Belts are one of those afterthoughts, aren’t they? Kind of like your wallet after you purchase it: you don’t really think about it until you need to buy another one, which, if you buy quality, won’t be for years.

So if you’re like me, make this purchase count so you won’t be full of regret for the lifespan of this thing.

In keeping with the Lean Wardrobe philosophy, let’s focus on necessity and figure out what exactly it is that you need. Not saying you can’t have more, not saying you don’t want more. But if you only had one, this is what it should be.

What to look for in a belt: Some Pointers

  • Good quality leather (The stuff you find in the clearance aisle at Ross will hold your pants up, but they miss the mark in terms of “good quality”, in most cases)
  • Dark brown or black (Depending on the color shoe you wear more… if you’re an avid EG reader, I’m going to assume you’re buying brown. Go you!)
  • 1″ – 1.5″ width
  • standard, classic design
  • matte finished hardware (this is a preference, as some prefer polished, but I say go with something understated)

A belt is utilitarian, for the most part. It has a job and if it does so successfully, well, that’s a good thing. It doesn’t hurt to look good while doing its job, so buying something you like and find attractive is worth it.

I believe the things you use and touch the most in your everyday life should be of high quality… things like your wallet, your everyday bag, your favorite pair of denim. Most of us wear a belt every day, so add this to your splurge list once you have extra disposable income.

Keep it classic. You want this belt to go with everything (aside from, say, your tux… or your PJs), so classic styling with understated hardware is the best choice.

The many shades of brown

Brown shoes brown belt, black shoes black belt. You’ve heard the rule. Since brown leather comes in many shades, and since we’re taking about the one belt you need, just pick one that matches close enough to the color of your shoes.

It doesn’t have to be exact, just close. Your belt and shoes are worn far enough apart on your body that no one really notices.

If you’re a fan of tan or walnut colored leather, you’ll need a belt for that as well. Here’s one I love.

Size up? Maybe.

I’d say the belt fits if you’re two to three holes in from the tip of the belt. Any more, and your belt’s too big. If you’re hinging on the last hole, that doesn’t leave much wiggle room.

In the past I’ve bought belts that are one to two sizes bigger than my typical waist size (so if I’m a 32, I buy a 34 belt). You may have to do the same. Not sure why that is, but I find that to be a more comfortable length, and true to my “three holes in” rule.

Things to avoid

Big ol’ Western-style belt buckles, crazy leather designs, synthetic materials, fabric belts, LED buckles with programmable sayings, plastic bling.

By the way, remember that all these belts would technically be okay (save for those LED or cheap plastic bedazzled shits), depending on the situation. But this article is focusing on the one belt you need, if you only had one. So if you’re all defensive right about now because you totally love your saucer-sized Western buckle, don’t be.

If you own any of these and love them, that’s fine, but make sure you have that one classic belt that goes with everything, in practically every situation.


Here are two I love, that fit the descriptions I laid out above. Check it.

J.Crew leather plaque belt in classic brown – $49.50


Tanner Goods Standard leather belt in Havana  – $88

Simple, right?

Now you know what to look for the next time you’re buying a belt. These will go with everything, from your dark denim, to chinos, to your wool trousers.

Regardless of the brand, and even if you can only afford one of those clearance things at Ross, just stick with as many of the above pointers as possible, and you’ll be okay.

You rock!

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[belt buckle photo]


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40 Responses

  1. Ace on

    Thanks B. LOL. Got my leather belts (blk and dark brown). Now on to finding one of those canvas(?) belts to go with my sperry outfit. -Ace

    • Barron on

      Remember you don’t need specific items for specific outfits. Ideally you want everything you own to go with virtually everything else.

      No reason a good brown leather belt can’t go with Sperrys.

      • Ace on

        Right but the other belt adds variety. Just like how you can switch up different shoes. I’ve always liked the two colored belts (khaki & navy, navy & red etc). Just haven’t really looked for one.

        Thanks again B

  2. JW on

    I was just thinking about belts just before I saw this post. How can you tell if the leather is of good quality, though?

