How To Choose & Wear The Perfect Belt

The Oxford Dictionary describes a belt as “A strip of leather or other material worn, typically round the waist, to support or hold in clothes or to carry weapons.”

But let’s dig deeper, shall we? First of all, what is a belt really about?

Holding up trousers? Sure. But there’s more to it than that. They can be used to make a style statement, add a personal touch to formal wear, create a clear distinction between your top and bottom half, tie an outfit together, and much more.

In order to make the very most out of this classic accessory, your choices should be informed, reflect your personality and, in the end, improve whatever you’re wearing.

With this in mind, we bring you the complete guide to men’s belts…

Belt Sizing ABC

Do you know your belt size? It is often indicated in inches or centimetres.

This number corresponds to the length of the tour of the strap – measured from the buckle to the mid hole – which is where it should be fastened, allowing for slightly higher or lower waist trousers and the natural variations in waist circumference we all go through:

Men's Standard Belt Measurement - Single Length Sizing

However, some brands choose to size their belts in the same way they do clothing (S, M, L, XL), which often comes with a waist range, such as 34″-36″:

Men's Alternative Belt Measurement - Two Length Sizing

Formal Belts

Your formal belt – the one you’ll wear with tailored trousers and suits, and nothing else – should be completely understated.

It will be 2.5 – 3.5cm wide, made of fine leather and come in brown, black or another subtle colour. You want your formal belt to discreetly finish off your outfit and play a supporting role to whatever you’re wearing, never steal the show.

Formal attire is all about advertising yourself. For this reason, a silly distraction (such as a ‘quirky’ belt) may quickly turn you into an undesirable ‘product’. Make sure your belt and shoes match and stay away from loud buckles.

The strap can have a subtle pattern, such as a fine weave, leather grain or patent finish, but that’s it. Leave contrasting stitching for your casual belts.

Extra advice: for increased wardrobe versatility, pick your favourite metal finish (gold or silver) and stick with it throughout your hardware selection, including jewellery and watches.

Formal Belts Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Formal Belt Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

he by mango ss14he by mango spring 2013simons ss14zara man aw12h&m october 2013massimo dutti nyc 5th avenue ss13unknownmassimo dutti september 2012j lindeberg
Casual Belts

You can express your personality and be more experimental with your casual belt.

The width range is undetermined, but there are some general guidelines to adhere to. For instance, thin belts (width ranging between 1.5 and 2.2cm) are suitable for skinny jeans only, whereas wider styles can be worn with any casual trousers including chinos, jeans, cargo pants and shorts.

This is what you should be considering when it comes to purchasing your new belt:

  1. Buckle or Strap? Either part can be unusual, eccentric or loud, but never both at the same time.
  2. You don’t need to match it with anything. In fact, try to avoid matchy-matchy shoe and belt combinations – they can appear contrived – and stay away from conflicting branding.
  3. If your jeans have a branded leather tag on the waistband, your belt should cover it.
  4. Anything wider than 4cm requires the following questions: will this pass through the loops on my trousers? And “is this really a good idea?”
  5. Woven leather, fabric webbing, studded, embroidered, tooled leather, exotic skins, printed straps… the options available on the current market are so varied, you have no excuse to wear your formal belts with a casual look. It just doesn’t work.
Casual Belt Lookbook Inspiration

Men's Casual Belt Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

ted baker ss14he by mango winter 2013kitsune ss11banana republic ss12debenhams hammond & co ss14Canali ss13masSimo dutti june 2013suitsupplyhe by mango ss14David Mayer Naman ss14unknownm&s ss14
5 Must-Own Belts

If you’re starting your new and improved belt collection from scratch and need help drawing a plan for it, check out below the essentials:

1) A formal, black or brown belt, to go with your formal shoes (it isn’t difficult to find a double-sided style that features both colours):

  • Reiss Danton Formal Suit Belt BrownReiss Danton Formal Suit Belt Brown
  • Reiss Danton Formal Suit Belt BlackReiss Danton Formal Suit Belt Black
  • Austin Reed Black/brown Reversible BeltAustin Reed Black/brown Reversible Belt
  • Uniqlo Men Embossed Dress BeltUniqlo Men Embossed Dress Belt
  • Leather Square Buckle BeltLeather Square Buckle Belt
  • He By Mango Leather Suit BeltHe By Mango Leather Suit Belt
  • Saint Laurent Slim Leather BeltSaint Laurent Slim Leather Belt
  • Leather Reversible BeltLeather Reversible Belt
  • Lanvin Reversible Leather BeltLanvin Reversible Leather Belt

2) A tan or natural leather belt you’ll wear with jeans. It can be woven or braided, as well as a simple leather strap:

  • Topman Tan Plaited BeltTopman Tan Plaited Belt
  • Mulberry Woven-leather BeltMulberry Woven-leather Belt
  • River Island BeltRiver Island Belt
  • Reiss Gaston Lattice Weave Belt BrownReiss Gaston Lattice Weave Belt Brown
  • Leather Jeans BeltLeather Jeans Belt
  • Tan Casual Leather BeltTan Casual Leather Belt

3) A webbed, fabric version with a double-D buckle fastening for summer. Make sure this one is in a colour you can easily work into your existing wardrobe:

  • Asos Web D Ring BeltAsos Web D Ring Belt
  • J.crew Reversible Web BeltJ.crew Reversible Web Belt
  • Nordstrom Double Stripe D-ring BeltNordstrom Double Stripe D-ring Belt
  • Scotch & Soda Woven D?ring BeltScotch & Soda Woven D-ring Belt
  • Gucci Striped Canvas BeltGucci Striped Canvas Belt
  • Thom Browne Men’s Navy Blue Ribbon BeltThom Browne Men’s Navy Blue Ribbon Belt

4) A novelty item. Coloured, snakeskin, beaded, studded, metal chain – this is the belt that you will use to mark yourself out from the crowd and has the potential to become a signature piece:

  • Topman Tmd Silver Belt Topman Tmd Silver Belt
  • Ted Baker Colour Block Leather BeltTed Baker Colour Block Leather Belt
  • Oliver Spencer Suede Belt 188796Oliver Spencer Suede Belt 188796
  • Carhartt Parker BeltCarhartt Parker Belt
  • He By Mango Camo Double Ring Leather BeltHe By Mango Camo Double Ring Leather Belt
  • Valentino Slim Studded Leather BeltValentino Slim Studded Leather Belt
  • Burton Grey Distressed Stud BeltBurton Grey Distressed Stud Belt
  • Etro Raised Paisley BeltEtro Raised Paisley Belt
  • Oliver Spencer Suede BeltOliver Spencer Suede Belt

5) None at all. If your trousers fit you correctly you don’t actually need to wear a belt, allowing you to go beltless when you feel your accessorising has gone too far. This might end up being the most important belt you own.

The Logo Buckle Controversy

Let’s face it, men love to sport logos.

Obvious, direct, no mixed messages – whether sticking out of the bonnet of our car or embroidered onto our clothes, branding is an important aspect of modern life.

However, when the hardware in question is a very obvious belt buckle, opinions are divided. While some crave it, others are repelled by the ‘douche appeal’ they may carry.

Nearly every designer brand produces a logo buckle belt, and it’s usually a best-seller. So, if your lifestyle calls for a statement like this, pick your brand and advertise away – just make sure the buckle isn’t overtaking your personality. Now, that would make you a douche.

How To Choose A Standout Belt

You can find a great belt anywhere. It could be a handmade belt you bought on holiday, a crocodile designer style you couldn’t resist or a high street version that complements your favourite pair of trousers.

Is it a buckle design that caught your attention? What is it inspired by? If you fell for the strap, is it artisanal, an unusual weave, a great shade of brown or colourful fabric webbing? Make sure you look for details that make your belt unique and wear it wisely.

General Styling Guidelines

A belt is essentially a mid-sectioning line that cuts your body into two halves, creating a shortening visual effect. If you dress to look taller, make sure to match your belt with either your trousers or your shirt/jumper, making the ‘line’ less pronounced.

If you are a taller male and looking to break up your vertical line, complementary colours or clashing hues work well, so take advantage of this effect with bright belts, or detailed styles.

A vintage, aged leather or buckle belt brings an effortless, laissez faire feel to any look, while shiny finishes can add polish to an old pair of jeans.

For a modern approach to casual wear, try to get your belt to counterbalance what your clothes say. For example, try pairing tailored trousers with a studded belt or patent versions with ripped jeans.

And remember: Beltless is always better than a belt too much.

Beltless Lookbook Inspiration

Men's No Belt Lookbook Outfit Inspiration

reiss ss14strellson ss14AR RED NICK HART ss14ZARA EDITIONS 2013SELECTED HOMME SS13ovadia & sons SS14REISS SS14M.Grifoni denim AW13COMODO SQUARE AW13
The Alternative: Braces

A quick note to finish: remember that rule about not wearing a belt with braces? It’s 100 per cent correct. If you want to hold up your trousers with your shoulders, the belt stays at home.

Obviously, clip-on braces are relatively inexpensive and can be picked up in many shops on the high street – a convenient option for those wanting to try something different.

Yet those that want a slightly more authentic/vintage take should start looking for tailored trousers that feature braces straps instead of belt loops. It will take commitment, but embracing (no pun intended) the look with consistency does pay off:

Men's Braces and Suspenders Lookbook

Reiss Tailoring AW12Simons AW13H&M AW11River Island Holloway Road AW13River Island Christmas 2013G-Star AW12Dan Trepanier From TSBMEN.comBrandon FlowersFabio Attanasio From TheBespokeDudes.comBen Sherman AW12Scotch & Soda AW13Reiss AW12
Key Pieces
  • Austin Reed Navy Blue Stripe BracesAustin Reed Navy Blue Stripe Braces
  • Austin Reed Burgundy Textured BracesAustin Reed Burgundy Textured Braces
  • Topman Grey Wide Plain BracesTopman Grey Wide Plain Braces
  • British BracesBritish Braces
  • Asos Vintage Denim BracesAsos Vintage Denim Braces
  • Burton Red Skinny BracesBurton Red Skinny Braces
  • Navy BracesNavy Braces
  • Brooks Brothers Elasticated Woven BracesBrooks Brothers Elasticated Woven Braces
  • Navy & Burgundy Stripe BracesNavy & Burgundy Stripe Braces
  • John Lewis Button And Clip BracesJohn Lewis Button And Clip Braces
  • Brooks Brothers Elasticated Woven BracesBrooks Brothers Elasticated Woven Braces
  • Paul Costelloe plain Red BracesPaul Costelloe plain Red Braces
Final Word

So there you have it – unnecessary and essential, universal but highly segmented – the belt and some ideas on how to choose your next style.

Have you any thoughts on the subject? What is your favourite/signature belt like?

Let us know in the comments section below…