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How to Choose the Right Belt for Your Suit

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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!

Belt Sizing

 

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 concierge@blacklapel.com!

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43 thoughts on “How to Choose the Right Belt for Your Suit”

  1. Daljit Sanghera says:

    Hey.Im wearing a navy suit with brown shoes and brown belt. What colour socks will go the best?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Hi, Daljit. We’re glad to see you’ve already got your suit and coordinating leathers down. Socks are a chance to reveal some personal flair, but here’s what we have to say about how to match socks.

  2. Jual Baju Muslim Alnita says:

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    of the best blogs on the web. I will highly recommend this web site!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Thanks for the support. We’re glad we can help.

      We haven’t won any contests, but we did get some love from Real Men Real Style recently.

    1. Will a gold buckle clash with a tux? Just a simple, black calfskin belt with a gold buckle. I ask because I want to match my cufflinks, which at the moment will be gold. This is a black tie wedding. Thanks!

      1. Black Lapel says:

        Your question here about which color belt and belt buckle isn’t our main concern, what we’re worried about is your tuxedo pants having belt loops. First, we need to get this follow up question out of the way: Are you sure these are tuxedo pants? We ask because true tuxedo pants shouldn’t have belt loops. If, for whatever reason, these are tuxedo pants with belt loops, you don’t want your belt or belt buckle to be showing in a black tie ensemble. If you need a belt for these pants to stay up on your waist, you should be wearing a cummerbund or vest to cover it—both of which are appropriate for a black tie wedding. You can still rock your gold cuff links and if they end up matching a belt you need to wear—fine—just make sure the belt isn’t visible to to anyone else!

  3. For an upcoming wedding, I will be wearing a grey suit with oxblood shoes and a light blue or possibly white shirt. Would I be foolish to wear this belt -> http://www.riverisland.com/men/accessories/belts/navy-leather-and-canvas-belt-285068 ??

    Any help would be greatly and wholeheartedly appreciated!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      The link didn’t work, so it’s tough to say, but here’s our advice: An oxblood colored leather belt is the way to go here. That’s a sure fire way to create harmony in your outfit between your shoes and belt. Harmony is the name of the game when it comes to putting together an outfit.

  4. I’m wearing dark navy shoes with my grey suit for my wedding. What color belt would you recommend with that? I’m figuring black, but why not ask some experts?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      The rule of thumb still applies when it comes to matching your navy blue shoes to your belt. They may not be at the corner store, but navy blue belts are definitely available. We like the Stanley belt from British Belt Company, which comes in navy blue. Great belts are not cheap, but if you’ve already invested in a great pair of shoes, it would be a shame not to pair it with a classy matching belt. And, since these are not shoes you’ll be wearing all the time, you won’t put too much strain on this belt and it will probably last you a long long time. We say go for it.

  5. smyckestillverkning says:

    whoah this weblog is wonderful i like reading your posts.
    Keep up the great work! You already know, many people are looking round
    for this information, you could help them greatly.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Thank you, we aim to help guys dress well (and please).

  6. John Haberdasher says:

    Great article! It’s important to know how to build a clean, successful and modern outfit, and a mismatched belt can really clash with the rest.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Indeed, a belt can’t really make an outfit, but it can break one.

  7. Can I pull off a brown stylish Johnston & Murphy shoe with a medium gray pinstripe suit? Or, do I do I need to play it safe with black. Thanks.

    1. Brown + Stylish = A-Okay with almost any suit and that includes the medium gray pinstripe number you referenced. Enjoy looking dapper.

  8. Good day! I just want to give you a huge thumbs up for
    the excellent info you’ve got right here on this post. I will be
    coming back to your website for more soon.

    1. Many thanks. We’re happy to serve!

  9. My brother suggested I might like this website. He was entirely right.
    This post actually made my day. You can’t imagine just how much time I had spent looking for this info! Thanks!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We’re glad your brother passed us on. That’s brotherly love, right there! Glad to be of service.

