This article is brought to you by my friends over at Knot Clothing – a small American company making quality casual belts with unique designs and patterns. The founder grew up on New York’s Finger Lakes, and his belt reflect that American Northeastern heritage. Click here to read their story.
You’re probably already familiar with the basic dress options for a man’s belt: black leather, brown leather, or suspenders/braces.
These almost all come with a square “tongue” buckle on one end and a single row of punched holes on the other. In dress belts, the buckle is kept small and unobtrusive:
But what about a man’s casual wardrobe?
Once you’re not wearing strict business-formality suits and ties, a belt no longer has to be an understated complement to your shoes.
The sky’s the limit here…..well, within reason.
Your casual belts can be anything from a plain piece of leather that holds your pants up to a jewel-studded piece of vinyl that’s the centerpiece of the whole outfit.
In this article we’ll take a look at some of the most common styles of casual belts, followed by a brief discussion of belt style.
Click here to watch my video summarizing the main points of this article!
Wearing Casual Belt Styles
The big question with any casual belt is whether it’s meant to be an accent piece or a centerpiece.
- An accent piece is a low-key statement that complements the rest of your outfit, contributing to a coordinated look.
- A centerpiece, on the other hand, is there to demand attention — it invites comment.
There’s nothing wrong with either approach. You just want to dress appropriately for the effect you want.
A good accent belt should share some of the characteristics of the other pieces in your outfit. Similar or matching colors is an obvious choice, and how most men generally select their belts and shoes — brown leather with brown leather, light canvas with light-colored sneakers, and so forth.
Centerpiece belts, on the other hand, are there to provide deliberate contrast. They work best when the rest of the outfit isn’t too filled with colors and patterns. One or two bright elements are enough. More just looks gaudy.
Belts can also be used to emphasize a personal style. A plain brown belt with jeans and a blue button-down is a very generic style; the same shirt and jeans with a tooled brown belt and rodeo buckle is emphatically Western.
Once you have your basic black and brown dress belts, your collection can go any direction you please. For a shortcut to more styles, get a couple belts that take interchangeable buckles (meaning the buckle snaps in, rather than being stitched in place) — those allow you to have multiple looks with the same piece of leather.
Casual Belt Styles
Monochrome Braided Belts
These show up as dress belts worn with trousers & sport jackets, they’re a touch more casual than a flat strip of leather and should not be worn with suits. You get an interesting texture from the braid, and the added advantage of more adjustability — instead of a half a dozen holes or so to choose from, you have the whole belt to adjust the placement of the buckle.
Braided belts are a good option when you want to keep things simple and unobtrusive. They add a little texture without making an overwhelming statement. They’re also easy to find, and often quite cheap.
Leatherback Ribbon Belts
Leatherback ribbon belts go with sailing, golf, and boat shoes like no other belt out there. In the front they’re all business, but on the side and back a man can go with a strong accent color or wear a conversation starter that’s sure to draw attention. Unlike most belts looking to serve a silent function – leather back ribbon belts are rarely made in boring colors and those that are should be avoided – if you want something simple and boring there are many other styles to choose from.
Perhaps the biggest downfall of the leatherback ribbon belt – besides an inability to be worn at formal events – is the difficulty in finding these types of casual belts. Fear not – my friends over at Knot Clothing have been filling this niche since 2009 making their belts right here in the USA.
Leather Work/Casual Belts
Broader, tougher, and stiffer than leather dress belts, leather casual work belts are usually made from the outer layers of a cow’s hide. Some even include marks from scars or brands that the cow acquired during its life.
The style is generally made with a snapped loop that can take different belt buckles, making it a customizable piece. With a basic “garrison” style buckle (the flat loop with metal tongue construction) it’s a plain, functional piece of work wear; with an oversized rodeo buckle it’s suddenly cowboy chic.
These are ideal pieces for men who like to collect and show off different belt buckles. Plain brown or black is generally the most versatile, depending on your shoe selection.
