Rugged Belts For Jeans

There’s probably a theory about why a guy my size would like such rugged belts (overcompensating for something, perhaps?), but regardless — lately I’ve come to really like Don’t Mourn Organize, a small, one-man operation based in Utah that makes custom leather goods. Eight months ago, I had Scott, the owner of the company, make me a harness leather belt cut to a 0.25” thickness. It’s thicker than your average belt, but not so thick that it’d be too tough to break in. The color of the leather was originally an unwearable pale beige, but quickly darkened to a light brown after I applied two or three coats of Obeanuf’s LP. It’s since darkened further, to a solid mid-shade of brown, after eights months of regular wear and use. You can see how it looks now in the photo above.

I’ve enjoyed the belt so much that I recently ordered another — this time a two-layer horsehide “Clint stitch” belt that’s so named because the stitching pattern is modeled after something Clint Eastwood wore in one of his movies. I find the Western style goes well with a canvas RRL jacket I own, while the plainer, harness leather belt looks better with heavy leather jackets.

Scott’s belts are beautifully rugged and uncommonly thick. These are not the type of belts you’d wear with dressy chinos or wool trousers. They’re what you wear with denim, fatigues, or heavy workwear pants. Being as thick as they are, there’s something satisfying about cinching up a belt that’s as rugged as your jeans or boots, and it’s great to see how the leather acquires a natural patina over time. You can order one of Scott’s belts in any color you wish, but for me, the joy is all in getting that natural colored leather that darkens with age. Much like how guys like the process of breaking in their raw denim and seeing how it fades, this is essentially the same thing, except that leather gets darker when you treat it to oil and conditioner, and as it gets exposed to sunlight. 

Simple belts like the one I first bought cost $65. The Clint stitch belt ran me $75 (shipping included in both prices). Everything is custom made, so if you want some tweak in the design, Scott can usually accommodate.

To see more photos of the Clint stitch belt, you can check out this post at StyleForum. For photos of Scott’s work in general, check out this thread at Iron Heart’s forum

Vintage Leather Belts
I’m not as experienced as Jesse it when it comes to thrifting, but I do enjoy going to thrift stores. When I go, I often like to browse around for vintage leather belts - the thick kind that you wear with jeans. One of the nice things about buying second-hand is that you can get things with a bit more character. With good leather, you’ll often get something that has aged beautifully. 
Take the above belt, for example. It’s from a webpage Mister Freedom made for their “Ranchero shirts,” which are lovely, but the star of the photograph - at least for me - is the belt sitting in the middle. The variation in the coloring, the scuffing, and the scored design give the belt a certain appeal that modern workwear brands only imitate.
You can find such belts if you hunt around enough. Just visit good thrift stores or flea markets (in the Bay Area, I’d highly recommend Antiques by the Bay, which happens on the first Sunday of every month. Not only do they have a few vendors that sell vintage belts, but there are a ton of other great booths for vintage wares as well). There’s also eBay, of course, but that gets slightly dicier. Vintage leather goods can be of varying quality - either because of the quality of the leather itself, or because of how the item was taken care of throughout the years. Without being able to handle the belt, and without a brand name to go off of, it can be difficult to know what you’re looking at. Still, some of these are quite affordable, so if you get stuck with something less than ideal, it’s at least not a big loss.
The alternative is to buy something new, but from a brand that takes it inspiration from old, vintage designs. RRL and Levi’s Vintage Clothing often have tooled or painted belts that are made to look like they’re from the mid-century. You can find them at workwear-focused stores such as Hickoree’s and Unionmade. They won’t have the kind of patina that an authentic vintage belt will carry, but they’re often still quite handsome. With enough wear, you might get it to look as nice as the one Christophe Loiron (owner of Mister Freedom) photographed above (though, probably not, because that belt looks really awesome). 
(Photo via Christophe Loiron)

Vintage Leather Belts

I’m not as experienced as Jesse it when it comes to thrifting, but I do enjoy going to thrift stores. When I go, I often like to browse around for vintage leather belts - the thick kind that you wear with jeans. One of the nice things about buying second-hand is that you can get things with a bit more character. With good leather, you’ll often get something that has aged beautifully. 

Take the above belt, for example. It’s from a webpage Mister Freedom made for their “Ranchero shirts,” which are lovely, but the star of the photograph - at least for me - is the belt sitting in the middle. The variation in the coloring, the scuffing, and the scored design give the belt a certain appeal that modern workwear brands only imitate.

