Wearing a belt is more than just about holding up your pants. It's s a litmus test in the styling world: do it right, and you get to be recognized as a man who knows his clothes. Belts can be used to make a statement, tie an outfit together, or add a personal touch to formal wear.
Despite this, however, most men simply pick up a belt at the department store and loop the same piece of leather around their waists every single day without much thought to fit or styling.
The good news? The basics of good belts aren’t that hard to learn. Here’s a guide that covers everything you need to know about belts, so buckle down for a minute or two.
The size of the belt depends on the look you’re going for, but an easy way to find a belt that fits you perfectly is to look for one that’s one to two inches longer than your waist size. Of course, the easiest test is to just try the belt on, at least wrapping it around the waist over your pants, and making sure it fits snugly on the third hole.
For a formal outfit, the belt should be a few inches long to the left of the buckle once it’s fitted. If you have no choice, go for the shorter belt rather than wrapping your waist with thick leather the second time. Casual belts, on the other hand, have a little more room for flexibility. But of course, an long tail end will always look awkward, so proceed with caution.
There are no clear-cut fashion rules for the width, but there are some general rules of thumb to adhere to. For example, thin belts, around 1.5 to 2.2cm, are appropriate only for skinny jeans. Wider belts, on the other hand, can be worn with any casual pants like jeans and chinos.
For formal belts, go for 1 to 1.5 inches in width—or about the width of your thumb. Anything wider than that would be too casual for suit and tie occasions. Anything slimmer is a woman’s belt or a fashion belt, and that’s not what we’re going for here.
Match the belt with the shoes
The first rule in styling is to match the color of your belt with your footwear—black with black, brown with brown, cream with cream, and so on. The only exception here is if your shoes are white or anything brightly colored, where a black belt is usually the best bet. Often matching colors is enough to get you through the day with style.
But if you want to up your sartorial game, try matching the two according to material—leather with leather, canvas with canvas, suede with suede, and so on.
Match the buckle with other accessories
Apart from matching the belt with your shoes, match the buckle with any other accessories you’re wearing, too. Watches, cufflinks, tie tacs, as well as the belt, should be in the same color family. Silver accessories should go with a silver buckle and gold ones with gold. If you’re a married man, forget your ring. There’s no need to restrict yourself to silver accessories all your life.
Generally, the rule of thumb here is to make sure that when you’re wearing something formal, go for subtlety. The belt should discreetly finish off the outfit, yet play a supporting role to the clothes—never steal the show.
Choose the right material and finish
For formal belts, go for one that has a plain, glossy finish, since that closely matches the polished shoes normally worn for formal outfits. If you’re wearing casual clothes with jeans and sneakers, go for one with a matte and dull finish.
Keep your sartorial mind open for woven belts, suede belts, and other textured pieces that come in a range of hues, however, as these can brighten your look.
Style according to your shape
If you’re too tall or thin and want proportion, go for a belt with a contrasting shade from your clothes. If you want to appear taller, go for one that’s the same color to the other shades or tones of your outfit so that it’s seamlessly concealed.
Don’t forget the belt buckle size
The bigger the buckle, the more casual it looks. So if you’re wearing something formal, go for very small, flat belt buckles. For something casual, go for larger buckles with rounded shapes.
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