The belt has long been one of life’s great mediators, dealing with the no-mans-land twixt the geographical north and south of one’s anatomy; an undisciplined and lawless region. For the borderland of the loins and lower limbs and the head and torso is a meeting of the emotional and the rational self. Well governed, and the transition between the two realms is seamless, resulting in sartorial equilibrium. Unregulated, and the ruinous hybrid ruptures the normally autonomous category of Chap, leaving a precarious creature mined of the darkest dreams of some rogue taxidermist.
And you’ve seen the result: strutting and trilling like some terrible deformity, often sporting a lion’s head that wouldn’t shame the foot of Nelson’s column, it’s a man’s way of letting the world know he has lived, and not simply passed over the earth like a shadow. Unlike his buckle, which casts a profile the size of Belgium. In his mind’s eye, he’s John Wayne. In the World’s eye, he’s Wayne; a travelling confession to all that a belt shouldn’t be.
Sense & Sensibility
When one’s trouser style makes braces redundant, the belt enters the field of play. And although it is the simplest of accessories, even the most pedestrian of belts can add a sense of grace to your appearance; complimenting, not dominating one’s look. Yet achieving harmony is not an effortless feat. There is more to buying a belt than simply acquiring something to keep your trousers up.
The first step requires one to cast aside what we shall name the Wedding Suit Strategy. This is a misshaped ideology that results in significant investment in clothing that sees little use, for example at weddings, while, conversely, limiting one’s expenditure on wardrobe staples that could last longer than your average marriage. Such is the path of the fool. Invest wisely, and you’ll have a handsome accessory that will walk through life with you, marking the passage of time, taking on the patina of age – and looking the better for it.
The Economy of Handmade
For an item that should give at least 20 years’ good service, the slightly elevated cost of a handmade belt makes perfect sense. It’s a financially sound investment. Each belt is hand cut, hand stitched and hand finished. The maker’s mark is on every facet of production – for everything, right down to the thread and the number of stitches per inch has been considered, making each and every belt unique.
Material/Colours – You may settle on anything from the Holy Trinity of brown, black or tan leather. Other variants are available but best left to women, children and superheroes.
Matching – Whenever possible match your belt to your shoe colour, and keep like with like. With gloss shoes, wear a gloss belt, with matt shoes, don a matt belt.
Buckles – The larger the buckle, the less formal it is (but leave excessively large buckles to Lemmy and the 1980s). Formal buckles tend to be small, flat, and usually gold or silver.
Length – There should be just enough leather to fasten into the first belt loop. Err on the side of brevity if uncertain.
Style – belts come in two styles, formal and casual. As a rule of thumb, if your belt is as wide as your thumb, it’s formal (unless your digits are akin to Bury black puddings).
Take a leather belt you regularly use and thread it through your trousers.
Fasten your belt in its regular position, noting carefully which hole is used to fasten the buckle tongue through.
Remove your belt and lay it on a flat surface. Now measure from the regular fastening hole to where the leather turns through the buckle.
This measurement is the size of belt you need to order – usually a size larger than your trousers; for example, if your trousers are 34″, you would usually require a 36″ belt.
A Brace of Belts for the Faint Trousered
Tim Hardy & The Worcestershire Leather Company
Tim’s is a straight story – he fell in love with leather as a boy on his father’s farm, entered the trade, and stayed. Amen. Now in his 4th decade of work, this Master Craftsman hand-makes all the belts, using the finest English leathers and fittings. You order it, he makes it.
Having trained at the famous Cordwainer Technical College, he set up his own business from his parents’ garden shed. Inauspicious perhaps, but the quality of his work was quickly recognised and saw him design ranges for companies such as Gieves & Hawkes, Purdey and Ralph Lauren. He’s even brought the unique Quick Release Belt Buckle back from the dead, after finding an old pattern in a Ludlow market. During the Great Fire of London, tenders were equipped with this buckle style on hose retaining straps, allowing for the swift release of their hoses. Today they allow for quick release of one’s hosiery.
Toby Thomas founded Ottely in 2011, upon leaving a career in the art world of London’s West End. An unconventional beginning, but this equipped him with an aesthete’s eye and an appreciation of beautifully crafted products. It’s an approach that underpins all his leatherwork, where he seeks out the finest British made leathers and fittings from companies still using traditional methods. Everything is hand made, employing the traditional techniques and skills that the masters of the first half of the 20th century utilized. The result is products that will last a lifetime and improve with the years.
Hand-made rarely comes in a more truthful form. For the hands that cut the leather, stitch and finish the belt belong to John Hagger, company founder and leatherwork evangelist. Trained as a saddler, John swiftly leapt from the equine to human world.Provenance and tradition underpin John’s approach to his craft and materials – with leather almost exclusively sourced from J & FJ Baker & Co, Britain’s last traditional oak bark tannery. He also runs some rather wonderful leatherworking courses where you can even make your own belt.