Belts aren’t as important to grownups as I predicted as a 7-year-old. Sifting through my mom’s closet for the perfect dress-up outfit, I was lead to believe that belts, like bras and heels, were an essential ingredients for the average adult women. My school outfits didn’t require the coin-constructed, sequin-encrusted, blinged-out masterpieces that my mom’s day-to-day looks did, so I hoped that would change one day. But it turns out belts are optional.
Any of these could have belonged to my mom in the ’80s, especially the bottom right one.
From top: Vintage Pink Fabric Belt, $15, available at WhatTheBelt on Etsy; Vintage Rhinestone Bridal Belt, $29, available at WhatTheBelt on Etsy; Vintage sequin belt, $10, available at AtomicRetros on Etsy.
I have to be honest, I’ve never been "belt shopping” IRL. Friends text / chat / call / snap me weekly with their latest bag obsessions, but belts? It’s fair to say this accessory is an overlooked one, despite the occasional debate sparked by a notable runway or street style moment (like last summer’s western belt phase). Browse through the belts on Nordstrom or Saks and you’ll see why. They’re not entirely necessary, as most pants and skirts are designed to stay up without them. It’s also hard to justify spending on a functionless item. Classic leather belts are moderately priced but lack personality, while designer styles will cost you an upwards of $200.
Which brings me to why vintage belts are the way to go. First of all, they are diverse in material, fit and style: fabric, chain, leather, snakeskin, concho, western, embroidered, Art Deco, sequined, metal…the options are endless. Secondly, it’s possible to find a designer style without breaking the bank. Still need convincing? They are totally unique and frivolous — aka super fun — and can add a little oomph to any outfit.
Vintage belts can make any outfit truly unique
Watch any movie pre-2000s and you'll notice this purely aesthetic accessory. In the ’30s, a belt’s purpose focused more on whittling waists and less on holding up pants for the first time in modern fashion. The above examples might be a bit too extreme for anything but the red carpet, but you have to admire how both of these looks are all about the belt. How often do you see that today?
They look great over a coat
I understandably get tired of my cold weather wardrobe about two months into New York’s nine months of winter. Layering a vintage-inspired belt over my seen-better-days wool trench makes me feel like the above (minus the $$$).
Every major style icon knows how to wear one
Tell me you didn’t want a white blouse and full skirt with a wide belt, and maybe a new haircut, after watching Roman Holiday. From the thirties to the late sixties, the natural waist was the focal point for most women’s silhouettes, making these itty-bitty belt styles super wearable.
Made-to-match styles in wider widths look amazing on curves
Starting in the '50s, costume designer Edith Head put stars like Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren in wider widths to emphasize a small waist in monochromatic evening gowns.
And if you can't match retro styles, that's OK too!
There is something about a perfectly mismatched belt that can pull together an outfit. Spotting an unexpected color or style on the runway or street can serve as a perfect point of inspiration. In a complete departure from our midcentury matchy-matchy icons, contrasting your belt is a guaranteed cool-girl move today.
Certain retro styles are timeless. Thanks to Reformation, I want a concho belt YESTERDAY. Five years ago, I don’t think I would’ve touched a western-influenced anything with a ten-foot pole. But seriously, look how cool a chunky sweater looks tucked into an equally hefty belt. It’s all about experimenting and finding what works for you.
Where to shop
Go IRL! Local consignment, vintage and estate sale shops are great places to go belt hunting. If you hit the jackpot, please share in the comments!
If you have a specific idea of what style / brand / color you’re looking for, eBay will probably have it in a range of price points. And if not, you can always set up an email alert so you don’t forget.
What to consider when picking your dream belt
Know your size and keep that measuring tape within reach while shopping online.
Pay attention to the total length AND the spacing of notches. Just because a belt is the right length doesn’t mean the notches will be in the perfect place. Notches can be added easily with a leather hole punch, but consider that some belts have embellishments or hardware that might get in the way.
If you’re planning to wear with something you already own, make sure the height of the band will fit in between your belt loops. The devil is in the details.
Ask questions! eBay and Etsy both offer messaging services so you can ask shop owners all your questions before you pull the trigger.
So let’s make "belt shopping” a thing. I’ll know it’s officially a thing when I get my first Snapchat from a friend asking me if one is worth the splurge.