The weight & stiff build of thee belts also makes them great for concealed carry. If you’re looking for a strong & stylish handmade leather belt – you can’t do better than the belts my friend Robert over at Vvego - click here to learn more.
Tooled Leather Belts & Rodeo Belts
“Tooling” is a process of decorative stamping that leaves patterns on the leather. The tooled patterns are often stained after stamping, darkening them so that they stand out more.
These tend to be visually “busy” pieces. Most are designed for interchangeable buckles, like work belts. The patterns can be just about anything that fits on the belt, but Western and Celtic motifs are particularly common.
Tooled belts work well with simple outfits, such as a pair of jeans and a basic button-down shirt. If you pair them with too many other patterned/textured items the look starts to get overwhelming.
A Western staple, rodeo belts are broad work belts that have been decorated with “conchos,” or decorative studs. They can also feature tooling, and most are worn with bright, oversized belt buckles.
Rodeo belts look silly with almost anything except jeans. You should probably think twice about including one in your outfit unless you’re at a rodeo, state fair, or other “country” event — or you live in a part of the country where it’s the local style.
Multicolored Braided Belts
Probably the most casual of your leather options, braided belts can be made with multiple colors of leather. The results can range from the tasteful to the outlandish, depending on your combination of colors.
These were popular in the 1980s, and have stuck around in various subcultures ever since. They look good with plain-colored trousers and tops, where they can really stand out. Brightly-colored braided belts are sometimes worn with summer ensembles for an east-coast prep look: khaki shorts, a light polo or button-fronted short-sleeved shirt, and boaters, with the bright belt holding down the center of the image.
A staple of uniforms from the Army to the Boy Scouts, canvas belts with metal buckles are a plain, functional style. Most have a flat buckle containing a sliding peg, which pins the strap in place at the desired position.
The most common styles of canvas belt are plain monochrome and monochrome with a single contrasting stripe running horizontally around the middle of the belt. Both have been in men’s casual wardrobes for the better part of a century. More elaborate versions can include stitched patterns or embroidered figures on the surface of the belt.
Also called the double D ring belt, this style is defined by the buckle. Leveraging friction and a belt that lends itself to flexibility, this is a great functional belt as it does an excellent job keeping a man’s shirt tucked in and out of his way. In a pinch these can also double as lightweight straps and ties
D Ring belts can be used when fishing, sailing, hiking, golfing, or just about any outdoor activity.
The simplest rope belts are literally just that — a rope looped around the waist, either tied off or clasped with a loop in one and and a stopper knot in the other.
Fancier, more colorful versions are more of a female fashion item than a male one, but the occasional men’s rope belt does crop up, especially in nautical circles. You’ll sometimes see them in the sorts of social setting where people spend a great deal of time talking about boats.
While the look is a bit preppy, rope belts do have the advantage of being durable and low-maintenance. They can take a soaking better than leather, and cleaning them is as easy as throwing them in the sink and wringing them out.
Vinyl and other plastics made cheap belts in any color or pattern imaginable possible. They’ve been a staple of youth fashion for generations, and are still an option for anyone who wants “loud” to be a word associated with his style.
If you’re not at a concert and you’re wearing a vinyl belt, you might be pushing your luck. They’re pretty much meant for the music scene, especially in men’s outfits. Anywhere else it’s probably a little too tacky.
Dress Belts, Worn Casually
This is the easiest option, and where most men’s belt collections start.
There’s no rule against wearing a good black leather belt with your blue jeans, shorts, or slacks. That being said – I don’t like this combination as the proportions are off – dress belts are usually thinner and look too delicate with casual clothing.
You probably still want to match footwear at that point (leather work shoes or dress boots make a nice casual step down from black oxfords), but if you want to keep the statement simple go ahead and wear your basic “just a strip of leather and a buckle” belts with your casual trousers.
This can get a little odd if the rest of your style is really casual — ripped jeans and a safety-pin-riddled flannel shirt with a neat dress belt makes people wonder what’s going on — but for most casual looks it’s a fine, neutral choice.
Got a favorite belt, or a casual look that needs a really great belt to pull it all together? Let us know in the comments!