If perfection is in the details, the belt you wear with your suit is as integral to your overall look as the pattern of your suit fabric or the shoes you choose. Still, belts are often diminished to that strap of leather meant to hold up your pants. In this short primer, we’ll explore the basics of men’s belts in the context of suits, answering some of the most common questions including the purpose of belts, how to properly wear a belt and how to distinguish the quality of your leather belt.
Part 1: On Use
A Belt as an Accessory, not a Necessity
There is an ongoing style debate on whether belts are even necessary when wearing a suit. Why the debate? Because a belt is an accessory that should never be a necessity for achieving fit. Since it’s not a necessity of fit, it is a sartorial choice…and when it comes to sartorial choices, it’s up to the individual. Stylistically speaking, the presence of a belt breaks the vertical plane of an individual in half, which can have a visual shortening or widening effect. Thus, going without a belt means less visual interruption when looking upon an individual, which can have a heightening and slimming effect. Advocates of the sans belt look often opt to have their belt loops removed by their tailor and adjustable side tabs added* (essentially little belts made of the same suit fabric, attached on each side).
The takeaway is this: suit pants (or all pants for that matter) should sit on your waist without the need for a belt and therefore, a belt should never be a band aid for wearing baggy or ill-fitting pants. If your pants are not staying up without a belt, you may have a case of BFD and a visit to the tailor (or the Salvation Army donation box) is necessary.
*Note: An online option for adjustable side tabs for Black Lapel suits is coming soon, and are available now on special request!
Even if your pants do fit properly, you might like wearing a belt simply because you like the look or are used to having one on. After all, when we see belt loops, we naturally want to put a belt through them. So knowing your proper belt size is the obvious next step. To get the right size, simply take your off-the-rack pant waist size and go one size bigger. For example, if you wear pants with a 34 waist, you should wear a 36 sized belt. Most belts have 5 holes and when trying on a belt, a good rule of thumb is that the third (or middle) hole should be the one that should be used. And if you have some belts in your close that are a little too big, you can always shorten it.
Part 2: On Wear
Matching a Belt to Your Outfit
So how do you match your belt to your suited outfit? It’s simple and straightforward: simply match the color and finish of your shoes with your belt. For example, a pair of black oxfords would call for a black leather belt. A pair of brown wing tips? Yup, you got it…a brown belt. This is a very simple rule. Break it and risk others thinking that you’re a college intern or that you still live with your mom.
Dress vs. Casual
How do you determine if a belt is a dress belt or a casual belt? For starters, if the buckle is oversized, unique in design and/ or contains a Saturday morning cartoon character from your childhood, it’s clearly a casual belt. Typically, a dress belt is going to be around 1 1/4” inches wide with a plain, single buckle. Anything wider than that is going to be better for casual wear. As for the leather, a dress belt is often going to be calfskin with a smoother finish. Woven fabrics and more ostentatious, patterned leathers like crocodile or ostrich are in the middle – they can be worn either with a suit or with a dressier, casual outfit… just keep them appropriate to the occasion.
Looking for a fail-safe guideline for wearing dress belts with a suit? Choose a single color leather belt with either a plain silver or brass buckle. Keep it simple, classic, and let the suit and the rest of your more visible accessories do the talking.
Part 3: On Quality
Determining the Quality of the Leather
We’ve said it before but it bears repeating: invest in quality pieces, especially when it comes to staples. You’ll save money in the long run. A man’s belt is no exception. When it comes to calfskin leather belts, there are different types of leather corresponding to varying degrees of quality. Here are some of the more prominent grades of belts you may see:
(click on image to enlarge)
Now before you go out and drop hundreds on the highest grade of cattle hide, first ask yourself this question: Do you need your belt to hold up your pants? If the answer is “Yes”, then the first step is to get a better fitting pair of pants (we can help with that). If the answer is “No”, then the choice to wear a belt with your suit–like with a pocket square or timepiece–is ultimately yours. Choose wisely, look good and be confident.
Got any more questions about belts? Leave a comment or shoot us a message at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Enter your email below to get the latest from
The Compass delivered straight to your inbox.