Now I know everyone likes clearly defined fashion rules, one that are easy to follow without any ambiguity or risk of misinterpretation…
When it comes to wearing belts there are some obvious right and wrongs but personally I would prefer to give you more latitude rather than tieing you up in knots with time honoured protocol.
When it comes to choosing a belt (and I guess this could also apply to your overall dress style) to my mind you have 3 main factors to consider, and these apply equally to both men and women:
The world we live in nowadays is a lot more relaxed than it was in times past. Rigidity and formality are becoming things of the past, what would have been unthinkable 20 years ago is now perfectly acceptable. But this does not mean ignoring the type of occasion you are going to and completely flouting all etiquette, what it does mean is that your choices are wider than they were and the opportunity for self-expression much greater.
Occasion – Where am I going?
A little planning and foresight will set you on the right path here. Give some thought to the place you are going to, the people you will be there with and the way you want to feel when you are there. Your outfit is an extension of your persona and tells people a lot about you before you have even opened your mouth to speak.
If you know it is going to be a smarter occasion then I would always err towards being slightly overdressed. By the same token don’t overdo it for a trip to the pub! Plus or minus 20% in the style stakes is going to be fine – you just don’t want to be way off target, that could easily be perceived as either a propensity for attention seeking or potentially a lack of respect for the occasion.
Do take into account the physical environment you are going to be in as well – warm earthy tones and natural feeling buckles are lovely in autumn or when in the countryside, a more monochrome look will work for urban evenings whilst on the other hand summer days by the sea just ask for light airy tones of both leather and buckle.
Colour – What to Match up with?
If you are feeling like playing it safe, then I feel that tonal is the way to go. Matching your belt colour to tonally work with your outfit is always stylish, and in many ways a more contemporary way to go. For women you of course have a plethora of options if you want to bring in colour but be careful of overdoing the colour matching. If you want to make your belt the centrepiece of your outfit then by all means use it as a colour vehicle, but maybe then keep the bag or shoes more neutral. For men, colour matching your belt to your shoes can be great but make sure the tones really do work together (they don’t have to match but they do have to live together). If in doubt match your belt to your trousers/suit, for denim you will never go far wrong with a navy belt. If the occasion is more relaxed then go ahead and use your belt as a colour vehicle, match it up to your shirt or watch strap or if your outfit is more neutral (black/white/denim/khaki) then just let your belt be a solitary jolt of colour. In summer especially a coloured belt on white or pale trousers is perfect,
Style – Design and Detail, but how much?
Let’s start with the leather – a belt made from a chunky unlined leather is never going to be suitable for a smarter occasion, the weight and feel of the leather will not work with the feel of your outfit. On the flipside this type of leather is ideal for a more casual occasion.
For smarter occasions a belt with a subtle grain is great, a light printed texture is also fine. A little tonality in the leather will work nicely but nothing with an overt contrast.
If the occasion demands something a little smarter – say an evening event or important work meeting, you still need to dress ‘up’ for the occasion and show you have made an effort. Now is probably not the moment to express an excess of flamboyance, so perhaps keep the look neutral and elegant with a belt that has subtle detail at most (a little stitch detail, or contrast texture are fine) and then choose a buckle that shows attention to detail through small design elements.
For men a belt that tones in with the colour of your clothing makes sense and is actually safer than trying to match your shoes unless the match is well managed. For women toning in is the safe bet but if you want to add a little colour go with a narrow or skinny belt so that the belt does not overwhelm from the rest of your outfit. Less as they say can be more.
If the occasion is a little more light-hearted then now is a great time to have some fun – once we move into ‘smart-casual’ territory you can have fun with both belt and buckle. Even a fairly low-key outfit can be jazzed up with a cool belt, perhaps something with studs, stitch detail, distinctive texture or stronger contrast tones. In actual fact the more your outfit is low-key the more I think you can go for it with your belt.
If it is truly party-time then all bets are off – now is the time to free yourself from any shackles of conformity with a belt you love that expresses whatever you want it to!