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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
J Press Sale
J Press is having a sale right now, with discounts of up to 40% off.
I think there are some good deals to be had. If you’re on the market for ties, I think their garza fina grenadines and knits, as well regimentals, would make for good buys. I also like their navy attache, wine surcingle belt, and collection of pocket squares. Additionally, if you think you might get the itch to buy a university scarf this fall, you might want to do it now while they’re on sale.
For things that haven’t been marked down, punch in the code PSJUN11 at checkout to score some savings.
Sale ends on the 16th.
Don’t get it twisted like Cinnabons, Put This On is about everything from thrift store to couture, and the things in between. One day I blog about $150 Drakes ties, the next day I’m writing about Lands End sales. Like Montell Jordan, this is how we do it.
Lands End is having a Fathers Day sale and offering 30% off everything in mens. I took a gander and found some nice attaches (a big one for $50 and small one for $30). I also like their belts and ties, as well as this StormRaker shell jacket. Just click here to activate the coupon and the new prices will show up.
30% off is always good enough to blog about, but this time, you can also combine it with their other promotion codes! If your order comes to $50 or more, use MJ11 (pin 4423) to get free shipping and $10 off. If your order is under $50, then use COOLER (pin 4353) to just get free shipping.
The Father’s Day promotion ends tomorrow.
The Five Days of Summer Series, Part V: Summer Style on the Cheap
Before Jesse let me start writing here, I was a dedicated PTO reader for more than a year. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Jesse’s posts was how grounded they were. While other blogs were off writing about $500 shoes and $2,000 suits, Jesse was recommending things that were actually affordable for most people.
Since I’ve begun blogging, I’ve found myself slipping into the same trap - mostly writing about really expensive things. Now, I strongly believe the philosophy that you should buy less, buy better. I get much more out of my really expensive purchases than my discount ones. However, it’s not like menswear is just a choice between Target and Cucinelli; there’s a lot of stuff in between. So for the final installment to this series, I wanted to cover some options for those who might be really strapped for cash.
Pants: Uniqlo’s vintage fit chinos fit pretty slim around the seat and thighs, but they’re a bit more straight legged from the knee down. If you’re OK with that, call up Uniqlo’s New York store and you can order a pair for around $30.
Shirts: Lands End Canvas has a line of decent shirts marketed under their “Heritage Collection.” You can get some for as low as $13. If you buy over $50 worth of items, they’ll knock off $10 and give you free shipping once you punch in the coupon code PARENTS (pin: 3135). That makes each shirt about $10.
There are also the telnyashka shirts I wrote about earlier this week. I really like the carded cotton on St. James, but if you’re strapped for cash, a reasonable verisimilitude can be had for under $20.
Shoes: I think most of the plimsolls I wrote about this week are affordable. For example, if you Google around you’ll find Supergas for around $45. You can also find Converse All Star Cups for pretty cheap here and here. Lastly, RopeySoles has some nice handmade espadrilles for $30. I especially like the denim and linen ones.
Watch: Timex Easy Reader is an obvious choice, but you might also want to consider Maiden Noir’s. Throw a Nato strap on either of these and you’re good to go. You can get straps either through Central Watch or eBay. Once all is said and done, you’ll have a great looking watch this summer for less than $70.
Belt: Beltoutlet.com has woven belts for $13 for and web belts for $8. You can also get elastic surcingles from Wood’s of Shropshire for $11. My favorites are the wovens, but any of these can be paired well with some cotton chinos.
Pocket squares: One of my first editorial posts ever was about custom pocket squares. Go find some fabric you like and send it to Son so he can sew some handrolled edges on it. The whole thing should cost you around $25.
Socks: I hear going sockless is free. You’re not poor; you’re just stylish.
That concludes the Five Days of Summer. If you want to review the past installments, just click here for the full series. Now you don’t have an excuse to look bad this summer.
Brooks Brothers “Friends and Family” sale starts in just two weeks, on May 5th. It’s unclear what the discounts will be, but you should expect them to range between 25% and 40%. If you open a Brooks Brothers corporate card, you’ll also get an additional 15% discount. Thus, there will be some good deals to be had.
In searching for items for myself, I thought I’d write a bit about some items you might also want to consider. In addition to these linen shirts I covered last week, they also have other summer staples, such as a mariner striped sweater, cotton blazer, and some slim fit chinos. I also really like these glen plaid trousers, their pink OCBD, and this Gregory trench coat.
I think chukka boots make for great year round wear, but I especially like them in the summer and fall seasons. Brooks has some that are a bit less blobby looking than Clarks desert boots, and I think at steep discount, they’re quite a steal. You can get them in calf leather, suede, or canvas.
Lastly, I recommend taking a look at some of their accessories. This leather watchband is quite handsome, as is their engined-turned tie bar and plaid umbrellas. I also think every man should have an engine turned slide buckle. My father gave me his, and it has his initials engraved on it; it’s one of the nicest things you can pass on. They also have some of the best summer belts - a braided, surcingle, and woven-surcingle. I have the braided one and couldn’t be happier with it.
Stop by a Brooks when you have time and see if anything strikes your fancy. If you do find something, ask a sales associate if they’ll hold it for you until the sale starts. I’ve had reasonably good luck with that strategy, and it’s a great way to make sure you get the items you want, at a price that’s affordable.