Release Yourself from the Shackles of the Belt

The Experiment

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been running a personal experiment inspired by a set of pictures I once saw of Zachary Quinto showing off his style. Today, I don’t really see his outfits as super inspiring, but maybe that’s because fashion is so outrageous now (the pictures are 4 years old). However, one thing that really struck me was a detail that most people would overlook. In every single picture except one, he is completely beltless. It wasn’t as obvious when he wore a suit or sweater, but it’s practically on display when he tucked his shirt into khaki chinos and left his blazer unbuttoned. Of course, despite the absence of the accessory, he still looks on-point in every photo.

Many stiff-necked traditionalists will decry this as the end of menswear as we know it. “If it has belt loops, it should have a belt,” say some. “It looks like he forgot to finish getting dressed,” say others. I say “Balderdash!” to both, and I will address them in turn.

First, saying that one must wear a belt because the pants were made to accommodate it completely overlooks that men’s shirts are also made to allow for a tie to be worn. Most blazers are also made to allow for a pocket square. Yet you don’t see every man who wears a shirt and blazer also wear a tie and pocket square. They’re all–belts, ties, pocket squares–called accessories because they are optional. They are meant to add personality to an outfit that needs something a little extra.

Second, it’s quite clear to the casual observer that Zachary meant to leave the belt off because having one wouldn’t have added anything to his overall look, it would detract from it. The only reason people think it’s odd that it’s not there is that they’re used to seeing one. If you examine each of his outfits, you will notice that not having that obtuse piece right in the center lends to a more streamlined look. In effect, you end up looking at the entire ensemble instead of stopping in the middle. This is especially noticeable in a suit, which is meant to make a man look taller. Any belt would severely detract from that optical illusion.

Back to the experiment referred to above, I decided to adopt a similar mentality with regard to belts, to only wear them when I really needed them. Yes, unfortunately, due to fluctuating weight and the lack of time to do my own alterations, leading me to spend $20 every time I want a pair altered, some of my pants don’t fit properly and aren’t worth the expense. The results of my research were that I could afford to take more chances with my daily outfits since I didn’t have to coordinate them with the accessory or match my belt to my shoes (another ill-begotten traditionalist rule). My looks thus have been more fashion-forward and unified.

The Options

I’m not saying I never wear a belt. In fact, there’s a thought that jeans specifically won’t look right without one because they are workwear in essence. (I’m neither here nor there on this line of thinking.) Sometimes I even wear a belt with a pair of pants that fits because it actually looks better or adds to the look. But this kind of styling is when your accessories are working for you, not the other way around. You shouldn’t be shackled to any article of clothing and be forced to wear it every day, least of all a boring piece of leather.

When you need to wear one, do take a chance and try out others besides the monochrome variety. In the future, if you purchase a normal leather belt, make sure it is made of full-grain leather. Cheap genuine leather will eventually crack and split because it is made of a leather paste held together by glue. This will force you into buying another belt. Therefore, it’s best to buy a quality piece once that will last and patina over the decades.

One thing to keep in mind is that belts are not the only option for keeping your pants up. I’m sure you already know what I’m about to say, but suspenders are an unsung hero when it comes to smart-looking menswear. The accessories got a bad rap in the 00s when hipsters appropriated them into their wardrobes and wore them ironically (or unironically, depending on the person). Nevertheless, if you want to keep your pants up without a belt and happen to also be wearing a blazer or suit, suspenders are your best, least expensive bet.

I recently realized how indispensable the adjustable shoulder bands are when sporting a casual blazer. Since in these situations the jacket is left open, wearing suspenders both keeps your pants up and doesn’t detract from the look. I even found that pulling the proper pants up to my natural waist looks much better than wearing them on my hips, which would lead to belly-overhang.

Just remember that there are two types: the clip-on and the button-on. The former will attach to any pants but will tend to ruin the fabric, though imperceptibly. The latter is more old-fashioned and requires there to be buttons installed on the inside of the trouser waistband. Just be sure to select the correct type for your needs. And for the love of Science, never wear a belt and suspenders at the same time.

There are still other options for keeping your pants from falling down, but they would require installation if the pants didn’t come pre-installed with them. My favorite is the pull-tab, which you can have installed on the inside or outside. Another alternative is the drawstring. Although you could probably get away with this option in a more casual setting or a suit, men working in a proper business environment should tread lightly. The last option, elastic waistbands, should almost exclusively be utilized in casual dress scenarios.

The Conclusion

Life is much too short to be bound to any one way of thinking without considering all other options. This is especially true of menswear and its many “rules”. The industry and popular culture are always shifting, and that shift has been even more rapid over the last few years. You have to keep up with the times instead of resting on your laurels from years past or you will be left in the dust. Fashion is constantly changing. After all, we don’t wear tricorne hats, breeches, or stockings anymore.

From a utilitarian point-of-view, if you don’t need something to hold your pants up, you don’t need to wear a belt. Whereas from a stylistic perspective, if it detracts from your overall look, it should be omitted. Perhaps wearing a belt is the correct decision, but my simple suggestion is that you don’t choose it by default. Good luck, and stay stylish!

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4 thoughts on “Release Yourself from the Shackles of the Belt

  1. love the article – and of course I think you should have made an exception with the yellow pants and not cropped the Tesla Model 3 out of the photo 🙂

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  2. It’s interesting, the whole belt rule is something I only feel compelled to follow with khaki’s or dress pants. A few years ago the belt took its place as a purely utilitarian item for jeans and dress shorts. However I still have that lingering “that isn’t going to look right” with dress pants. I wonder why that one rule stuck for just that one occasion.

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    1. I think most men are simply accustomed to seeing the belt there, especially in dressy situations. Visually, it can help balance the top and bottom halves of our outfits. Traditionally, people strive for symmetry in design because it’s an easy way to achieve a unified look. This is why people buy living room and bedroom sets. It’s much more difficult to achieve unity without symmetry. In dressy situations, you can find that balance by wearing your pants an inch or two higher, on your natural waist.

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