Shirts were my first love. I had over a dozen dress shirts in my closet before giving into the necessity of a second pair of pants. Whether shoes or ties came next it’s difficult to remember. Pants took a while. I can’t say why. Tailored goods, likely stemming from a scarcity in capital, were late, too. Though they probably still came before pants. Of course much of what I snagged in those early days wouldn’t stand up to my more seasoned sartorial palate, but the intent was there to do great work in the field of men’s dress.
So what was the last item of sartorial errata to beg my scholarship? It was one quite literally at the center of my wardrobe. Long after I’d come to understand the sacred proportions of a spread collar, the proper roll of a lapel, and the art of the trouser break, I was holding the whole affair together with what may as well have been mover’s straps.
Now this is not to say that I mastered every last nuance of every last article of clothing and accessory, but I had studied the various phyla of each item and had established some understanding of what made a good thing and a bad thing and what was a good thing for me and what wasn’t. So while the verdicts may remain in deliberation, ample evidence had at least been submitted in discovery.
The belt had always seemed neutral somehow. As though there was no ground it could gain or forfeit. I had simple brown leather straps with matte silver buckles, mostly rectangularish. I think I may even have had a ribbon belt. Maybe. But it just didn’t seem to matter. To this day I’m surprised by the pedestrian offerings at even the most hallowed menswear bastions, and this sort of weak tea may have been partially responsible for my early beliefs that belts were simply not fussed over.
All of that changed with this belt here. I can’t recall the precise genesis of the desire to own one of these “types” of belts. I don’t think that I had a fully formed understanding of the engine turned buckle and croc strap, though I may have seen the configuration and admired it. But I grabbed this from J.Crew and immediately things started to change.
The first major realization that struck me was that all of my belts, and most belts in general, were too thick. Like wristwatches, belts seem to have gained more muscular hardware and grown their straps to match. Looking back to images from Old Hollywood and Apparel Arts type prints there appears a lithe elegance in items like belts.
The 1″ belt became the absolute standard and I’ve yet to waver from it, though I’ve found myself considering a 3/4″ Tory job.
Even back then I knew that the strap that this buckle came with wasn’t nearly elegant enough. A quick Ask Jeeves (I assume that was the dominant search engine in 2007 or so) query and I found Beltmaster. $15 for a faux croc strap and I was off to the races.
Unlike some, my wardrobe doesn’t vary much from day to day. I work so much at a job I’ve held for so long that I always sort of look the same. My jackets are all soft and sack-like, my pants are generally jeans or worn-in chinos, and my shirts are poorly cared for dress shirts or OCBDs. So the belt often sets the tone more than any other items.
Another workhorse has been the woven belt. This is probably not the model I would have chosen, but after seeing it and grabbing it from Club Monaco I’ve had no reason to replace it or add any other woven belt. Likely never will. In fact, given this belt’s infamy on Tumblr I don’t think I could bear to part with it.
Descending in order of dressiness, the surcingle belt is awfully useful. For whatever reason I have yet to pick it up in the most celebrated color way: Navy w/ Red Stripe. All things in time…
There’s a lot of attention paid to the novelty buckle and while I wouldn’t turn down an oyster shell or crab claw, I wouldn’t really go our of my way to grab one either. They’re generally too distracting. I have one novelty belt, a silver horse-bit job from Ralph Lauren and it doesn’t get much wear. Usually I let it peak out from something. Otherwise it seems garish.
A minor digression on form as we head toward the conclusion. It’s generally said that you should use the middle hole of the belt for correct sizing. I don’t do this. Maybe it’s my challenging shape or the wiring starting to go, but I prefer a longer belt. It started when I got the woven deal from a few photos up. It was a 38″ waist (I’m a 33/34 depending on sammich intake levels) and usually wear a 34″ or 36″ belt. Initially I put it aside to take to my cobbler who’s done some great leatherwork to shorten, but I ended up wearing it a few times and found that I liked the extra belt and how it sort of flopped over. It gave it a little bit of character and since it was such a thin belt it didn’t seem burdensomely phallic.
So when I contacted Narragansett Leathers to check another key belt off my list I ordered a little extra length so that the bridle leather could soften and flop over like the woven. It’s already started with only 6 months or so of wear. I can’t wait for this belt to start to look like my Filson handles.
So as I’ll close the essay with a few more pictures riffing on the croc strap and buckle scenario. I eventually stepped up to the real deal sterling silver engine turned model:
But what has garnered much more attention since its web debut is the Sid Mashburn plain brass buckle. While I won’t be getting my initials etched into it, I’m certainly leaving my mark on it.