Belts are an everyday wardrobe essential that can introduce a surprising amount of complexity to your menswear shopping process. They’re the type of garment that is super easy to take for granted, but when it comes time to add a new one to your collection, dozens of unexpected questions suddenly arise, especially for those who are newer to dressing well. What width is appropriate for your style? How long should it be? Is it really necessary to own multiple colors?
Especially when preparing for a formal event, the fear of committing a fashion faux pas can add unnecessary pressure. Thankfully, with a little bit of know-how, narrowing your next belt down from dozens of potential choices to one perfect purchase doesn’t have to be too difficult. Like much else in menswear, it really comes down to measuring fit and understanding which materials, cuts, and styles work well with the type of look you’re trying to accomplish.
The Proper Fit
Let’s start with fit, since it’s a little easier: to achieve a good fit with most formal belts, you’ll want somewhere in the neighborhood of two to four inches of extra length available once you’ve comfortably buckled the belt. (This is mostly true for casual belts as well, with only one or two specific exceptions.)
Simply add a few inches to your waist measurement, or try on a belt in store to find the size that fits comfortably and looks appropriate. This is really the only major thing to keep in mind when looking for fit: just tuck that extra few inches of material under the closest belt loop and you’ll be ready to go!
Material and Style
Material and style, on the other hand, can be much more confounding. Especially in a menswear boutique like Hellman Clothiers, a wide selection of colorful and detailed belt options can make a more understated option look pretty boring. But more exciting isn’t necessarily always better.
I’m personally of the perspective that more exciting and off-the-beaten-path cuts, colors, and textures can be outstanding options for formal events, so long as they’re tastefully integrated as part of a whole outfit. The important thing is the overall impression your outfit gives off in its entirety: pairing a minimal, understated, and expertly fitted suiting option with a more showstopping belt can produce powerful results without coming across as underdressed.
When shopping for a new belt, you should be keeping in mind whether this will be an accessory to the other elements of your outfit, or the contrast piece that catches people’s eyes. A little bit of contrast can make your fashion exciting and impressive, but if your outfit is composed entirely of contrast, you’re going to look totally distracting.
If you’re going for an accessory, as I anticipate the majority of people reading this might be, you’ll almost certainly want something leather with a slimmer belt size (between 1 and 1 1/2 inches) and a silver or gold buckle. Make sure you’re matching your leathers throughout your outfit: brown belt with brown shoes, for example.
Additionally, it’s probably a wise choice to match the buckle color with other jewelry you might be wearing (silver belt buckle with silver watch, for example), but some smaller items like wedding rings or earrings don’t necessarily have to be perfectly matched.
If you’re going for a belt as a contrast piece, you’ll have a little more to keep in mind: first of all, does a high-visibility or high-detail contrast belt fit the tone of your event? Some formal events are more formal than others, and there are definitely cases where it’s simply more appropriate to opt for something classic rather than something on the more ostentatious side.
If it does, how will it interplay with the other elements you’ll be wearing? When adding contrast pieces to my own wardrobes, I often like to ask myself what ties together the bold contrast piece and the other parts of my outfit. This can be something as simple as a complimentary color or style found in both your high contrast belt and your other articles of clothing, and really makes a huge difference.
Finally, sizing: you’ll probably still want something within the 1 inch to 1 1/2 inch width range, although you might be able to get away with something ever-so-slightly wider. For materials, you can get away with more variety than “just” leather, but just ensure that whatever you select looks distinctly formal when part of your larger outfit. After all, you don’t want to clash formalities (link to 5 menswear mistakes article).
And that’s basically it! With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to select the perfect belt for the vast majority of formal event varieties. And that’s awesome, because belts are a really underrated parts of men’s fashion.
For far too many, the awesome opportunity that belts provide to break up the color and texture scheme of an outfit is wasted on middling materials and mediocre outfit composition. Belts are a powerful tool that can radically transform the impression your outfit gives off: hopefully after reading this you’ll feel more inspired to use them.
Ready to start shopping for the perfect men’s belt? Hellman Clothier’s has you covered: check out our selection of premium men’s belts, including a wide range of Anderson’s belts, on our website.