If it is the little details that make all the difference in life – the tasty coffee you had with breakfast, that simply delicious pasty you had for lunch, (apologies for the solely food based references) – then it would be fair to say that the same is probably true of style and fashion. In every outfit, the little touches and your attention to detail, could mean the difference between a great look and the perfect look.
There have been many excellent articles produced in recent weeks, each extolling the virtues of paying attention to the smaller details of our outfits. From neck ties to pocket squares to patterns, the general consensus is that they are all very important and really do need careful consideration. Accessories are definitely an aspect of our style that need a great deal of thought, as they – more than anything else – represent our individuality and our personality.
However, these finer details suffer from one big problem. Contrary to what the wide variety of accessories on offer might lead us to believe, they aren’t actually necessary. To create a stylish look you don’t necessarily need jewellery or extra pieces of fabric – simplicity can often work just as well. I’m sure we can all agree that adding those final touches can in some circumstances improve an outfit, but it is by no means a guarantee.
There is no set of rules that requires us to wear a tie bar or go all out with a polka dot bow tie, and this has the propensity to lead to complacency. Certain accessories can often be overlooked simply because they are either entirely practical or lack the ‘wow factor’ of other items. We overlook them because they are just a normal part of our outfits, much the same as our jeans, shirts and jumpers.
The humble belt is just one such item. Yes, we all own belts, but how much of a role to they actually play in our looks? Are they integral to the overall image or is it just being used to hold up your trousers? The belt can make just as much of a statement as a loud pair of socks or Dandy-ish neckerchief, but you may not have thought of it yet. So in the hope of enlightening those still in the dark, or perhaps inspiring those that are already aware, here is the FashionBeans guide to men’s belts.
To begin with, I think it’s important to raise a few of points regarding belts and their use. Firstly, the sign of a well fitting pair of trousers, jeans, chinos or whatever you happen to be wearing is their capability to stay up without a belt; this is particularly true of suits. In my personal opinion, a suit – or even just the suit trousers – should never be worn with a belt.
Suit and/or smarter trousers are normally tailored and designed for the person wearing them, therefore they should fit perfectly. If not, trying another size or visiting your local tailor is the best way forward. Belts need not be a requirement; they should not be the only thing between your arse and a sudden cold breeze, you should only wear a belt because it enriches your look.
Secondly, match your leathers. The debate on brown shoes with black trousers is still raging fiercely, but the same cannot be said for anything else; black shoes, black belt, brown shoes, brown belt. However, remember that this does not apply to every style. You won’t be wearing any multicoloured or striped shoes anytime in the future so, unless you are purposely trying to make a statement, it would be worth matching your prominent belt colour to at least one other aspect of your outfit.
If you wish to achieve any sort of sartorial acceptability then your novelty belt buckles will have to go. Whilst your Superman belt buckle might have worked when you were fifteen and you had great laughs writing absolutely hilarious messages on your LED display board buckle, they aren’t going to work in any sort of outfit now. Clean and simple (as with almost everything in fashion) is the way forward.
Although the list of things we recommend you to invest in only seems to get longer, the case for the spending a bit more on your belt is very strong. All the usual rules apply: A better quality material = longer lasting and better looking. You might also find that cheaper leather stretches a lot quicker and more vigorously with regular use, especially if you are having to use it to hold your trousers up and are pulling it a bit tighter than it should go in relation to your waist. Spend some money on your leather wear and you won’t regret it.
Belts can for the most part be easily sectioned into casual and formal, so certain styles are indicative of particular situations or purposes. For example, a plain, unfussy, slim, leather belt with a small buckle will be best suited to the more formal end of the scale whilst a coloured, fabric belt will be more at home in casual outfits.
Despite my previously stated objections, I do understand that some men will inevitably have to wear a belt with their formal wear; whether it is because their waist is an odd size, they can’t afford new trousers, they haven’t got around to taking them to the tailors yet, OR you might just think that wearing a belt with your formal wear looks more professional than without.
