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. 


Strategic Frugality
If you’re just starting to build a better wardrobe, funds can be limited, so it’s good to know where you should focus your money. Not all clothes are created equal. Skimp on some things, and you’ll look terrible; skimp on others, and few will notice. The key here is to be strategically frugal. 
Where You Can Skimp
Knit ties: Supposedly, there are only a few knit tie producers in the world and they all make ties around the same quality. I haven’t confirmed if this is true, but all the knit ties I’ve owned - from Lands End to Charvet - have been only differed in material and design. If you stick to a reputable brand, you can get a good knit tie for about $20.
Socks: Over-the-calf Gold Toe socks can be had for about $3 a pair. Sierra Trading Post also sometimes sells Pantherella socks for $6, and those are a bit more comfortable.
Belts: The starting price for a decent belt is about $50 (e.g. Equus Leather and Narragansett Leather). However, if you go to some place like Kohls, you can get a serviceable belt for about $20. Just make sure they’re full grained leather on both sides.
Pants: If you happen to live on the East Coast, check Daffy’s for Mabitex. They cost about $25 for chinos and $40 for wool. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, the rise has been getting shorter, and since they’re often factory seconds, they sometimes have loose stitches or poorly made seams. Just pay close attention when you buy. 
Casual shirts: Lands End Canvas’ Heritage shirts can work in a pinch. I hesitate to fully recommend them because the collars are so skimpy and the stitching, though durable, isn’t particularly well done. However, if you don’t plan to wear these with sport coats or ties, they’re passable and can be had for as little as $12. 
Where You Can Splurge
Suits, sport coats, and outerwear: This is where I think you should concentrate your money. An excellent sport coat or jacket can really make an ensemble, and even the most untrained eye can spot a cheap suit. Put a really nice jacket over a mediocre button-up shirt and pair of chinos, and you’ll look great. 
Shoes: Cheap shoes are false bargains. A well-made pair of shoes can last you thirty years while cheap shoes last for three. Get full-grain leather shoes that are made with Goodyear or Blake/ Rapid construction, and learn how to properly take care of them. Doing so will mean they’ll look better with age, not worse. 
Briefcases and bags: If you work in a traditional business environment, it’s worth the money to spring for a nice briefcase. Like the nice suit and shoes, it reflects a certain level of professionalism and competence. 
Sweaters: Poorly made sweaters will lose their shape quickly and pill more easily. Own fewer sweaters, and buy the best you can afford. 
That Said …
That said, there are smart ways to work with a limited budget for the things above. 
Bags: Avoid materials that try to be what they’re not. If you only have a limited budget, a well made canvas bag will be better than a cheap leather one. A $50 leather briefcase will always look like what it is. 
Sweaters: Similarly for sweaters, stick to merino wool, lambswool, or cotton. Many companies sell cashmere sweaters at basement-level prices, but they don’t last very long. 
Shoes: If you’re buying from a lower-tier brand, aim for suede. The differences in quality from the low- to high-end suede are much smaller than it is for smooth calf. The soles and grommets might still give out, but at least you won’t get those really ugly creases you see on corrected grain leathers. 

Strategic Frugality

If you’re just starting to build a better wardrobe, funds can be limited, so it’s good to know where you should focus your money. Not all clothes are created equal. Skimp on some things, and you’ll look terrible; skimp on others, and few will notice. The key here is to be strategically frugal. 

Where You Can Skimp

  • Knit ties: Supposedly, there are only a few knit tie producers in the world and they all make ties around the same quality. I haven’t confirmed if this is true, but all the knit ties I’ve owned - from Lands End to Charvet - have been only differed in material and design. If you stick to a reputable brand, you can get a good knit tie for about $20.
  • Socks: Over-the-calf Gold Toe socks can be had for about $3 a pair. Sierra Trading Post also sometimes sells Pantherella socks for $6, and those are a bit more comfortable.
  • Belts: The starting price for a decent belt is about $50 (e.g. Equus Leather and Narragansett Leather). However, if you go to some place like Kohls, you can get a serviceable belt for about $20. Just make sure they’re full grained leather on both sides.
  • Pants: If you happen to live on the East Coast, check Daffy’s for Mabitex. They cost about $25 for chinos and $40 for wool. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, the rise has been getting shorter, and since they’re often factory seconds, they sometimes have loose stitches or poorly made seams. Just pay close attention when you buy. 
  • Casual shirts: Lands End Canvas’ Heritage shirts can work in a pinch. I hesitate to fully recommend them because the collars are so skimpy and the stitching, though durable, isn’t particularly well done. However, if you don’t plan to wear these with sport coats or ties, they’re passable and can be had for as little as $12. 

