Belt loops on trousers, as incredulous as it may seem to a gentleman of the 21st century, is an invention of the early 1900s. [A 1908 Macy’s catalogue offers men’s trousers with loops]: It was in 1922 that Levi Strauss & Co., got the idea to put loops on its jeans so as to accommodate belts since many of the company’s customers wanted more flexibility and security than could be obtained with traditional suspenders. Before the early 1900s—from as early as the Bronze Age—belts, from cording to fabric sashes to leather, had been worn by men for aesthetic reasons or to create the illusion of the idealized male physique of broad shoulders, salient chest, and a small waist. And throughout human history, belts have been worn with military dress to enhance the male physique and to secure and/or transport weaponry. But beginning in the 1920s, with the rising popularity of pants being constructed with belt loops, belts began being worn for the purpose of keeping up pants.
The most basic form of belt is a rope, cord, or fabric sash, usually worn taut around the waist. The drawstring is also a rudimentary form of belting. But the finest belts are: handcrafted and made of exotic skins or exquisite leather; lined with latigo or some other durable leather; interlined to create contour; finely stitched around the perimeter; finished with beveled edges; appointed with buckles and other hardware of solid metal, sometimes precious; and finished with hand-rubbed edges and dyed buckle holes, for example. Good belts come in a wide range of prices: from very reasonable—especially when brand-name and designer belts are discounted—to pricing that is prohibitively expensive (but with justification) for the average man.
Color and Texture
When dressed professionally or formally, the color and finish of a gentleman’s belt should match that of his shoes. Most men, then, find it absolutely essential to own at least two dress belts: one black and one brown. But since all blacks and browns are not created equal, it is best to wear or carry one’s shoes to the belt store when purchasing a belt to be worn with those shoes. A flat-finished black belt, for example, would not be a proper complement to black patent leather shoes. (In the case of the new “American black tie,” where a cummerbund is not worn and therefore cannot cover the belt, a gentleman—especially one of modest height or substantial girth—who wears black patent leather pumps may opt to wear a more understated black belt [if the trousers require a belt] so as to create an uninterrupted visual flow between his jacket and pants). Likewise, a pair of shoes of mahogany brown might not match well with a belt of mocha brown. It is also important that the width of the belt fits typical belt loops. And for a man with only two belts, it is advisable that his belt buckles be simple and classic—preferably made of brass or chrome. The rules are slightly different for casual dress. The general rule is to match casual belts, such as multi-colored web belts with box-frame buckles, with the color scheme of the overall outfit, not necessarily with the shoes. A gentleman wearing a pair of white Nike sneakers would not, for example, be expected to wear a white belt. Instead, he should choose a belt that complements his outfit in general.
Conventional wisdom is that a man’s belt-size should be two sizes larger than his pants’ waist-size. So, for example, a man who wears 32-inch waist pants should purchase a size 34 belt. Most belts tend to have five buckle-hole options. The objective should be to purchase a belt that fits when the buckle is secured into the third, or middle, hole. And as a gentleman’s weight fluctuates, he should select the hole on either side of the middle hole. Whenever his waist-size is such that he must select the first or last hole, that is an indication that his belt is either too large or too small. The waist-rise of a pair of pants may also affect the size belt to be worn with those pants. A pair of pants that fits onto one’s upper-hip will require a longer belt than a pair of pants that fits onto one’s true waistline. A man who wears “size 32-inch waist” low-rise pants would typically need a size 36 belt since a man’s “lower waist/upper hip” is generally about two inches larger than his “true waist.”
Belts may be loosely coiled and set atop a flat surface such as a wardrobe shelf or tabletop. Belts with openwork buckles may also be hung from a clothing hanger by passing the open space of the buckle through the hook portion of the hanger and allowing the belt to hang freely. Never, however, should a belt be halved and hung over the crossbar of a clothing hanger, for such a storage method will eventually compromise the shape of the belt.
Like shoes, belts should be allowed to “rest” between wearings. It is best to wear a belt every other day, rather than every day, allowing the belt to air-dry and regain its shape. Belts with buckles made of metals that tarnish should be regularly polished.