For most men putting on a belt when they dress is second nature. But whether they should do so when wearing a suit is up for debate. Some say not, and nine times out of ten, we tend to agree.
This is mostly because the trousers should fit without one. Wearing a belt with your work suit, your three-piece, your red carpet number or – dear lord – your wedding suit suggests that your trousers don’t fit, an instant style penalty in what should be the most tailored outfit in your rotation.
As with most styles rules, however, there are exceptions. The case for a belt worn with smarter tailoring is a strong one – providing you pick the right style and wear it in the right kind of way. Then it can enhance your attire rather than detract from it.
A belt can also create a visual break along your middle too, which works especially well for tall or skinnier men. And, as one of the few accessories a man might wear with tailoring, it’s another site for self-expression – one that is especially important to the overall look when wearing a dressed-down suit or tailored separates.
When To Wear A Belt With A Suit
Ask a tailor and he will tell you never. Either wear braces – which, as the American name suggests – literally suspend your trousers around your waist, allowing them to properly drape. Or wear trousers with buckle or button side adjusters, which more gently nip in the waist without puckering the waistline, something which isn’t good for the cloth. It’s a convincing argument – and, as dress etiquette demands, certainly always stands when it comes to black tie.
You’ll notice the images chosen in this article only feature slouchy or dressed-down tailoring. As well as your dinner suit, a belt is surplus to requirements with the average office two-piece and they never work with a waistcoat, either.
But the fact is that, day to day, some men prefer to wear a belt, and not just for the ease of putting it on. Belts function well – they’re easily adjusted and far more relaxed than braces. They’re psychologically anchoring too. It’s remarkable the number of men who say they feel naked without a belt on. And for some, a belt also offers a more finished look – especially on trousers with belt loops, as most have – by matching the colour of your shoes.
Despite it being one of the oldest accessories in the male wardrobe, there’s something modern about a belt. Counter-intuitively perhaps, while an unbroken line head to toe might perhaps seem to be the more streamlined look, a belt simply nods to a more contemporary way of dressing – much as when men made the transition from hat-wearing to not doing so, so belts have largely replaced braces. There’s a touch of 1950s mid-century modern to a suit with a belt.
So if you’re going to wear one, what should it look like?
How To Pick The Right Belt
Wear the right belt for the occasion. For a suit that typically means a narrower style – around the one inch mark – in a high-grade, polished, relatively plain leather, with not only the colour but the leather style – matte, suede or patent – matching your shoes.
The leather should be high grade because it will look better and last longer. It’s likely to get a lot of wear, so think of your belt as an investment item. To this end plainer leathers tend to be more versatile: woven leathers and exotics the likes of crocodile or snakeskin – even the more ethical faux kind – just tend to look flashy.
Wider or timeworn belts, or those in canvas, are great for casual wear, but look out of keeping with tailoring (similarly, a dress belt tends to look out of place on jeans or other casual trousers).
Don’t Overlook The Details
The same goes for the hardware. The frame, chape, bar and prong, to name the parts of a buckle, should veer towards understatement. That’s in size – keep it small; in style – keep it subtle; and in colour – keep it in silver or brass, the former tending to work best with black dress belts, the latter with brown ones.
Some argue that the metal in your belt should match that of your watch, but these days that feels unnecessarily pernickety. Plate-style buckles, or those that are heavily branded, however, are out. Sorry, Hermes.
Buying The Correct Size
Size matters, chaps. This avoids having too much excess strap once the belt is fastened. Aim for two to three inches left once the belt is buckled, with one or two holes to size up the fitting if required.
Ideally the belt should also fit so as to be largely decorative, rather than to actually keep your trousers up – you should be wearing the right sized trousers, after all.
If the positioning of the belt’s holes necessitates wearing it too loose, or cinching it in so the waistband puckers, it’s easy enough to get a shoe-repairer to punch in an extra hole at the perfect spot.
The Best Belts To Wear With A Suit
Specialist maker Anderson’s is known for its high quality, Italian-made leather belts, and this one fits the bill perfectly. Its dark brown calf leather is matched with a silver metal buckle and it’s a little over an inch wide, which means it works for formal occasions but could double up for casual dress too.
Marks & Spencer
The venerable British chain has just about every style of belt imaginable, from casual woven belts through to tumbled leather ones designed to be worn with raw denim. It’s this black leather belt that’s got our attention though, with its discreet, slim-line, curved rectangular buckle and subtle textured finish.
John Lewis & Partners
An equally trusty choice, albeit with a slightly higher price point, is John Lewis. Although for what you pay, it’s virtually impossible to get better value for money. They say match your belt to your shoes – this belt, made of vegetable-tanned leather from Tuscany and made in Italy too, takes that idea to heart. It draws inspiration for its understated punch hole decoration from the pattern found on brogues.
AMI is best known for its exemplary outerwear, but its well executed line of accessories is worth investing in too. AMI’s suits are often styled with belts, so take your cue from the Parisian brand and opt for a simple, slim black leather belt with a silver-tone metal buckle.
About as plain and functional as a belt might be, this style even comes with a super-smooth, stitch-free finish. You could try this with a regular suit, or with a pair of suit trousers and a T-shirt tucked in.