Where You Can Splurge

  • Suits, sport coats, and outerwear: This is where I think you should concentrate your money. An excellent sport coat or jacket can really make an ensemble, and even the most untrained eye can spot a cheap suit. Put a really nice jacket over a mediocre button-up shirt and pair of chinos, and you’ll look great. 
  • Shoes: Cheap shoes are false bargains. A well-made pair of shoes can last you thirty years while cheap shoes last for three. Get full-grain leather shoes that are made with Goodyear or Blake/ Rapid construction, and learn how to properly take care of them. Doing so will mean they’ll look better with age, not worse. 
  • Briefcases and bags: If you work in a traditional business environment, it’s worth the money to spring for a nice briefcase. Like the nice suit and shoes, it reflects a certain level of professionalism and competence. 
  • Sweaters: Poorly made sweaters will lose their shape quickly and pill more easily. Own fewer sweaters, and buy the best you can afford. 

That Said …

That said, there are smart ways to work with a limited budget for the things above. 

  • Bags: Avoid materials that try to be what they’re not. If you only have a limited budget, a well made canvas bag will be better than a cheap leather one. A $50 leather briefcase will always look like what it is. 
  • Sweaters: Similarly for sweaters, stick to merino wool, lambswool, or cotton. Many companies sell cashmere sweaters at basement-level prices, but they don’t last very long. 
  • Shoes: If you’re buying from a lower-tier brand, aim for suede. The differences in quality from the low- to high-end suede are much smaller than it is for smooth calf. The soles and grommets might still give out, but at least you won’t get those really ugly creases you see on corrected grain leathers. 
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.

For $50 You Can Buy …
It’s been a while since I did one of these entries, so I thought I’d make up for it by building an entire ensemble for fall, head-to-toe, out of things you can buy for under $50. 
Shirt: Ralph Lauren Rugby has this "antique striped shirt" on sale for $49.99. I’m not crazy about Rugby’s designs when they have a bunch of collegiate stripes and emblems, but this one is simple enough. It also looks like it could go quite well with most casual ensembles. 
Pants: Sierra Trading Post has a bunch of Bill’s Khakis in a variety of colors and fabrics, and this vintage twill in olive would make for a nice fall chino. They cost $79.95 right now, but if you sign up for their DealFlyer newsletter, you’ll get their “special coupon” notices. Lately, they’ve been giving 35% off any one item, which brings these down to about $52 (hey, I’m just $2 off, cut me some slack). Depending on how skinny your legs are, these may need some tapering, however, so you should account for that cost. 
Belt: Narragansett Leathers makes handsome, custom-made belts for under $50. They have a variety of styles, but I like their plain 1.25” belts the most. If you want something more unique, they also have double ring and hoof pick belts for about the same price.
Shoes: It’s hard finding shoes for under $50! Obviously, if you’re willing to pay $100+, and look on eBay, then all sorts of decent options are available to you. For under $50, however, I’ll recommend these Land’s End chukkas. I’m not crazy about the stitching on the back quarters of the shoe, but they’re advertised as being full grain leather, and only cost $49.95. 
Wallet: I really like Chester Mox wallets. They’re completely handmade, built from Horween leather, and produced by a family in Los Angeles that has been working with leather for over a decade. Right now they’re running a promotion where they’ll etch your name or initials into the wallet for free (use the code FREEPRSLZ at the end of the Paypal checkout process). They have a bunch of designs for under $50, but this model only costs $35. A customized, handmade wallet for $35 ain’t bad. 
Watch: Big faced Timex, you got two of those. Well, at least that’s how many you can have for $50. Get the Easy Reader model for $20.24 on Overstock.com. If that one sells out, just check out their other Timex options. Many of them can be had for about $25 each.
Socks: You can get a pair of Gold Toe socks for about $3 at Belt Outlet. Read my review of them here. 
Key fob: This is a bit of a superfluous purchase, but the leather is 225 years old, and it was found at the bottom of a sunken ship! For $24, it’s a pretty cool thing to carry around. You can read more about the special leather in this old article I wrote. 
There we have it. Head-to-toe everything you need for fall, and nearly every item costs less than $50. It’s not the most sartorial of looks, but not bad for a budget. 

