Man’s Ultimate Guide To Belts | Difference Between Casual And Formal


Most of us have one or two belts, max – often in black and brown. But most guys don’t realize is that what we perceive as a purely functional, mundane item can make or break an outfit.

The right belt visually pulls your outfit together. It’s a classic men’s accessory – the finishing touch; a sign of a well-dressed man. The wrong belt draws unwanted attention to your belly and makes you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to find the perfect belt (or belts!). I’ll break out the anatomy of the belt, and show you what belt materials work, and why. Gents – this is my ultimate men’s belt guide.

Today we’re covering:

Men’s Belt Guide: What Is A Belt?

Infographic Men’s Belt Anatomy

A belt is a cinching system that goes around the waist using tension to hold up a person’s pants. A piece of rope can be a belt in an emergency!

It’s also a method of carrying things. Think about Batman and his utility belt, or a gentleman who decides to concealed carry.

But most belts are purely decorative.

The vast majority of belts have two parts: the buckle and the strap. (The piece of string would just be a strap, but that’s outside the scope of this website.)

Many belts also have a keeper loop and/or an end tip (the end tip is usually metal or leather on cloth belts). The end tip protects the end of the belt and can make it easier to buckle. After it’s buckled, the keeper loop stops the free end flapping around.

In some belts, the strap and buckle are permanently joined together; in others, they can be taken apart and switched out. The part of the buckle that joins it to the strap is called the chape.

Men’s Belt Guide: Belt Buckle Types

Infographic Men’s Belt Buckle Styles

#1 Frame-style buckle

  • Seen on nearly all formal belts, and also on casual belts
  • Strap goes through frame
  • Prong goes through holes in the strap to fasten the belt

#2 Plate-style buckle

  • Usually detachable – paired with snap belts (straps without buckles)
  • Plate is usually decorated – e.g. in cowboy and biker belts
  • Hook goes through the front of the strap
  • Throw (distance from chape to hook) adds to the length of your belt

#3 Box-frame buckle

box frame buckle style
  • Box is hollow, metal and open-ended
  • Post presses the strap against the inside of the box
  • No need for holes in the strap

#4 Box-out buckle

  • Mostly found in women’s fashion
  • A simple leather or synthetic frame – the belt threads through
  • Not very durable – more for decoration

#5 Micro-adjustable buckle

  • Uses a ratchet-style track system that requires a special type of strap
  • A folding piece of metal presses the ‘teeth’ of the track system into the strap
  • No need for belt holes – allows minute adjustments

#6 O-ring/D-ring buckle

O-ring/D-ring belt buckle style
  • One or two rings form the buckle
  • Belt is fastened by threading through them
  • Casual, used with braided, webbing and canvas belts

#7 Snap buckle

  • ‘Male’ and ‘female’ ends snap together like a seat belt
  • Very casual and functional, often found in outdoor pursuits gear
  • Not to be confused with snap belts

Men’s Belt Guide: Belt Strap Materials

#1 Leather

Cow And Calf

men's belt made out of calf and cow leather

Cowhide is the most common leather used for belts, and comes in a few variations:

  • Full grain leather is the best looking and most hardwearing, while calfskin is the softest and most supple. The highest quality formal belts will be full grain calfskin.
  • Braided leather is used with a frame-style buckle to make very adjustable belts: you can put the prong in any hole in the braid. Multicolored braided leather is a casual summer look, while monochrome braided leather is too casual for a suit but good with a sports jacket.
  • Tooled leather is decorated by “tooling”, a stamping process that leaves patterns on the leather, which are often then stained to make them stand out. Tooled belts work well with simple outfits, such as a pair of jeans and a basic button-down shirt.
  • Suede is also often used for casual belts. It’s less durable than full-grain leather, but usually has a full-grain leather backing for extra strength.

Exotic Leathers

brown men's belt made out of exotic leather

Exotic leathers are all technically casual, but can work as formal if kept subtle with a dark color like black.

  • Ostrich belts are a bold look, dotted with pockmarks from the feathers – imagine the biggest, most stylish plucked chicken you’ve ever seen. They tend to fetch a high price.
  • Lizard, crocodile and alligator belts are even more upscale with very recognizable patterns and textures.

#2 Other Materials

Men’s Belt Guide: Formal Or Casual Belt?

Men’s Belt gig line

Just as with shoes, there are dress belts and men’s casual belts, although there’s overlap between the two styles. Dress belts are for wearing with suits and business attire. Casual belts can be worn with anything down to jeans and shorts.

