There’s something to be said about the power of a good belt. Don’t believe us? Check out one of the many “wearing vs. styling” videos on TikTok as proof. The trend, which has more than 119.2 million views on TikTok, shows the difference between thrown-on clothes and a fully conceptualized look. But despite how common belts are, there are still so many questions regarding the ins and outs of wearing one for fashion purposes.
I’m a firm believer that every well-dressed woman should have a few different types of belts in her arsenal. As someone who’s had their fair share of belt styles on hand since childhood, mostly black or brown versions I wore to keep my school-uniform pants from falling down, I realize just how hard the accessory works in your everyday wardrobe. That can mean something as simple as finding the right vintage concho belt to temper the fit of a billowy dress or adding one with a prominent buckle (similar to the style seen at Loewe and in the film Oppenheimer) to a denim-and-white-tee look. Whether your belt is tempering the fit or adding dimension to an outfit, it can give you the ability to explore the full range of your look.
“A belt has the power to completely transform an outfit,” says Jordan Grant, content director for London-based commerce company Heat. “It can tie a look together or act as a focal point, balance proportions, and create a stronger silhouette.” Below, we answer your belt questions.
Anytime — especially when trousers are too long or too big. That is according to Macy Eleni Harris, TikTok’s resident “thrifting queen,” who thinks there’s no right or wrong time to wear a belt. “They can also be used anytime you want to add a fun pop of color or texture to a look,” she says. “They’re really great for making a traditionally fancy look feel more casual.”
Grant had similar sentiments, adding that whenever you feel the outfit needs something extra to pull it together, regardless of the occasion, just throw on a belt.
Right now, it’s all about wide belts. “Like this one by Alaïa,” says Grant. “Since Diesel’s fall-winter 2022 belt skirt, we’re seeing wider belts being worn with a low rise. You can’t go wrong with a classic white oversize men’s shirt worn as a dress with a wide black leather belt.”
If your personal preferences lean a little more obscure and you want something that’s unique to your closet, sourcing vintage belts is definitely the way to go, as many new designs have references that date back decades. It’s a great way to embrace some of the current trends while fine-tuning your personal style to the point where trends aren’t top of mind.
Of all the ways that one can wear a belt, I’ve found cinching it around a dress to be not only my favorite but also the easiest. By design, the functional accessory is meant to help wearers temper their waists, and with the one-step nature of a dress, adding a belt instantly makes it a little more interesting. My steadfast rule is that the billowier the proportions, the easier it is to pull off the look. Harris wears hers lying flat and looser down on the hips for a laid-back feel, while Grant suggests that not all dresses are suitable for belting in the first place. “Opt for a dress with a defined waist or a style that allows for cinching,” she advises, adding that this will play into the belt’s overall statement.
A statement belt is meant to stand out, and there are a few ways to go about wearing one. According to Grant, the statement has more to do with the way the belt is worn rather than the design itself, though the details play a big role. “The obvious criteria for me would be a belt that draws attention, whether it be the size, studs, crystals, or a bright color,” she says. She gives an example we all might recognize: “The black-and-silver studded belt Carrie wears three or four times in the first Sex and the City film is a statement belt I always think about and wish I owned!”
As we move away from monograms and toward a quieter approach to luxury, she points out that we’re shifting into a new phase of logomania in which belts and bags have a more subtle nod to their brands. Loewe’s Amazona belt, for example, has a discreet rectangular buckle decked out with the instantly recognizable logo at the front — not to mention it’s a dead ringer for the highly coveted belt seen onscreen in the box-office hit Oppenheimer.
When it comes to mixing metal tones, consumers usually fall into one of two categories: those who are against it and those who welcome the challenge. Harris falls in the latter category, and she encourages you to absolutely go for it. It’s something she does quite a bit, as evident on her TikTok account. Grant says that though she personally struggles with mixing silver and gold, there’s no need to be “too precious about it.” I, on the other hand, fall somewhere in between. Don’t get me wrong; I love the contrast of wearing silver and gold together in very specific, casual situations, like running errands or grabbing dinner with friends. But on a daily basis, for work and more professional settings, I opt for one or the other — from my jewelry and hardware on my bags down to my belt.
Similar to mixing gold with silver, there are a lot of unspoken rules around brown belts, particularly when worn with black shoes. But the antiquated restriction has become a lot more lax. “Brown belts harmonize well with outfits that feature earthy and neutral colors, such as greens, beiges, and other shades of brown,” says Grant. “They also tie in with brown boots.” In most instances, you probably gravitate toward either black or brown rather than switching off regularly between the two colors. “I’m definitely more of black-belt girl,” Harris says. “But if I am leaning into wearing a brown boot or bag, I’ll add a belt to match.”
Harris shares a tip she learned awhile back from a leathersmith on YouTube. “You’ll need a razor blade, a nail, two nuts, and some kind of hammer or hammerlike object,” she says. “You use the sharp object to make a small, light hole to basically just mark where the final hole will be. Then you take the screw and a nut that the screw can easily go through, place the nut under the belt — directly under the tiny hole you made — and place the screw on top of where that hole is, lined up without going through the nut. Once you have it all placed, take a hammer and gently hit the screw into place. It should go right through the nut. Then take off that nut and replace it with the larger nut, give it a few more taps from the hammer, and the nail should glide all the way through. Clean up any excess leather scraps with the razor blade. It sounds like a lot, but it’s a great way to expand the life span of belts you already have or give new life to one from the thrift that isn’t quite your size.”
However, if you want a less cumbersome process, there is a plethora of leather-hole-punching contraptions on Amazon — like this professional-grade puncher with more than 15,000 reviews singing its praises.
The popular Khaite belt — which has flat studded silver details and retails for $550 — is out of the average person’s reach. So Grant suggests searching for the look at brands with products of a similar quality. “Isabel Marant always has a great selection of belts that are classics you’ll wear over and over again,” she says. “For a more price-friendly option, check out Raey.” An in-house brand of luxury e-commerce platform Matches Fashion, Raey has launched chic seasonless pieces, including a vast selection of belts such as a studded suede style with an artful buckle.
Since belts have evolved beyond their practical function, fashion folks are wearing them in plenty of new ways — including draping them over pants that don’t have belt loops. For Grant, this is especially true in the case of chain or beaded belts, where they’re more of an adornment than they are pragmatic. “There are no rules in fashion,” Harris says. “I actually prefer to wear them in less conventional ways.”
Packing belts in a suitcase can be a surprisingly difficult feat. The goal is to avoid bending them in unusual ways that might distort their shape altogether. Thankfully, there are a few different methods for packing them up to ensure they arrive at your destination unscathed. “I like to lay my belts flat at the bottom of my suitcase instead of rolling them so they take up less space,” says Harris. But Grant has a different approach, which has protected her arsenal of belts thus far. “I roll up leather belts and pop them in dust bags,” she says. “I try to keep my chain Chanel belts, which I love to collect, in their dust bags and boxes, and I always carry those in my hand luggage.”