We’ve talked about shirts and jeans, now it’s time to cover something to hold everything together: a good belt.
You can probably get away with two belts, but let’s make it three just in case.
Your Everyday Belt
This is the belt you’ll probably wear 90% of the time. Basketweave, Carlos, and Floral, like these pictured from Big Bend Saddlery are all classics that won’t steer you wrong. Buck stitching, like the belt seen below, went away for a while but has come back. Personally, I like it and think it’s a much better option than wearing a hair-on belt full of cheap chrome and colored crystals. Besides, you want your belt buckle to be the star of the show, not all the crap glittering on your belt.
Like I said, this is the belt you’re going to wear most of the time, so get something you like. I tend to favor really basic things for a few reasons. Basic things always match each other so you never have to think too much about what you’re wearing. They also age better, both style-wise and wear-and-tear-wise. Any of these belts will develop a nice patina after years of wear, gaining a soft, shiny look and feel. The more stuff you have riveted on your belt, the more stuff can fall off. A simple belt like this isn’t going to lose pieces that make it look broken.
Ranger belts are also cool, as are taper belts, depending on what kind of belt buckles you have or what you like.
The Nice Belt
If you find yourself wearing suits, slacks, or even just your nice boots and jeans, it’s a good idea to have a belt that goes with them. Wearing a big, tooled belt and belt buckle is fine, even awesome, most of the time, but can look out of place in more formal settings and will ruin the way a suit looks on you. When I’m wearing a suit or just going to church, I wear a dressier belt like the one below.
This sort of belt is thinner and narrower (narrower=more formal) than your regular belt. It also lacks tooling and has a nice, smooth finish. This works better for slacks, suits, and the “nice” jeans you keep for special occasions because all those pants have a finer, smoother weave than your regular blue jeans. A lot of menswear is about matching textures, particular rugged stuff with rugged stuff (jeans and thick cotton shirts) or smooth stuff with smooth stuff (wool slacks and thinner dress shirts). If you’re wearing a suit this type of belt isn’t going to interrupt the vertical flow of your suit. The what?
Picture yourself in a suit. The coat is open and you’re wearing a tie. All the lines in the suit are vertical. The straight lines of your pant legs and creases are reaching up from the ground to the coat, (open, it reveals two straight lines, closed, one straight line of buttons) to reveal a tie hanging from your neck to your waist. You’re a collection of lines running up and down, drawing the eyes up and down. Putting a big, thick belt and giant belt buckle in the middle of all those lines interrupts that flow and causes your eye to sorta “trip” over everything going on at your waist. Go with the simple, dressy belt.
The Work Belt
If your work is particularly dirty or rough, you might consider getting a rough and tumble belt to go with it. Something plain and tough to keep your pants up and hold some tools. There’s a lot of variations here on what is pretty much just some brown leather and a simple buckle.
Where To Buy Belts
The absolute, hands down, best place to buy a western belt is from a saddlemaker or leatheworker. You can usually be sure you’re getting a much better quality of leather and a lot of customizable options. Plus, it’s a belt made especially for you, and how often do you buy wearable stuff that’s custom made? The web is full of saddlemakers and leatherworkers who offer ready made and custom belts. I’ve never paid more than $60 for a custom belt, but there are some more expensive options out there. Big Bend Saddlery makes nice belts, and so does NRS. Warpath Leather Goods makes a variety of cool belts, and makes them right, so if you get something with studs all over it, they won’t go anywhere or get caught on anything.
What To Look For/How To Wear It
You’re looking for the words “real leather” or “full grain leather.” This is real leather, not plastic, and not scraps held together by space age chemicals. “Full grain leather” in particular, means that you’re getting a strip of skin off an actual dead animal. Ideally, a cow. For your dressy belt if you wanted to go with alligator of calf skin, that won’t hurt. But try to get the real deal. Bad belts don’t last and if something is holding up your pants, you kinda want it to be dependable.
If you’re not wearing a trophy-style buckle, your belt should fasten on the second or third hole. With a trophy style buckle, I find the fourth or fifth hole works best. Too much excess belt hanging out of your belt loop and down your pants looks sloppy.
Try and get something close to but not exactly matching your boots. Browns that are pretty close to each other or black and black. If you have any jewelry (say, a watch) you’ll want to keep the buckle color the same as the jewelry. For instance, my wedding ring and watch are both silver (the ring is white gold, but you get the idea) so my buckles are silver. Silver is usually the traditional color for western buckles, with gold being contrast color, but gold and even some bronze buckles are out there in the wild, just waiting to clash with your watch.
Again, I try to keep it simple with belts for a variety of reasons. If you’re wearing some nice boots and a cowboy hat and a fancy buckle, you’ve already got a lot going on. Belts take A LOT of wear and tear (every time you sit down/stand up you scuff your belt) and having a lot of chingaderas on your belt is either going to screw up the upholstery, scratch the wood, or snag on something and come off.