What belt to wear for formal occasions?

classic leather belt to wear for formal occasions

Leather is the only suitable material for dress belts (or a really good imitation leather if you’re vegetarian.)

Black and brown are the most formal colors for leather; some other colors you might see towards the smart-casual end of formal belts are oxblood, tan, navy, gray, and white for summer.

When you’re wearing a formal belt, be careful to match belt and shoe leathers plus the metal in an outfit. Your belt should be not only the same color but also the same level of shine as your shoes and other leather accessories. The metal buckle should be the same color as your other metal accessories.

What belt to wear for casual events?

belt with stack of jeans ready to wear for a casual event

For casual occasions, you should still match your metals but you’ve got more leeway on the leathers — brown with tan or tan with white is fine.

What kind of belt should you wear with jeans? In a pinch, you can also wear your formal belt with jeans. It doesn’t look quite right, but it’s where most men’s belt collections start.

Why doesn’t it look right? For a start, formal belt leather is usually shiny and sleek, while leather in casual belts is rugged and matte.

Secondly, casual leather work belts are broader, tougher, and stiffer than leather dress belts, making them great for concealed carry. They’re usually made to take interchangeable buckles – anything from frame-style to a cowboy buckle.

A bigger belt buckle is less formal. Dress belts usually have a small frame-style buckle. Casual belts can have almost any buckle as long as it goes with the style of the outfit (for instance, you might want to wear cowboy boots with that cowboy buckle.)

Men’s Belt Guide: Accent Or Statement Belt?

men's cowboy belt buckle
This plate-style belt buckle definitely makes a statement!

An accent piece is subtle, low-key, and complements the rest of your outfit. It’s usually in coordinating or neutral colors.

A statement piece demands attention and contrasts with the rest of your outfit. It works best when the outfit isn’t too filled with colors and patterns.

Casual belts can be an accent or statement accessory. Dress belts are pretty much always accents.

Don’t wear an eyecatching statement belt if you’re not confident about drawing attention to your waist.

Men’s Belt Guide: How To Buy A Quality Belt

guy in department store checking various belts quality

Don’t succumb to the lure of cheap leather — it cracks easily and makes you look shabby.

Indicators of good quality in belts include:

Brand names, in my opinion, are NOT worth paying more for when it comes to belts, because nobody’s likely to notice where your belt came from! If you’ve got a little extra to spend, invest in quality instead.

Men’s Belt Guide: Belt Sizing Guide For Men

Men Belt Size Guide

How to size a belt for a man

Ok so you’ve decided what style you want and you’ve found a quality belt in a store. Now you just need to find the right size. So where to start?

Your belt size should be 1-2 inches longer than the size of your pants waist. So if you take a 40″ in pants, you want a 41″ or 42″ inch belt.

Alternatively, you can work out the size of your new belt from your old belt. Measure from where you always buckle it to the opposite end of the strap, and get the closest size to that.

When buying a plate buckle, remember the throw (distance from chape to hook) adds to the length of your belt.

If you love a belt that’s the wrong size (or your size has changed since you bought the belt) DO NOT be tempted to gouge a hole in it with your pocket knife or kitchen scissors. It will be obvious, and the belt will end up breaking. Take it to your local cobbler to get a hole made properly.

Dress belts should only have a short tail end. You just want a few inches of leather to the left of the buckle when it’s fastened, long enough to tuck through the first belt loop or the loop on the belt itself if it has one.

What is the best width for a men’s belt?

Mens Belt width

As a general rule, a wider belt will be more casual.

Dress belts should ideally be 1.25-1.5 inches in width. Look for a dress belt on the end of this scale if you have a lean build (with a waist under 34″) or are wearing tapered pants. Take care not to go beneath 1.25 inches or you’re hitting female territory.

By contrast, casual belts can be wider and are usually about 1.5-2 inches wide. A wider belt will be perfect for jeans. It will also pair best with a statement buckle.

When Should You NOT Wear A Belt

The answer is you don’t need a belt if your pants don’t have belt loops.

In general, you should wear a belt with all pants (including jeans) that have belt loops. Leaving it off can look sloppy. But, if your outfit is looking too busy or you don’t have a belt that matches it, you might be better off going beltless — provided your pants fit well enough!

