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How to Shop for the Best Men's Belts

by Karl Kozak July 08, 2016

How to Shop for the Best Men's Belts

Just like the shoes you slip on or the jacket you shoulder, you should pay close attention to the accessories that have the potential to make or break your outfit. It’s important to recognize an item’s place in your wardrobe — after all, you probably wouldn’t wear a pair of Nike’s to a wedding and you aren’t likely to wear cufflinks to a courtside game. Believe it or not, similar (somewhat unspoken) rules apply for the belt holding your pants up.

Whether you wear a belt for function or fashion, belts are without a doubt a men's fashion must-have. That said, it helps to know the simple do’s and don’ts of matching it with the right occasion and the rest of your outfit. From material to cut and color, you’d be surprised at how much a belt can do to improve your overall appearance.. or sabotage it. So what's the first guiding principle? While narrow, streamlined belts can lend you more of an executive look used for formal occasions, thicker and wider options are best suited for casual situations. Some refer to this (very) basic guideline as the rule of thumb, which literally judges a belt’s degree of formality based on its width. 

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Now, however, men’s fashion has become a collection of diverse styles and trends. Belts no longer need to conform to this overly simplistic (although somewhat helpful) rule — instead you should pay close attention to the tones set by the two general categories of belts: casual and dress. (Note: Not all belts strictly fall into these categories!) Below, we’ve described the categories and highlighted a few of the best models out there. While we’d recommend having more than one belt, starting with one dress belt and a casual, everyday option should do the trick.


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Everyday Belts

These are the belts that you don't have to think twice about. You can roll out of bed, slip into some decent threads and pull it all together with a versatile, sturdy and style-steady strap of leather. Meant to get you through the everyday, you can get away with just one of these if it's a mute tan — easy to pair with any shoe & any overall look.

Generally, casual belts are fairly wide and are crafted from a supple calfskin, which tends get more comfortable over time since it shapes to your body. Not to mention, the best everyday belts also get better looking the longer you wear it, showcasing your little victories over the daily grind. Here are some of our favorites.

Three Grades Of Leather:

Cowhide: Nearly all belts you'll find in department stores and men's boutiques will be some variation of cowhide. Don't let their universality get you down, though. Belt makers find cowskin is quite versatile; it allows for smooth, shiny dress belts as well as wide, thick cuts for casual numbers.

Ostrich: Arguably the most exotic belt leather, ostrich skin resembles uneven terrain, with craggy features and pockmarks from where the bird wore its feathers. Because they're not for everyone, and they take some legwork to track down, ostrich leather belts can cost a few hundred dollars a pop. These belts' one-of-a-kind look demands that their wearers possess supreme fashion confidence.

Lizard: Now you're getting into the really expensive belts. Lizard skin, and its even more upscale crocodile and alligator skin cousins, can cost up to $1,000. This leather is marked by its small, dense scale patterns. The look is one of refined exoticism — a more upscale version of ostrich skin. Safe to say, you're not likely to see one of these casually hanging out at your local Starbucks — unless you live in Hollywood. 

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Fitting & Buying Belts

Chances are you'll lack the brick of cash (and the time) needed to track down a decent ostrich or lizard skin belt. That should not slow you down, however. All quality department stores have a decent-sized belt rack that you'll want to check out.

Each belt will have a tag on it indicating its size. Take your waist size, and then go one size bigger. This way, your "33" or "34" waist translates into a "36-40" belt size.

Belts should be an accessory, not the centerpiece of your wardrobe. So even though you dream of turning heads with a croc skin around your waist, don't get suckered into buying a belt that's more expensive than your shoes or — God forbid — your suit.

Provided you're not strutting around town in a $20,000, custom-made Italian wardrobe, anywhere between $30 and $100 is a good price to pay for a belt. Mid-range brands like Gucci and Diesel both sell reasonably priced, upscale belts. 

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Matching Belts To Your Wardrobe

So the belt has been on your belt rack all week. Friday is here, and you want to show it off. But wait! Your belt is black, and the shoes you planned on wearing are brown. How, exactly, are you going to wear this bad boy? The simplest rule when it comes to wearing a dress belt is that it should always match your shoes in color and finish. Shiny black shoes demand a shiny black belt. Simple.

Casual belts allow you quite a bit more flexibility, however. Whether black, brown or tan, a casual belt with a dull, matte finish goes reasonably well with jeans and sneakers. See, it's pretty easy... unless you're wearing boots. That's where picking out a belt really gets iffy.

No matter the price, nearly all boots are casual footwear. But because they're made from leather, you should follow the rule for dress belts and match your belt's color and finish to the boot. It's complicated, but shiny black boots call for a shiny, black, casual belt.

And don't forget to factor in the buckle size. The bigger the buckle, the more casual the belt; small, sleek clasps are usually found only on dress belts.

Storing Belts

If you've gone out and invested $100+ on a dressy Gucci belt, you might also want to spend a little more to protect your purchase. Belts should always hang vertically and away from sunlight, so as not to dry out and damage the leather. Many men get into the habit of wrapping their belt around a pole, or simply leaving their belts in their pants, but keeping belts in this loop for long periods of time will curve the leather and damage its seams. Invest in a belt rack, or simply clear room on your tie rack.

Basic Belt Don'ts

Is your head spinning from all this talk of buckles, belt types, and leather finishes? Here are a few basic, easy to remember "don'ts" when it comes to picking out a belt.

  • Leave the garish, extra-large buckles to the cowboys.
  • Leave the metal-studded, S&M-style belts in 1998.
  • Fashion's evolution has largely done away with the need for belted shorts. You can, however, still get away with wearing belted shorts when you're golfing, sailing, or enjoying a country club lunch.
  • Never wear a dress belt with jeans; never wear a casual belt with dress slacks.
  • Never wear a belt with a hole that you've punched out yourself. If your waistline is expanding, a) buy a bigger belt or b) join a gym. Contrarily, if you've lost weight, get yourself a new belt.

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Karl Kozak
Karl Kozak

Author

AT OUR KORE In 2012 we set out to redefine those basic accessories men use and abuse each day. Our approach is pure >> blend innovation with superior materials to create exceptional, more exciting products that exceed expectations.