You can find such belts if you hunt around enough. Just visit good thrift stores or flea markets (in the Bay Area, I’d highly recommend Antiques by the Bay, which happens on the first Sunday of every month. Not only do they have a few vendors that sell vintage belts, but there are a ton of other great booths for vintage wares as well). There’s also eBay, of course, but that gets slightly dicier. Vintage leather goods can be of varying quality - either because of the quality of the leather itself, or because of how the item was taken care of throughout the years. Without being able to handle the belt, and without a brand name to go off of, it can be difficult to know what you’re looking at. Still, some of these are quite affordable, so if you get stuck with something less than ideal, it’s at least not a big loss.

The alternative is to buy something new, but from a brand that takes it inspiration from old, vintage designs. RRL and Levi’s Vintage Clothing often have tooled or painted belts that are made to look like they’re from the mid-century. You can find them at workwear-focused stores such as Hickoree’s and Unionmade. They won’t have the kind of patina that an authentic vintage belt will carry, but they’re often still quite handsome. With enough wear, you might get it to look as nice as the one Christophe Loiron (owner of Mister Freedom) photographed above (though, probably not, because that belt looks really awesome). 

(Photo via Christophe Loiron)

The Beauty of a Naturally Aged Leather Belt

I’ve been wanting an undyed leather to be to wear with jeans for a while now. Something thick, heavy, and substantial, made from a material that will beautifully age with use and time. The Flat Head wallet I posted a few weeks ago is made from an undyed leather, and has gone from a pale tan to a handsome, golden honey brown. 

I finally picked one up from Don’t Mourn Organize. It’s a small Utah company run by a guy named Scott, who makes belts, wallets, and full-sized bags from almost every kind of leather you can think of (vegetable tanned leathers, shell cordovan, and even some exotics). Since everything is made-on-order, customizations are also usually possible. 

Saddle, Bridle, and Harness Leathers

For undyed vegetable-tanned leathers, Scott has saddle and harness. For those unfamiliar, saddle and harness, along with bridle, make up the three main types of leather used in English saddlery (the art of making leather goods for horse riding). As their names suggest, bridle leather is traditionally used for making bridle reins, harness for making horse harnesses, and saddle for making saddle seats. These are very, very robust materials - the kind of stuff that will last for decades if well taken care of.

The difference between them is simply in the “finishing.” Saddle comes fairly “raw,” meaning it has little oil or wax content. This makes it less pliable, feel drier in the hand, and be a bit more susceptible to water stains. Bridle, on the other hand, is very smooth and polished, and the leather itself is more compressed. Readers might be familiar with it through Swaine Adeney Brigg briefcases, Ettinger wallets, or belts from Narragansett and Equus. Lastly, harness is perhaps somewhere in the middle – it has more wax and oil content than saddle, but it retains a bit more grain that bridle.

My Belt

I went with harness for my belt because of how easy it is to maintain. I had Scott use a buckle I had laying around and shave the thickness of the leather down to 0.25”. That makes it considerably more substantial than most belts you’d find on the market, but leaves it still comfortable to wear. Total cost? $65, including shipping. 

In the first photo above, you can see how my belt has aged after a week’s work of use and three applications of Obenauf’s Heavy Duty LP. The second photo is my belt brand new, sitting on Scott’s workshop table. The third photo is one of Scott’s own belts, which he’s had for about a year. As you can see it’s a beautiful russet brown, which I think looks terrific against a pair of broken-in raw jeans. I can’t wait for mine to get as nice. 

