As you may know, my mom is a teacher. About 20 years ago, she was working with small children. One day, a few of those kids got their hands on some old ’45’s, held them up, and asked my mom what they were. My mom was shocked that they had no idea what records were. This was long before the resurgence of vinyl. When I was thinking about writing a post about belts, I thought about this story because I feel like there is a whole generation of young women in the world who never wore a belt. I mean, seriously, when was the last time you belted your pants for any other reason than to fix the gape on the back of a pair of jeans? We had the low rise pants craze of the early aughties when our pants were too low slung for belts which morphed into the long over lean look of easy tops and skinny pants. Nobody tucked and certainly nobody needed belts, but now that pants are creeping up the waist and getting wider in the legs, they’re back.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WEARING BELTS
So if you feel like you need a refresher course on belts, in addition to putting together some looks, here are some tips for adding some belts to your wardrobe.
#1- Standard Belt Widths
Belts come in a huge range of widths and it can get confusing if you just want to buy a few belts that are universal enough to go with your pants. The average belt loop size on a pair of dress pants is 1.25″ and on a pair of jeans, the standard is 1.5″, making the most common standard belt width for tailored pants in the 1-1.25″ range.
#2- Does Your Belt Width Have To Match Your Belt Loop Size?
No. Although obviously, you can’t go bigger than your belt loops, you can go smaller. It’s absolutely fine to wear a skinny belt (average width 1/2″) with a pair of dress pants, and often a thinner belt will look stylish fed through larger loops. The only problem that can arise when the loops are much bigger than the belt is the belt can slide around because it has more room.
#3- Belts have a direction
I actually didn’t know this until I was doing some research. Women apparently wear their belts in the opposite direction do. Men wear belts counter-clockwise, and women wear them clockwise if you’re looking down at the belt. Wow, for once it pays to be a lefty! But, honestly, don’t stress over this one. Nobody knows this and nobody cares. People usually belt in whichever their dominant hand dictates unless the belt buckle has a clear direction.
#4- Contour Shaped Belts vs. Straight Belts
If you lay a contour-shaped belt unbuckled and flat on a table, it has a curve, like a smile. A straight belt doesn’t. Back when we were wearing lower-rise pants, contour-shaped belts were popular because the curved shape wrapped better around the body. Now that pants are sitting higher on the waist, contour-shaped belts aren’t as necessary. However, the shape is often more comfortable for people who have a bit of a tummy or who have extra curves.
#5- Do you need to wear a belt if pants have belt loops?
This depends on who you ask. There are some purists out there who will tell you that if there are loops you must add a belt. Others will say that belting is only necessary if there are loops and the button of the pants is visible vs. the button being hidden by a tab. The third group basically believes it’s your choice. As far as who is correct? I think we’ve come far enough in fashion to say that nobody is. Many people are tuck-averse anyway, making belting useless regardless of whether or not there are loops and many others who just don’t care enough about so-called belting etiquette to bother. What everyone should agree on, however, is to never belt pants if there aren’t any loops unless you want to spend the day trying to keep your belt in place.
#6- Don’t forget about the buckle
A buckle can kill a belt and the worst offense is a belt buckle in an aesthetic that doesn’t match the look of the outfit. Your best bet if you are just starting to build your belt collection back is to buy belts with the most innocuous, universal, and simplest buckles so they work with the most things. Typically, I prefer my metal to work with the metals in my look but this doesn’t have to be a hard, fast rule.
#7- The Thicker the Belt the More Uncomfortable You will Be
A few years ago, thick belting was a trend, not on pants but for cinching dresses. Thick belts, in theory looked great but in practice, they failed because they were so inflexible and uncomfortable. Before you leave the house in a thick belt, try sitting and moving around to make sure it isn’t uncomfortable when you sit or it doesn’t spin when you move. Thicker belts in softer or stretchier materials tend to be the most workable.
#8- Belts Can Make a Statement, But Not for Everyone
Belts can add a pop to a look but this approach isn’t for everyone. Statement belts cut the body in half which can shorten the look of the body and also make the body look wider in that area. Unless you are tall enough and comfortable enough bringing emphasis to this part of your body, stick with belts closer to the shade of the clothing you are belting.
#9- Do I Have to Use the Belts That Come with My Clothing?
Absolutely not. In fact, more often than not, the belts that come with clothing are super cheap unless it’s of a certain price point. Swapping out the belt for a different one can also be a fun way to change up the look of the item.
#10- Can I Remove Belt Loops?
First of all, if you’re talking about those thread chain belt loops commonly found on dresses, they were never meant to stay intact anyway. They’re just there so the belt and the dress doesn’t get separated at the store. So cut those babies off. As far as belt loops on pants are concerned, those are a bit more tricky to remove but it can be done. A tailor can easily remove them and in most cases you can use something like a seam ripper to carefully remove the stitches that attach the loops. Don’t just cut them off. You’ll be left with little nubs where the belt loops were stitched or, worse, holes. If you don’t trust yourself with a seam ripper or think the work is more intricate, take your pants to a tailor or someone with experience.
Here are looks using belts and be sure to shop for more belts at the end of this post.
This is a simple, belted look with a universal belt style from Nordstrom that doesn’t steal focus and has a simple buckle that will work with a variety of looks. A belt style like this adds subtle finish. I styled it with a gorgeous bow blouse that a client of mine recently purchased and black pants, both from Theory. I finished the outfit with gold drop earrings from Ettika and walnut low heeled pumps from Cole Haan. To answer a question you might have, belts and shoes do not have to match.
The high-waist, pleated nature of these pants from Reiss really calls for a belt. The belt loops stand out and look vacant without one. In this case, I decided to use the belt as a pop and added this leopard style. I added this ivory blouse from Nordstrom, cognac flats from Rothys, and a simple gold station necklace.
It’s hard to make out, but these pants from Banana Republic has a subtle plaid pattern. I warmed up the look using a cognac belt and slingback pumps from Vince Camuto and styled the outfit with a basic ivory t-shirt from M.M. Lafleur, a camel cardigan from Theory and the same drop earrings as in the first look.
With these wide-leg cropped pants from BOSS, I added this sleek double-buckle belt from Anthropologie and in this case, the buckle matches the aesthetic of the outfit. I added this simple novelty basic top from Ted Baker and finished the outfit with slingback flats from Naturalizer and stone hoop earrings.
Wide-leg pleated pants lend themselves well to belts. The shape of them show off the waist and enhance the curve of the hips. I styled these pants from COS with an olive top from M.M. Lafleur, a yellow skinny belt from Treasure & Bond, wedge pumps from Nine West and a pearl charm necklace from Monica Vinader.
Shop for Belts
Ready to shop for belts? Check out these additional styles