Time to buy a new leather belt? Congratulations, you're about to buy one of the estimated 400 million belts that will be bought this year so to help you make the best decision possible we have put together this definitive guide.
At YOKU we believe a belt should be an object you buy once and own for life. We interviewed 100s of people about the belts they have bought, currently own and want to have and found these 5 factors were the key considerations to get right so you move from buying a belt every couple of years to owning one for decades that you love.
Get a leather belt that lasts a long time
It goes without saying that durability is a key aspect but let's unpack a bit more how to achieve this. A number of factors go into durability including what it's made from and how it's made/works.
Your leather belt should be full grain leather
When it comes to durability there simply isn't any other option than full grain leather belts. It comes from the part of the cow that lasts the longest and when properly cared for it should last many decades. A leather belt made from full grain leather will not only survive it will age gracefully. It develops what is known as a patina, essentially the colour develops over time. Assuming you buy a black belt or brown belt (or any colour really) then it should ideally be vegetable tanned but chromium tanning it also fine as long as the environmental credentials of the tannery are available.
The buckle should be high quality metal
The vast majority of belts are made with cheap zinc alloy or other similar metals. They are naturally dull but are coated or treated so they look nice coming out of the shop but with daily wear these coatings will come off and the buckle will look worn in a year or so. These metals will also degrade generally under the conditions a belt is subjected to (heat, humidity, friction etc) and eventually breakdown or not work properly mechanically.
The ideal choice for a belt buckle for your leather belt is a very very hardwearing material such as Stainless Steel. There are a variety of grades of stainless steel but we recommend grade 316 which is also used in harsh conditions such as marine and medical
How it is made and works mechanically
The most common approach to a leather belt is to use a frame buckle and have the leather attached permanently to this frame. The nature of this frame buckle mechanism is that getting the belt on and off a few times a day involves cranking the leather belt back on to the buckle to pull it to the desired tightness and then inserting the prong into the desired hole. This mechanism is simple and cheap to make, even with hard metals like stainless steel but it creates a problem. The act of taking the belt on and off actually puts the leather belt under extreme strain on a daily basis. This is the number one cause of wear and tear on the leather belt itself. We have seen hundreds of belts that are in perfect condition except for the severe wear and tear at this point from this action.
The other main alternative to a frame buckle is a flat or dress buckle. Traditionally this mechanism sees the leather belt attached to the buckle on one side and the buckle has a small hook that is inserted into the hole as the belt slides in under the buckle. These buckles use more metal so are more expensive to make but put the leather belt itself under less strain.
An ideal belt from a durability perspective would be made from stainless steel, full grain leather and utilise a mechanism that had no moving parts and avoided actively damaging the leather when taken on and off.
As versatile as possible
Some guys will be happy to get up and put on a fat black belt with a pair of jeans every day for the rest of their life.
A guy will typically have the following things in their wardrobe that might require a belt
- Casual Pants
- Outdoor wear
- Dress pants
- Formal wear
- Casual shorts
- Dress shorts
Not only a variety of styles but a variety of colours. This is why black is the easy option, it's most likely to go with anything you might have on. The majority of men will want their belt to be versatile enough to go with a broad range of clothing options and the option to mix it up even further by changing the belt itself.
Unfortunately durability and versatility are at odds. In short, if you want it to last a long time then traditionally you need the simplest mechanism possible and it should be fixed to a single strap but if you want interchangeable straps you create a weak point for the belt as they involve small moving parts and/or teeth that lose their grip on the leather over time.
The other aspect of versatility is the thickness and width of the belt strap itself. The clothing above all come is a variety of materials and lengths which means they weigh vastly different amounts. Suits and formal wear tend to be lighter and finer and come with smaller belt loops. Heavier items like jeans or Outdoor wear have bigger loops intended for a sturdier belt strap. A belt strap at either end of this spectrum simply won't work across a wide range of clothing. It won't fit in the loops or it won't hold up the pants properly.
The ideal leather belt would come with a range of colours in a single overall belt but not introduce a weak point that is common in interchangeable or reversible belts. It would have a thickness and width that is still small enough to go through a suit belt loop but of enough thickness and heft that it can hold up heavy jeans firmly.
A leather belt that won't go out of fashion
Trends come and go but good design is timeless. The longest lasting design is typically more refined, less extreme and is trying to do less. This is no different when it comes to buying a leather belt. Every embellishment on the buckle or leather represents a risk that this motif will not appeal over an extended period. Simple stitching in the leather or a basic bevel/groove in a buckle will probably be ok but heavy and random ornamentation is likely to be less desirable as you age and change yourself.
This guideline can be softened however if the embellishment holds deep and lasting significance such as
- Patterns representing cultural identity
- Motifs representing life long affiliations (e.g country or team)
- Embellishments representing key moments (e.g. wedding or birthday)
If your belt has this or you are looking to add it just consider strongly if you expect the significance to be present in 20 years. Interestingly if you think it does and it ultimately ends up being the case then these embellishments can help create what is known as an emotionally durable design.
Doesn't have branding on it
While the majority of men buying a leather belt don't want branding to begin with we want to cover this point explicitly for all the people reading this who might be buying a belt for someone special in their life. The challenge is you want to buy the best belt you can and the shortcut to buying well is looking for a reputable brand. The problem is that overwhelming brands see a belt buckle or leather belt strap as the perfect place to stick their logo.
The ideal leather belt is from a reputable brand that has the sensibility to simply sell a great and long lasting belt without having to turn the wearer into a billboard.
A leather belt from a company that only makes belts
The final factor to look for is ideally you want a company who makes belts and nothing else. This company not only invests all their time, money and effort into making their product they literally live and die by the success of that endeavour. They are traditionally founder (individual) led and have a care and respect for the materials, craft and the product they sell to customers.
The other strong reason to buy from a company that only makes belts is if you ever have any issues with the belt you own or lose it and want to buy it again they are far more likely to be able to help you than a brand which sells a belt as an add-on and the belt you bought a year ago is out of fashion by the time it breaks next year.
YOKU leather belt
YOKU is a company that makes only a men's belt. We have a patented design that means our belt and buckle are completely interchangeable with no moving parts. Our buckle is made from stainless steel grade 316 and we use full grain leather belt straps. When you buy our belt it comes with 1 buckle and 2 straps and you can buy additional straps if you need/want to.