A Very Useful Belt for Summer
As much as I enjoy the “coat and tie” look, it admittedly can look a bit too formal for certain situations. One way to soften it up is by making each of the individual elements a touch more causal. A wool sport coat can be swapped for something made from cotton or linen; wool dress trousers can be changed for chinos; and dress shoes can be put aside in favor of loafers.
You can also reach for slightly more casual accessories. The braided leather belt you see above is from Brooks Brothers. I bought it a few years ago and have found myself turning to it every summer. The tubular construction means that the leather wraps around like a tube, which gives the belt a substantial, but still soft, feel, and the 1.25” width makes it perfect to wear with chinos and casual trousers. At full price ($150), it’s a bit expensive, but like with everything at Brooks, you can expect that it’ll be discounted by 25-40% during sale seasons. When put with a tailored jacket, pair of chinos, and a boldly striped shirt like you see above, you’d be surprised by how much more casual a sport coat can seem. 
Ben Silver and Ralph Lauren also carry some nice braided leather belts, and Berg & Berg has a few really handsome options made from soft, Italian leather. For something more casual, check out these nylon and cotton options at Paul Stuart, Brooks Brothers, Ben Silver, and O’Connell’s. You can also do a search for Anderson’s belts, an Italian company that has essentially made a name for themselves off this sort of thing. Mr. Porter and The Armoury are stockists, and Trunk Clothiers has a pretty good sale going on right now with Anderson’s belts discounted as low as $30. Note that Anderson’s typically fit a bit wider at 1.5”, which may or may not be to your taste.
For something very affordable, check out Belt Outlet, who sells a number of options for under $15. You can even knock 10% off your order with the discount code belt10. 

A Very Useful Belt for Summer

As much as I enjoy the “coat and tie” look, it admittedly can look a bit too formal for certain situations. One way to soften it up is by making each of the individual elements a touch more causal. A wool sport coat can be swapped for something made from cotton or linen; wool dress trousers can be changed for chinos; and dress shoes can be put aside in favor of loafers.

You can also reach for slightly more casual accessories. The braided leather belt you see above is from Brooks Brothers. I bought it a few years ago and have found myself turning to it every summer. The tubular construction means that the leather wraps around like a tube, which gives the belt a substantial, but still soft, feel, and the 1.25” width makes it perfect to wear with chinos and casual trousers. At full price ($150), it’s a bit expensive, but like with everything at Brooks, you can expect that it’ll be discounted by 25-40% during sale seasons. When put with a tailored jacket, pair of chinos, and a boldly striped shirt like you see above, you’d be surprised by how much more casual a sport coat can seem. 

Ben Silver and Ralph Lauren also carry some nice braided leather belts, and Berg & Berg has a few really handsome options made from soft, Italian leather. For something more casual, check out these nylon and cotton options at Paul Stuart, Brooks BrothersBen Silver, and O’Connell’s. You can also do a search for Anderson’s belts, an Italian company that has essentially made a name for themselves off this sort of thing. Mr. Porter and The Armoury are stockists, and Trunk Clothiers has a pretty good sale going on right now with Anderson’s belts discounted as low as $30. Note that Anderson’s typically fit a bit wider at 1.5”, which may or may not be to your taste.

For something very affordable, check out Belt Outlet, who sells a number of options for under $15. You can even knock 10% off your order with the discount code belt10. 

A very useful and informative guide to what the stuff stamped on the back of your belt actually means.

Getting a Good Leather Belt
Belts are one of those things you can skimp on without looking too much worse for it. I wrote a post a few months back about how you can find a serviceable (even if not terribly well-made) belt for about $20-30. If you’re willing to spend a little more, however, I thought I’d cover some of my favorite places to get something better.
Ready-to-Wear Belts
If you purchase most of your shoes from one company, it can be wise to source your belt from the same manufacturer. Companies such as Allen Edmonds, Alden, Crockett & Jones, and Edward Green make belts in the same leathers they use for their shoes. In this way, you can easily follow that rule of thumb that the color of one’s belt should generally match one’s shoes.
For other nice, off-the-shelf options, check some of the more traditional American clothiers, such as Ben Silver, Paul Stuart, and Brooks Brothers. Brooks discounts theirs by 25% or more once or twice a season. I liked the buckle on this one so much that I bought three in different colors. And though I don’t personally own any, people have written good reviews of Traflagar and Martin Dingman’s offerings.
Online, you can find some beautiful belts at A Suitable Wardrobe. Their lightly textured hides – made from 20-month old French calves – is a nice balance between the more boring, plain variety (which I admit I mostly have) and showier exotics such as alligator, ostrich, and crocodile. For something more affordable, Austin Jeffers supplies nice, basic designs for about $50. 
Custom Belts
The world of custom belts is vast, but I’ll only cover four. The most affordable I know of is bridle belt maker Narragansett Leathers. Bridle leather is a thickly cut leather with a high oil content, which makes it both harder wearing and water resistant. This is the kind of belting leather that will indeed last a lifetime. Narragansett makes their belts quite simply – leathers are cut, holes are punched, and buckles and keepers are then attached. A basic, durable belt starting at about $35.
Another bridle leather belt maker is Equus Leathers, who I like a bit better for the details they put in. The edges have a nice scored line, the keepers are squared off, and the edge burnishing is done a bit more nicely. I also like their very well-executed handsewn saddle stitching. Charlie, who runs Equus, used to make a living in bespoke saddlery, but the market for that has been destroyed by foreign imports. So now he just does belts, and knows the craft quite well.
The robustness of bridle leather makes it appropriate for chinos and jeans, but for suits and any worsted material, I like dressier, edge stitched belts from companies such as James Reid. Theirs are made from an all-leather, two-piece construction. There’s no inner layer or non-leather filler, which makes them much softer and smarter than bridle leather belts. The backing strap is made from full-grain, oak-tanned, harness quality cowhides from one of the last remaining tanneries in America, Herman Oaks. This strap is beveled along both edges, so that when the top layer is laid down, a contoured cross-sectional shape is produced with a feathered edge. Should you need an affordable buckle to go with their belts, you can contact Charlie at Equus. 
Lastly, there’s Herve N. Sellier, a French maker of fine leather goods that was introduced to me by a friend of mine who knows more about quality clothing than anyone I know. I’ve never tried Herve N. Sellier’s goods, but the company’s founder and craftsman used to produce exclusively for Hermes for twenty years, which alone should probably say something about his craft. Remarkably, the prices he charges for his belts aren’t too much more than those from the options mentioned above.
(Pictured: my belts from James Reid, Narragansett Leathers, and Equus Leathers)

