivers, cowboys, NASCAR fans and anyone who wants to tell the world about themselves. Matching buckles to watch metals adds a nice touch. Although I recommend wearing a buckle that’s not too large or gaudy, there’s more leniency with casual buckles, so go ahead and express yourself!


The leather belt is most popular among men; however there are other belt materials used today. Cloth belts, usually made from canvas or other strong cloth, are usually worn with certain types of pants and shorts, like khakis and cargos, and were more popular in the past than today. Less expensive belts are made of vinyl or faux leather materials, and although some are great leather knockoffs, they often crack and peel in time. Leather is your best buy for durability, and is, hands down, the most fashionable and always in vogue.

There are various types of leather, including reptile skin, used in belt making; although cow hide is the most popular because it’s most readily available. It’s also very strong compared to most other animal hide, and tends to hold up longer. Most casual belts are made from some type of cow hide, which can be processed to have many different finishes. Often, cowboy and specialty belts are made from less common hide like deer, snake and rabbit.

Cow hide is most commonly used for dress belts, as well; however you’ll find a nice selection of formal belts made of specialty leathers in finer men’s stores and online.

Expect to pay more for the specialty leathers and skins than cow hide, or any unique belt for that matter, regardless of its leather.


Leather belts come in many colors; however most of us wear black and various shades of brown, including tan. Purchase belts that match the colors of your shoes and boots, regardless of the color. When wearing sneakers, wear a casual flat finished belt, preferably brown, which is more casual than black. You want your outfit to flow, without interruption, so be sure all leather accessories match – not only in color, but type and finish, as well.

Belt Sizing

Obviously, the size of your belt is based on the size of your waist. To buy the correct size, measure your waist where the waistband of your pants sit, and add an additional 2 to 4 inches to the measurement. Choose belts that are the combined total measurement; so, if your waist is 34 inches, buy a belt that’s 36 to 38 inches long. These additional inches are added to the belt’s length, so, there is enough belt to go through the buckle and into the first belt loop to the left of the buckle. In order to do this, you must put your belt on by threading it through the belt loops on the left side of the zipper. If the tip or end of the belt goes past the first belt loop by more than an inch or two, the belt is too long, so choose a shorter/ smaller belt.

Belts usually have an attached tag that states the size, or it is stamped on the inner side of the belt.

Sizes chart: Small 29 – 31 inches; Medium 32 – 34 inches; Large 36 – 38 inches; X-Large 40 – 42 inches; XX-Large 46 – 48 inches; XXX-Large 50 – 52 inches


Belts, like shoes, come with different price tags, so there’s no set amount I can quote. However, expect to spend anywhere from $25.00 to $50.00 on an average, good quality belt. Naturally, finer belts command higher prices.

Belt Care

When not wearing a belt, it should be properly stored, so not to compromise it in anyway. Hanging the belt up is the smartest and best way to preserve it, so it will continue to look good and last for years. Use either a belt or tie rack; although a clothing hanger works well, too. Be sure to keep it out of the sunlight, away from artificial heat ducts and radiators, and out of the extreme cold in order to protect it from damaging elements. Do not leave it in your pants (even if you hang your pants up!), for it will eventually lose its shape.

Cleaning and conditioning belts are a good idea because caring for the leather will not only keep it looking good, but will also extend the life of the belt. There are many leather care products in stores and online.

Belt Etiquette

• Always wear a belt that fits. If it becomes too large and you don’t own a leather punch, bring it to shoemaker to have a proper hole added.

• Remember not to wear a belt that’s so large it goes past the first belt loop on the left.

• If you gain weight and find your belt snug, put it away and buy a belt that fits. Not only will it look better and not draw attention to your expanding waistline, but it will be a lot more comfortable.

• Always wear a belt with pants when tucking in your shirt.

• Shorts do not need to be belted, but can be – it’s up to you. Cloth belts go well with shorts.

• Belts should compliment an outfit, not overpower it. Like any other accessory, it should flatter and add dimension to your wardrobe, not be the center of attention.

• Arm your wardrobe arsenal with belts from both formal and casual categories, in every color you need. Be prepared, so you resist the temptation of wearing inappropriately matched accessories.

We tend to really enjoy buying and wearing belts because, as simplistic as they usually are, they say so much about us and our fashion sense. Take time to buy and wear belts proudly!

by Aaron Marino

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