  10. Hi,
    Can you suggest to me how to check for Full Grain Leather Belt while buying one? Please suggest to me a way of dressing up while going for an interview. Is it necessary to put on a tie or three piece suit while going for an interview for senior designation? Please suggest, my complexion is Wheatish.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Full grain leather is a big deal in the world of leather, Roy, so most brands promote the fact that their leather belts are full grain somewhere on the tag if not on the belt itself.

      As for dressing for a job interview, yes, wear a tie, no don’t wear a three-piece suit. Wearing tie says “I want this job.” to the person interviewing you while, wearing a three-piece suit says “I want YOUR job.” If you’ve got a three-piece that you love that is appropriate (i.e. navy blue, dark gray, etc.) then just leave the vest at home and wear it as a two-piece suit.

      Good luck!

  11. How about a ranger belt?
    could it be dress belt?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Ranger belts, so named for the gun-toting men who originally wore them to hold pistols in holsters at their waists, could be considered a dress belt if your dressy events include showdowns at high noon, otherwise, steer clear of these (as well as other cowboy themed items like ten gallon hats and cowboy boots) for your dressy outfits.

  12. It’s awesome to pay a quick visit this website and reading the views of all mates regarding this article, while I am also zealous of getting familiarity.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Glad you enjoyed it. Stop by any time. The style advice is free. True style is priceless.

  13. Good day,

    Whats the best shirt color and tie that goes well with a brown suit?

    Thanks
    Bilal

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Bilai, we wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s the “best” pairing, but one idea might be a pink shirt and light gold tie w/ a brown suit.

  14. Dear Black Lapel Stylists,

    Thank you SO MUCH for the belt recommendation! I bought one of each [brown and black] from Macy’s and they feel awesome. I like the look of not wearing a belt, but growing up wearing them, I feel they are [almost] a necessity for me, personally. With that being said, I have two notes to add for other readers:

    1] Both black and brown are solid colors, yes. The difference is the black one has a brown backing that is NOT reversible. The thickness of the full grain feels like it will last a long time. I personally wear a 32 off the rack, and a 34 belt size felt too big.

    2] If one is to purchase from Macy’s, I do not know about other Macy’s, but the one in Herald Square can get really messy, especially with everyone digging through belts. If you happen to carry a smartphone, if you pull up the webpage of the desired belt, and check for it “in-store,” it will display the UPC number. This is the number you want to correspond with the belt you are looking for because not all the belts are labeled that specifically.

    Hope this helps and thank you once again!

  15. This is a very nice article! i’ve actually learned a lot from this. I never really know how to choose a perfect sized belt for me now, after reading this I will bear this tips on my mind and be reminded of this when i’ll purchase another belt for me. Thank you!

    1. Glad this helped Bonnie! =)

  16. If we are looking to buy a full-grain leather belt to invest in, what would your style team recommend? Thanks!

    1. Hi Kato, one we recommend would be Perry Ellis Full Grain Leather Belt (pictured in the main photo). Full-grain cowhide as the description suggests, excellent value and a clean classic style that works as a timeless wardrobe staple. Hope that helps!

      Here’s the link:
      http://www1.macys.com/shop/product/perry-ellis-belt-full-grain-leather-belt?ID=604917

  17. Good article, but what are your recommendations for the dress belts that consist of a plate-style buckle (the buckles without the prong)? Not the country western style, the plain and supposedly (according to advertising) stylish ones?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Jordan, good question! We think they’re perfectly fine to wear with suits as long as the buckle is simple and tasteful like this reversible plaque buckle belt from Ferragamo: http://www.parkandbond.com/product/82875375

  18. No love for the engine turned buckle? 😉

    But in all seriousness, the only thing I’d add to this guide is a note about wearing them with three piece suits. I know we’ll disagree here given what your models are wearing, but they’re not optimal in my opinion. They make the waistcoat bottom bulge out and oftentimes they’re quite visible if the trouser waistband isn’t covered by the waistcoat. This disrupts the visual flow, which should be uninterrupted. Braces and/or side tabs are a much better option for this reason.

    1. Great point Jovan! Good thing a savvy gent like yourself can order suspender buttons and/or side tabs with your custom suit pants here at Black Lapel! 😉

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