Getting a Good Leather Belt

Belts are one of those things you can skimp on without looking too much worse for it. I wrote a post a few months back about how you can find a serviceable (even if not terribly well-made) belt for about $20-30. If you’re willing to spend a little more, however, I thought I’d cover some of my favorite places to get something better.

Ready-to-Wear Belts

If you purchase most of your shoes from one company, it can be wise to source your belt from the same manufacturer. Companies such as Allen Edmonds, Alden, Crockett & Jones, and Edward Green make belts in the same leathers they use for their shoes. In this way, you can easily follow that rule of thumb that the color of one’s belt should generally match one’s shoes.

For other nice, off-the-shelf options, check some of the more traditional American clothiers, such as Ben Silver, Paul Stuart, and Brooks Brothers. Brooks discounts theirs by 25% or more once or twice a season. I liked the buckle on this one so much that I bought three in different colors. And though I don’t personally own any, people have written good reviews of Traflagar and Martin Dingman’s offerings.

Online, you can find some beautiful belts at A Suitable Wardrobe. Their lightly textured hides – made from 20-month old French calves – is a nice balance between the more boring, plain variety (which I admit I mostly have) and showier exotics such as alligator, ostrich, and crocodile. For something more affordable, Austin Jeffers supplies nice, basic designs for about $50. 

Custom Belts

The world of custom belts is vast, but I’ll only cover four. The most affordable I know of is bridle belt maker Narragansett Leathers. Bridle leather is a thickly cut leather with a high oil content, which makes it both harder wearing and water resistant. This is the kind of belting leather that will indeed last a lifetime. Narragansett makes their belts quite simply – leathers are cut, holes are punched, and buckles and keepers are then attached. A basic, durable belt starting at about $35.

Another bridle leather belt maker is Equus Leathers, who I like a bit better for the details they put in. The edges have a nice scored line, the keepers are squared off, and the edge burnishing is done a bit more nicely. I also like their very well-executed handsewn saddle stitching. Charlie, who runs Equus, used to make a living in bespoke saddlery, but the market for that has been destroyed by foreign imports. So now he just does belts, and knows the craft quite well.

The robustness of bridle leather makes it appropriate for chinos and jeans, but for suits and any worsted material, I like dressier, edge stitched belts from companies such as James Reid. Theirs are made from an all-leather, two-piece construction. There’s no inner layer or non-leather filler, which makes them much softer and smarter than bridle leather belts. The backing strap is made from full-grain, oak-tanned, harness quality cowhides from one of the last remaining tanneries in America, Herman Oaks. This strap is beveled along both edges, so that when the top layer is laid down, a contoured cross-sectional shape is produced with a feathered edge. Should you need an affordable buckle to go with their belts, you can contact Charlie at Equus. 