For $50 You Can Buy …

It’s been a while since I did one of these entries, so I thought I’d make up for it by building an entire ensemble for fall, head-to-toe, out of things you can buy for under $50. 

  • Shirt: Ralph Lauren Rugby has this "antique striped shirt" on sale for $49.99. I’m not crazy about Rugby’s designs when they have a bunch of collegiate stripes and emblems, but this one is simple enough. It also looks like it could go quite well with most casual ensembles.
  • Pants: Sierra Trading Post has a bunch of Bill’s Khakis in a variety of colors and fabrics, and this vintage twill in olive would make for a nice fall chino. They cost $79.95 right now, but if you sign up for their DealFlyer newsletter, you’ll get their “special coupon” notices. Lately, they’ve been giving 35% off any one item, which brings these down to about $52 (hey, I’m just $2 off, cut me some slack). Depending on how skinny your legs are, these may need some tapering, however, so you should account for that cost. 
  • Belt: Narragansett Leathers makes handsome, custom-made belts for under $50. They have a variety of styles, but I like their plain 1.25” belts the most. If you want something more unique, they also have double ring and hoof pick belts for about the same price.
  • Shoes: It’s hard finding shoes for under $50! Obviously, if you’re willing to pay $100+, and look on eBay, then all sorts of decent options are available to you. For under $50, however, I’ll recommend these Land’s End chukkas. I’m not crazy about the stitching on the back quarters of the shoe, but they’re advertised as being full grain leather, and only cost $49.95. 
  • Wallet: I really like Chester Mox wallets. They’re completely handmade, built from Horween leather, and produced by a family in Los Angeles that has been working with leather for over a decade. Right now they’re running a promotion where they’ll etch your name or initials into the wallet for free (use the code FREEPRSLZ at the end of the Paypal checkout process). They have a bunch of designs for under $50, but this model only costs $35. A customized, handmade wallet for $35 ain’t bad.
  • Watch: Big faced Timex, you got two of those. Well, at least that’s how many you can have for $50. Get the Easy Reader model for $20.24 on Overstock.com. If that one sells out, just check out their other Timex options. Many of them can be had for about $25 each.
  • Socks: You can get a pair of Gold Toe socks for about $3 at Belt Outlet. Read my review of them here.
  • Key fob: This is a bit of a superfluous purchase, but the leather is 225 years old, and it was found at the bottom of a sunken ship! For $24, it’s a pretty cool thing to carry around. You can read more about the special leather in this old article I wrote

There we have it. Head-to-toe everything you need for fall, and nearly every item costs less than $50. It’s not the most sartorial of looks, but not bad for a budget. 

My wife got me a pelican hook belt (above, rear) from Narragansett Leathers for my birthday.  Hand-made in New England with hefty brass marine hardware.  If you want one, you can give them a call at 207-563-5080, and they’ll grab one off the shelf for you and ship it priority for a very modest price - or if they’re out, they cut one for you today.  What a wonderful gift.

My wife got me a pelican hook belt (above, rear) from Narragansett Leathers for my birthday.  Hand-made in New England with hefty brass marine hardware.  If you want one, you can give them a call at 207-563-5080, and they’ll grab one off the shelf for you and ship it priority for a very modest price - or if they’re out, they cut one for you today.  What a wonderful gift.

