The belt is having a revival. Having long been a functional item and a sartorial afterthought, there is nowadays an array of styles, textures and colours to choose from, making it the perfect accessory to make your own and showcase some individuality with. But beware, as with every accessory, there are a few rules that should be followed: read on for our styling advice and pitfalls to avoid.
"I do not want to tell people what to wear, I want to help them discover their own individuality and to express this through their belt."
- Justin Rhodes, Elliot Rhodes
Belts date back to the Bronze Age. So-called belts were very functional back then and were used in stead of pockets or bags to carry belongings, tools and weapons. They were made from tree bark, then cuts of fabric and leather.
By 100BC, belts had evolved into a status of power and status when Greek and Roman soldiers used them not only to shield their body but also as a mark of their rank. To this day, belts remain an important way to show allegiance and status: much like Franks believed a man seized power over their enemy when capturing his belt, boxing champions are still crowned with a colour-coded belt.
In the Middle Ages, men wore belts on their hips to draw in their waist and elongate their body, creating an idealised male trim physique of broad shoulders with a small waist - giving the distinctive look of that time. This very much reflected how women used belts as an alternative to corsets and bodices to minimise their waists too.
In the 1800s, the invention of suspenders played a large part in phasing out the belt: often trousers were high-waisted making belts uncomfortable to wear, and men favoured suspenders instead.
The twentieth century, however, was pivotal in the history of the belt: in 1922, Levi Strauss & Co, the company famed for making blue jeans, decided to consistently add belt loops to its trousers to give the wearers more flexibility, changing the history of belts forever and turning it into an indispensable accessory for a well-fitted attire very since.
At the same time, suspenders were neglected even more as they became associated with war and military uniforms, and became relegated to underwear. A shortage of raw materials during WWII made the belt, which had seen a revival until then, more uniform and therefore less sartorially elevated. This, however, might have been the catalyst for the booming revolution of the 1950s, when men accessorised their plain belts with an array of metal pieces and loops, and innovation in materials brought new textures, fabrics and colours to the belt market. This was the beginning of belts as a sartorial accessory focused almost entirely on aesthetics rather than functionality.
Nowadays, belts have become an accessory in their own right. Whilst they do still hold trousers up, their primary function is very much to finish off an outfit and bring it together.
There are many factors to take into consideration when selecting a belt:
"Just like modern buildings get stripped down to the very basics to expose their inner workings, we seek to create timeless accessories while being radically transparent about our materials and factories.[...] We want to turn belts into the relevant accessory it should be."
- Jan Jülicher, Dalgado
"Crafted products are more than just functional – they say something about our humanity. For each step of a production process there is the story of someone’s dedication and mastery of a skill. There is intimate understanding of materials, tools and processes, and how to create something useful and beautiful with those inconstant elements. Nuance and imperfection are purposefully built in and celebrated, rather than engineered out."
Chris Goldstraw, Awling
Though it may not be a power accessory as such nor be as inherent to classic menswear as braces, it is time for the belt to be reassessed and to be given the place it deserves in any wardrobe.
Be it an accent or a statement piece, a belt will greatly add to your outfits and can help tie all the pieces together. Belts have transformed their identity: no longer a practical accessory, they have in recent years become a sartorial must-have, almost just as important as a pocket squares or colourful socks - and brands such as Awling and Dalgado are paving the way for that movement.