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)

The Black Tie Shoe That’s Good For Something Else
Kent Wang just announced a new shoe, a black plain toe balmoral (pictured to the left, above). In keeping with Kent’s commitment to basics (he started making white pocket squares and double-sided cufflinks from vintage buttons), the shoe is a simple as can be.
(The balmoral, in American usage anyway, refers to a shoe with closed lacing - you can see in the photos above that the bit of leather with the lacing holes is sewn into the body of the shoe, rather than left open, as in a blucher. This makes for a dressier aesthetic.)
Kent says he made a plain-toe bal because it’s the simplest black dress shoe there is. It’s appropriate for any formal occasion, from wearing with a suit all the way up to black tie. That’s a convincing argument, if you ask me.
Shoes are one of the biggest problems for men who want to have their own black tie rig rather than renting. Tuxedos are available at a variety of price points, especially if you’re willing to go vintage. Shoes are tougher.
Patent leather looks like a cheap rental to my eyes no matter how high-quality the shoe. Cheap rentals look fantastically awful. Evening slippers (also called opera pumps), the most elegant option, can be prohibitively expensive - the Brooks Brothers version, while handsome, costs a hefty $448, and they’re tough to find used. Five hundred bucks is a lot for most folks to spend on shoes they’ll wear once a year.
Many men simply wear black wingtips with their tuxedo, or worse, black loafers. Frankly, you might as well wear sneakers - only you don’t get any rebel points for wearing loafers. Black cap toes are marginally better, but still look out of place, particularly if they feature any broguing. They simply read as, “I was doing great until I got to the shoes, then I gave up.”
A plain-toe black shoe, with closed lacing, highly shined, is a very reasonable alternative to evening shoes with black tie. You avoid the cheap, plasticky look of patent leather, and you get a shoe that can actually be worn for more than just black tie events. That’s a very solid investment, if you ask me.
Kent’s version, which is made in Vietnam (albeit to a high standard), is $350. The Alden version, with a more American shape, is about a hundred dollars more. Crockett & Jones Wembley model, available made-to-order from Pediwear, runs at about $390, plus shipping. Brooks Brothers’ offering, made in England (quite possibly by C&J) is $448.

The Black Tie Shoe That’s Good For Something Else

Kent Wang just announced a new shoe, a black plain toe balmoral (pictured to the left, above). In keeping with Kent’s commitment to basics (he started making white pocket squares and double-sided cufflinks from vintage buttons), the shoe is a simple as can be.

(The balmoral, in American usage anyway, refers to a shoe with closed lacing - you can see in the photos above that the bit of leather with the lacing holes is sewn into the body of the shoe, rather than left open, as in a blucher. This makes for a dressier aesthetic.)

Kent says he made a plain-toe bal because it’s the simplest black dress shoe there is. It’s appropriate for any formal occasion, from wearing with a suit all the way up to black tie. That’s a convincing argument, if you ask me.

Shoes are one of the biggest problems for men who want to have their own black tie rig rather than renting. Tuxedos are available at a variety of price points, especially if you’re willing to go vintage. Shoes are tougher.

Patent leather looks like a cheap rental to my eyes no matter how high-quality the shoe. Cheap rentals look fantastically awful. Evening slippers (also called opera pumps), the most elegant option, can be prohibitively expensive - the Brooks Brothers version, while handsome, costs a hefty $448, and they’re tough to find used. Five hundred bucks is a lot for most folks to spend on shoes they’ll wear once a year.

Many men simply wear black wingtips with their tuxedo, or worse, black loafers. Frankly, you might as well wear sneakers - only you don’t get any rebel points for wearing loafers. Black cap toes are marginally better, but still look out of place, particularly if they feature any broguing. They simply read as, “I was doing great until I got to the shoes, then I gave up.”

A plain-toe black shoe, with closed lacing, highly shined, is a very reasonable alternative to evening shoes with black tie. You avoid the cheap, plasticky look of patent leather, and you get a shoe that can actually be worn for more than just black tie events. That’s a very solid investment, if you ask me.

Kent’s version, which is made in Vietnam (albeit to a high standard), is $350. The Alden version, with a more American shape, is about a hundred dollars more. Crockett & Jones Wembley model, available made-to-order from Pediwear, runs at about $390, plus shipping. Brooks Brothers’ offering, made in England (quite possibly by C&J) is $448.

Suede Shoes

I’m a huge fan of suede shoes and wear them more or less year-round. The word “suede” comes from the French word “Suède,” which simply means Sweden. At one point, Swedish suede gloves were the most common form of luxury, and the French word for Sweden ended up being used for the leather itself.

Suede can be made from almost any leather. You often find it made from lambskin, goatskin, and calfskin. In Germany they make it from stag and in Louisiana, there’s a producer that makes alligator suede. To get the texture, the animal’s skin is buffed with an abrasive. This can be done to the grain side of the leather, which will give you a finer, more velvety texture, or on the flesh side, which will give you a slightly coarser feel. Each animal will produce a slightly different feel to the suede, however, so the variation isn’t just through top vs. flesh side usage.

I personally prefer finer, velvety suede. To examine the quality, I examine to see if the fibers of the nap are uniform in length and packed tightly together. If the nap is firm, dense, and compact, the suede will be a bit more resilient. I eschew suedes with longer naps, as I find that they get a bit ragged and develop bald spots over time. I also avoid any suede that feels a bit greasy.

Since it’s fall, I suggest that you try suede shoes with wool flannel, corduroy, and moleskin trousers. Those tend to have “softer” looking textures, and I think they look quite well next to suede. The above are just some of the options - oxfords, Norwegian split toe bluchers, chukka boots, field boots, double monks, and tassel loafers. I myself just ordered a pair of Crockett & Jones Belgraves in Polo suede from Pediwear and plan to wear it often on weekends. In being an oxford, this shoe is a bit dressy; in being made from suede, however, it’s also a bit casual. They’re the perfect way to look sharp in a non-business, casual setting, I think.

(Pictures above by MostExerent, Ethan Desu, Leffot, and Run of the Mill)

Crockett & Jones wholecuts, polished up for a wedding by Rugged Old Salt.

Crockett & Jones wholecuts, polished up for a wedding by Rugged Old Salt.

It’s On eBay
Brooks Brothers Pebble Grain Cap-Toe Boots
Starts at $199, ends Saturday

It’s On eBay

Brooks Brothers Pebble Grain Cap-Toe Boots

Starts at $199, ends Saturday