Just about to start a new job? Maybe your old belt is falling apart? Buying belts for work related environments is going to be a whole lot easier if you follow these 5 key steps.
Look for a work belt that will last
Comparatively speaking a typical work environment (office, retail or road warrior) isn't going to be extreme conditions some people work under (e.g. outdoor) but even if you are 100% desk-bound a poorly made belt or a work belt made from low quality materials is unlikely to last more than a few years.
Belts for work tend to be worn with office suitable clothing (smart casual all the way to a suit) so dress belts are the typical style which means metal and leather.
The most common metal for belts are zinc allows with some kind of coating. These degrade very quickly and might look nice the day you first wear them but you will see wear and tear on the buckle within a year or so. You really need to go for higher quality materials such as stainless steel, titanium (if you can afford it) or palladium. Importantly the description should avoid the words 'plated' or 'finished' which means it's a cheap metal underneath and a nicer metal on top. Unless it is a process like anodising that actually bonds a finish to the metal it simply won't last and whilst the buckle will functionally work it will look tired.
As far as the strap goes leather is the default choice and durable leather means really only two options
- Full grain leather ; which still retains the original texture of the animal
- Top grain leather; it's essentially full grain but has the very top sanded back for a smoother finish
Both these options are highly durable if properly cared for
EVERYTHING else that is not described as one of these two is unlikely to last a long time. It will include terms such as real leather, genuine leather, bonded leather, leather, pure leather, 100% leather and more. Basically anything to include the word leather and avoid the words 'full grain' or 'top grain' which they legally can't call it.
Belts for work need to be comfortable
This goes without saying but the office work environment sees people sitting at a desk or in a car up to 8+ hours a day so the belt needs to be especially comfortable when sitting down.
This impacts a few things in the design of the belt.
- The buckle should be as flat and thin as possible without a hard edge, especially a long the top side of the belt
- The leather shouldn't be too thick, we suggest no more than 3.5mm
- The leather belt shouldn't be too wide, we suggest no more than 30mm (1 1/4 inch)
- The edge of the belt should be rounded, bevelled and smooth
All of these factors combined will help to avoid the discomfort that is a belt sticking into the gut of the mean wearing it.
Belts to avoid include thicker belts, with big buckles or frame buckles which involved 3 straps of leather at their thickest point, right at the middle. Dress belts tend to be the go to for this reason but as long as you see plenty of reviews indicating how comfortable the belt is, especially when sitting down, you should be ok.
Versatile enough to wear with a lot of styles
Most men work in an environment without any mandated uniform so their office wear is an extension of their general wardrobe and this means variety. Traditionally the 'rule' has been match your belt (colour) with your shoes. Black shoes, black belt. Brown shoes, brown belt. However, this view is from a bygone era when belts for work meant wearing a belt with a suit only. As offices have relaxed and essentially anything goes in most work environments as long as it 'looks nice' finding a belt that gives you a lot more flexibility has become key
The most common approach to giving a man more options is a reversible belt. This involves a mechanism that lets the belt strap be flipped around so a single belt has two colours. The issue with these designs is two fold
- The mechanism isn't usually very strong
- The only way to get two leather colours thin enough to wear is to bond (glue) two bits of leather
Both of these factors make reversible belts weaker and likely to fail on the durability measures above
This single design challenge was one of the main motivations we had when creating our YOKU belts, which are fully interchangeable full grain leather straps with no moving parts in the mechanism, but more on that later.
It's not enough for the belt to go with a lot of things and last a long time, the aesthetic has to not go out of fashion. The majority of designs that get our attention in the short term will actually date and annoy us over time. Classic design is characterised by a 'less is more' approach. It is reductive in nature, the designer will be looking to what can be taken away from the design.
Whilst only time will tell the things to avoid are usually
- excessive embellishment
- hard lines
Products that appear more organic (ie from nature) in how they look, feel and smell tend to stay with us longer.
Value for money
The general rule of 'you get what you pay for' is only semi true when it comes to buying a belt. The true part is that high quality, long lasting materials are more expensive. The raw cost to buy stainless steel, make it into a buckle shape and to buy full grain leather and finish it means that the material costs for a high quality belt are at least $30 USD. Once you add on marketing, shipping and margin then the product might wholesale at $70USD and retail for around $120. If you spend this amount on a high quality belt, made from long lasting materials with a timeless design you should get at least 10 years out if. We spoke to guys who were going on 20 years with their favourite belt. This is what value for money looks like.
The two ends of this spectrum is where there is no value for money.
Cheap belts made with cheap materials that need to be bought every few years are terrible value for money. They are also completely unsustainable environmentally.
Additionally, expensive designer belts are terrible value for money. If you're paying more than ~$150 USD for a belt, even if made with stainless steel and full grain leather then you are likely paying for the marketing machine and high street outlets that the major fashion brands maintain. In a lot of cases it still won't be great quality materials so won't last so it's doubly bad value.
If you buy right then you will potentially have this work belt for your entire working life. Don't opt for cheap belts made with cheap materials. Try to avoid expensive designer belts and look for timeless design and if possible some versatility. Belts for work don't have to be boring but if you buy a well made classic it will be there for you forever. Hell, you might even wear it on the weekend!