Lastly, there’s Herve N. Sellier, a French maker of fine leather goods that was introduced to me by a friend of mine who knows more about quality clothing than anyone I know. I’ve never tried Herve N. Sellier’s goods, but the company’s founder and craftsman used to produce exclusively for Hermes for twenty years, which alone should probably say something about his craft. Remarkably, the prices he charges for his belts aren’t too much more than those from the options mentioned above.

(Pictured: my belts from James ReidNarragansett Leathers, and Equus Leathers)

Finding Cheaper Belts

After I wrote Monday’s post about where to get affordable basics, a reader emailed me to ask if I had any other suggestions for belts. In his opinion, $40-50 is still a lot of money for a belt, which I think is a fair point. 

One thing you can do is check out stores such as Kohl’s. More often than not, you’ll be able to find belts there for about $20-25. They should have phrases such as “genuine leather” or “real leather” stamped on the back. The problem with these is that they’re most likely made from cheap, split leather, or things such as reconstituted leather, which is scrap leather that has been bonded together with latex binders. Reconstituted leather is to quality leather what particleboards are to solid wood. It isn’t very good, to say the least. Plus, if you’re buying a dress belt with top stitching, the stuff in the middle is probably plastic or compressed paper, not full leather, which is what you want. 

You can also often find decent belts at discount stores like Nordstrom’s Rack or even Marshall’s and Ross. While a Polo belt isn’t the finest that money can buy, it’s typically full-grain leather and will rarely set you back more than $40 or so. Look for something where you can see the grain of the leather - if it’s smooth and shiny, that means it’s been buffed and polished, which is a sign of low-quality leather.

Still, these should last for about three to six years before falling apart. If you’re in between jobs or waiting for a promotion, these will get you by until you have a bit more money.

The other thing you can do is to shop for a belt on eBay. My original post was about things you can buy without investing too much time or money, but it’s worth noting that belts on eBay are a bit easier to find than garments such as sport coats and suits. Most men don’t realize that belts can be altered, which means you can be a size 32 and still buy size 46 belts. Most cobblers or tailors should be able to shorten these for you. The job is done by removing the buckle, cutting down the belt from the buckle end, and then reattaching everything back together. This way, you still retain the shape at the pointy end, as well as the same number of holes. 

While we’re on the subject, note that you can also buy slide buckles on eBay, even if they’ve already been engraved with initials. If the engraving isn’t too deep (this will be a judgment call on your end), you can take it to a jeweler and have it removed. Again, since many men don’t realize this, this also means you can score a pretty sweet slide buckle for considerably cheaper than what you’d otherwise pay in-store. 

(Photos above taken from Brooks Brothers)

Q and Answer: What’s that little loop above my trouser fly for?
Andrew asks: A recent post, Spotted: Incotex at Daffy’s, mentioned a “belt prong loop above the fly”. What is this for?
This one’s easy.
Incotex is one of a few makers who add this useful touch to their trousers. When you’re putting on your belt, you pass the buckle’s prong through this very small loop. This keeps the belt centered on your waistband. Since the base of the buckle is covered by the end of the belt, the loop isn’t visible when the belt is worn.

Q and Answer: What’s that little loop above my trouser fly for?

Andrew asks: A recent post, Spotted: Incotex at Daffy’s, mentioned a “belt prong loop above the fly”. What is this for?

This one’s easy.

Incotex is one of a few makers who add this useful touch to their trousers. When you’re putting on your belt, you pass the buckle’s prong through this very small loop. This keeps the belt centered on your waistband. Since the base of the buckle is covered by the end of the belt, the loop isn’t visible when the belt is worn.

For $50 You Can Buy…
This handmade hoof pick belt by Narragansett Leathers. When I say “handmade,” I mean it. Handmade by the owners in their workshop in Maine. Call 207-563-5080 to order - closed February and March due to weather.

For $50 You Can Buy…

This handmade hoof pick belt by Narragansett Leathers. When I say “handmade,” I mean it. Handmade by the owners in their workshop in Maine. Call 207-563-5080 to order - closed February and March due to weather.

Jules B in the UK is having a pretty interesting sale right now. Of particular note are their selection of items by Gant, Anderson’s, and Barbour. I particularly like this Anderson’s suede belt (which also comes in navy) for $56; quilted Barbour jacket for $107; and cashmere Gant blazer with suede elbow patches for $267. All seem like great items for this coming fall season.