Q and Answer: Belts
Eric writes: I understand that a belt should be roughly the same color as the shoes  it is paired with but are there other guidelines? What dictates a belts  width, texture, or buckle color and style? 
A standard men’s dress belt is about 1 1/4” wide.  That will look “normal” with almost any trouser.  Narrower than 1” and you’re wearing a fashion statement.  Wider than 1 1/4” and the belt is casual; more suitable for jeans or work wear than for dress wear.
As you say, the color of your belt should roughly match the color of your shoes.  They don’t need to be a perfect match (some even argue that a perfect match tries too hard), but they shouldn’t look dramatically different.  The hardware is usually either brass (or some other yellow-colored metal) or nickel (or some other silvery-colored metal).  Which you prefer is up to you.  There are those who match the metal of their watch to their belt buckles and cuff links, this is a bit much for me.  The buckle should be plain.  D-ring and fancy buckles are for casual wear.
As far as the finish of the belt, I prefer a rough match to my shoes, as well.  Dark brown suede shoes means dark brown suede belt.  This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, though.  As with shoes, suede is more casual than smooth calf.
With summery shoes or sneakers, you have a few options.  You can go with a leather belt that roughly matches the leather on the shoes.  You can also go with a more casual belt.  During the warmer months, I often wear a braided rope belt with my canvas sneakers, and sometimes a colorful ribbon belt.  With off-white summer shoes, I often wear a surcingle belt, made of cotton or cotton and wool, with leather ends.
One slightly off-topic note: not many people realize that belts can be altered.  If you’ve lost some weight, take your belt to the shoe repair store, and they can shorten it for you.  They do this by removing the buckle, cutting down the buckle end, then re-attaching the buckle.  That way, you retain the same number of holes on the pointy end.
(Belts above are by the good folks at Narragansett Leathers.  We love them.)

Q and Answer: Belts

Eric writes: I understand that a belt should be roughly the same color as the shoes it is paired with but are there other guidelines? What dictates a belts width, texture, or buckle color and style?

A standard men’s dress belt is about 1 1/4” wide.  That will look “normal” with almost any trouser.  Narrower than 1” and you’re wearing a fashion statement.  Wider than 1 1/4” and the belt is casual; more suitable for jeans or work wear than for dress wear.

As you say, the color of your belt should roughly match the color of your shoes.  They don’t need to be a perfect match (some even argue that a perfect match tries too hard), but they shouldn’t look dramatically different.  The hardware is usually either brass (or some other yellow-colored metal) or nickel (or some other silvery-colored metal).  Which you prefer is up to you.  There are those who match the metal of their watch to their belt buckles and cuff links, this is a bit much for me.  The buckle should be plain.  D-ring and fancy buckles are for casual wear.

As far as the finish of the belt, I prefer a rough match to my shoes, as well.  Dark brown suede shoes means dark brown suede belt.  This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, though.  As with shoes, suede is more casual than smooth calf.

With summery shoes or sneakers, you have a few options.  You can go with a leather belt that roughly matches the leather on the shoes.  You can also go with a more casual belt.  During the warmer months, I often wear a braided rope belt with my canvas sneakers, and sometimes a colorful ribbon belt.  With off-white summer shoes, I often wear a surcingle belt, made of cotton or cotton and wool, with leather ends.

One slightly off-topic note: not many people realize that belts can be altered.  If you’ve lost some weight, take your belt to the shoe repair store, and they can shorten it for you.  They do this by removing the buckle, cutting down the buckle end, then re-attaching the buckle.  That way, you retain the same number of holes on the pointy end.

(Belts above are by the good folks at Narragansett Leathers.  We love them.)

My go-to casual belt is a rifle sling belt which I ordered from Narragansett Leathers.  (I stole the idea from The Trad.)
Narrangansett make their accessories by hand in Damariscotta, Maine.  In addition to the O-ring and Rifle Sling belts picture above, they also make pelican and hoof-pick belts for the mariners and equestrians among us as well as all sorts of traditional belts.  They’re all extremely reasonably priced, too - about $35 or $40.  Cheap enough to cover your belt needs, whatever they may be.  They’ll even make you a briefcase.  I had them make one for my wife as a graduation gift, and it’s one of her most favorite possessions.
They’ll ship anywhere, but they’re closed February and March (snowed in, I’m guessing), and you have to call them - 207-563-5080 is their number.  They’re exceptionally nice.

My go-to casual belt is a rifle sling belt which I ordered from Narragansett Leathers.  (I stole the idea from The Trad.)

Narrangansett make their accessories by hand in Damariscotta, Maine.  In addition to the O-ring and Rifle Sling belts picture above, they also make pelican and hoof-pick belts for the mariners and equestrians among us as well as all sorts of traditional belts.  They’re all extremely reasonably priced, too - about $35 or $40.  Cheap enough to cover your belt needs, whatever they may be.  They’ll even make you a briefcase.  I had them make one for my wife as a graduation gift, and it’s one of her most favorite possessions.

They’ll ship anywhere, but they’re closed February and March (snowed in, I’m guessing), and you have to call them - 207-563-5080 is their number.  They’re exceptionally nice.