Are suspenders appropriate? Yes, as a stylish and fun alternative to belts. Although it’s a little more effort, when it comes to button suspenders vs clip options I recommend the former. Clip-on suspenders like the gentleman above is wearing can damage your waistband over time.

Suspenders are a great way of dressing well for larger men — they’ll hold up your pants more effectively and reduce bulk at the waist. They also make a short guy look taller (or at least, they don’t make you look shorter by breaking the line of your body the way belts do.)

Men’s Belt Guide: My 3 Top Go-To Belts For Men

Like most of you, I don’t have unlimited funds and closet space. If a gentleman could only have three belts, this is where I would recommend he start his collection:

Dress belt – for business and evening wear

  • 1-1.5 inch strap
  • Only about 0.1 inch thick
  • Black or dark brown leather
  • Usually shiny
  • Undecorated – maybe a little broguing or hand burnishing
  • Small, plain, polished buckle – normally frame style
  • Match leathers, match metals

Casual belt – for jeans

  • 1.5 inch strap or wider
  • Can be thicker than a dress belt
  • Tan or natural brown leather
  • Matte, rugged and can be braided, textured or decorated
  • Can have a larger and/or more decorative buckle – plate, box or frame
  • Doesn’t have to match leathers exactly (e.g. brown with tan, tan with white)

Webbed fabric belt – for summer casual

  • 1.5 inch strap or wider
  • Choose a strap color that goes with your wardrobe
  • Strap can be patterned
  • Usually has a double D-ring buckle
  • Wear with chinos or shorts

If you can only afford one belt, start by purchasing the dress belt because looking put together is never more important than when you’re at work. Then progress to the casual leather and fabric belts you can wear after work and on the weekends.

Click here to discover our FULL ultimate men’s belt guide infographic.

FAQs: Man’s Ultimate Guide To Belts

What are the key things to consider when buying a men’s belt?

The main considerations include your waist size, the belt material, buckle style, color, width, and the style or occasion for which you are buying the belt.

How do I determine my belt size?

As a general rule, your belt size should be 1-2 inches larger than your pant size. For example, if you wear a size 34 pant, your belt size should be 36.

Should the color of my belt match the color of my shoes?

As a traditional fashion rule, it’s often recommended that your belt and shoes should be a close color match, particularly for formal occasions.

How do I choose the correct belt width?

Dress belts are usually between 1 – 1.5 inches wide, while casual belts can be up to 1.75 inches wide. Consider your body type and the type of trousers you’ll be wearing with the belt when choosing the width.

Should the metal of my belt buckle match the metal of my watch and other accessories?

It’s often recommended that the metals of your accessories should match, especially for formal occasions.

How do I care for and maintain a leather belt?

Keep your leather belt in a cool, dry place and avoid exposure to direct sunlight. Consider using a leather conditioner occasionally to maintain its luster and prevent cracking.

How long should a good quality belt last?

With proper care, a high-quality leather belt should last several years, if not a decade or more.

Can I buy a belt online?

Yes, you can buy belts online. Just make sure to accurately measure your waist size to ensure a good fit.

Can I wear a brown belt with black shoes?

It’s generally not recommended to mix brown and black in your attire, especially for formal settings. Ideally, your belt should match your shoes.

Is it necessary to wear a belt if my pants fit well?

A belt isn’t necessary if your pants fit well, but it can be a nice fashion accessory and add a finishing touch to your outfit.

Can I wear a belt with suspenders?

It’s generally considered a fashion faux pas to wear both, as they serve the same functional purpose – to hold up your pants. Choose one or the other.

How do reversible belts work?

Reversible belts have a twistable buckle, allowing you to flip the belt over and change its color. They’re versatile and suitable for different outfits.

What are braided belts, and when should I wear them?

Braided belts are made from intertwined strands of material, often leather. They’re typically more casual and work well with jeans or casual trousers.

What does “genuine leather” mean when buying a belt?

“Genuine leather” is a term that refers to a specific quality of leather. While it is real leather, it’s a lower grade and not as durable as top-grain or full-grain leather.

Can I shorten a belt that is too long?

Yes, some leather shops offer services to shorten belts. Alternatively, you can do it yourself with the right tools, but be cautious as incorrect adjustments may ruin the belt.

What’s the difference between a dress belt and a casual belt?

The main differences lie in their width, buckle type, and finish. Dress belts are usually thinner with a shiny finish and a simpler buckle, while casual belts are wider, with a matte finish and a larger buckle.

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