If this is the case then your first port of call should be a slim, plain black or brown (depending on shoe colour), leather belt with either a silver or gold buckle. Silver is perhaps the more subtle colour of the two and would be most appropriate for the office or formal occasions. You might also consider, should you be a fan of something a little chunkier, the slide buckle. However, remember that attention should be paid to the overall look and weight of the buckle – too casual and you risk making yourself look like a skater that hasn’t quite got the hang of a suit.
Although I have only highlighted a couple of styles with regards to the formal end of the scale, this doesn’t mean there is no middle ground. If your situation allows (either work has a more relaxed attitude to uniform or the event allows more playfulness) and you feel that a belt could help make something of a worthwhile statement, then you might want to consider opting for a more casual style. A brown or black leather plaited belt could be a good starting point as it still retains the formality of material and colour but the design is more casual and unstructured.
The casual belt is thankfully a much more versatile and variable accessory than the formal styles. You are not tied to a particular uniform so you have more freedom in what you want to wear – what style, what size, what colour and what type you choose is pretty much endless. The same goes for choice of buckle; please note however that I am still not endorsing the silly novelty buckles, no one needs to know that you are lying about your love of Jack Daniels with a belt.
The vast majority of casual belts need not be overly complex; unless you are looking specifically to make a statement (see below) then you are probably better off keeping the colours and material simple. The leather colour rule still applies, but you might find you want to vary the shade more to avoid taking your colour matching to anorak levels.
Standard casual leather belts will generally be wider and have a larger buckle to better suit larger and more bulky jeans. You will also notice a great deal of variation in buckle style, ranging from the slider buckle to the D ring buckle. The choice is entirely personal preference and will depend on what kind of look you are trying to achieve and to what extent you require it to hold up your trousers.
A canvas, fabric, woven or standard belt will work very well with chinos and when you want to channel a little Riviera chic into your wardrobe. A subtle blue or white belt makes a good combination when paired with stone or navy chinos, but it would also be worth trying to match it to one of the colours in your shirt (should you be wearing one), just to create some outfit coherency.
The plaited belt is another worthwhile option here and is quite possibly one of the most versatile casual belts available. It suits many key trends and adds a hint of individuality and character effortlessly. To be even more unique, why not try a suede example?
If you really want to make your belt work for you – as a key feature as well as an accessory – you have to go all out and make a bold statement. Whether you do it with block colours, bold patterns or a mixture of both you have to make a point and mean it. There is little point in you going half way; you may as well be out there.
If you go for a pattern, you could still try to co-ordinate with the outfit as a whole. Think of it in a similar way as you would choose a tie, picking a subtle colour and matching it (not necessarily shade specific). If the belt has leather ends (e.g buckle straps) then it would still be worth matching it to your other leather items. This won’t of course correspond to those wearing trainers or shoes of a less popular colour (green, blue etc).
The statement can be as bold as you want it too be but you must still consider what kind of look you are aiming for. An outfit that relies on simple, classic items for a clean, refined and stylish look will not work well with a bold block colour belt – the contrast will be too stark. Stick to a subtle pattern with brighter colours, something with a simple stripe will do just fine.
A block colour belt (such as the one below from Topman AAA) is a great way to add colour and individuality to any outfit, so long as it is appropriate and considered. You could try pairing a block coloured belt with some tailored grey trousers and a white shirt for a great formal/casual crossover; throw on some loafers and you have a very wearable spring/summer outfit. Utilising a block colour belt will create a very obvious divide between the top half of an outfit and the bottom, so you could also consider being a bit more playful with the other colours in your outfit – using the belt as a separator.
The statement belt will work in much the same way as a casual belt but it will definitely play a bigger role in any outfit you choose to create. By being careful with colour or pattern choices, you can add flashes of colour and sparks of personality without shouting about it.
The belt is an often underestimated accessory; its purpose is almost entirely practical and the vast majority of people will have been brought up on a diet of black or brown leather. However, to ignore an item that can have such a big impact on the overall aesthetic of an outfit would be naive – they deserve more consideration.
These days the choice of men’s belts on the market is almost endless, almost guaranteeing that there will be a belt that suits your personal style. It’s just a case of finding the one that is most appropriate. You could of course have more than one though – how about 5, or 10? But that would just be silly.
As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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