    • Barron on

      Wikipedia is our friend in this situation:

      In general you want something that’s full-grain or top-grain. This is usually stamped on the belt, or in the description of the product if you buy online (manufacturers want to state it if they use it, because it’s good quality).

      Regarding cheap, low-quality leather, you can often tell just by touch (if you touch enough… this is sounding naughty). Check out the other leather descriptions in that link and it will give you a better idea.

  3. Drew Conway on

    Good call on the wallet.  Someone gave me a leather wallet as a present and I only just noticed that it’s helped up really well over the past 15 years.  I’ve only ever owned cheap belts and I’m in need of some dress belts so I’ll allow myself to buy a nice one this time around.  At the moment, I’ve got a Marshall’s one on me 🙂

    • Barron on

      I got a Marshall’s one too. Some are decent, but the majority of them are bleh. That’s why they end up at Marshall’s in the first place. They do the job though, can’t ignore that.

      Definitely, when finances allow, pick up one similar to the ones I’ve linked to. Tanner Goods is one of my favorites, they have such a wide variety if you visit their store (

      Don’t limit yourself to just wearing it for dressy occasions either. You want a belt you can wear 90%-95% of the time.

  4. Conan Barton on

    “My belt holds my pants up, but the belt loops hold my belt up. I don’t really know what’s happening down there. Who is the real hero?”
    Mitch Hedberg

  5. esophagus on

    If you are in Portland, visiting the Tanner Goods is a blast. You get to pick out everything for your belt — leather, belt keeper, rivets, buckle — and they assemble it there on site. It’s one of the best purchases I’ve made recently and a rock solid belt.

    • Barron on

      That’s so awesome. I was in Portland last summer, and I wish I made time to visit. Next time, for sure. I didn’t realize you can custom make one on the spot, that’s great. Thanks for the comment!

  6. Gautam B on

    I have to say that I’m not really with you on this – I prefer having a variety & choosing the one that goes best. I have a black, a grey, a dark brown, a dark brown & light blue (all leather), a tan leather strip on navy canvas & a canvas navy with pink stripes. I enjoy being able to mix & match.

    Nonetheless, I find myself gravitating towards the grey & the chocolate brown leather one.If you’re going to start somewhere, start with those colours.

    Worth pointing out that wearing a slightly unusual belt always draws compliments – my chocolate brown one is a hoof pick belt & I picked it up for £15. 

    Good write-up, Barron!

    • Barron on

      I’m with you. I like mixing and picking belts (and other accessories) that complement whatever I’m wearing. But I think 90% of the time I stick with my tried-and-true brown leather belt.

      Also, this article is pointed more towards the gent who doesn’t know where to start or what to get if he can only pick one. Once he has that ONE belt, he should definitely experiment with other colors / materials, just like you have been.

  7. Geoff on

    Going to have to agree with you on the quality aspect. I have Allen Edmonds belts which are expensive even when on sale. But they last as long as the shoes…which is a long time. Leather, in general, isn’t one of those places to skimp on quality. It gets obvious real quick.

    One caveat – if you’re someone who has lost weight and has markings of where the belt used to fasten, this isn’t a great look. Try to keep the belt buckled in the same notch.

    • Barron on

      Heh, yeah, it’s too bad the leather doesn’t always bounce back, especially after using it on the same hole for years. That may be inescapable, but alternating between two belts can at least delay that effect.

  8. Christopher Dravus on

    The whole belt article is good but the underlying points about utility in one’s wardrobe is what people should really take to heart.

    There should be very few if any “stand alone” items in your closet. A new item should work together with the rest of your closet or have a “family” of items it can work with. There’s no point in buying a great new shirt or pair of shoes if it can only be worn with maybe two or three outfits. After a month you’ll look stale. The combination will repeat over and over and then you need to go out and buy a new thing with a freshness expiration of a month. Basically you become a series of outfits stuck in reruns. 

    Take Barron’s advice and buy things that work with every outfit and now you can put together a new combination anytime you like. Take the time you need when shopping to pick out the right items even if they are expensive. One good expensive item that works with everything is cheaper than a new overly specific item that needs replacing month after month to stay fresh. 

    Thanks for the great article sir. Always a pleasure to read. 


    • Barron on

      Thanks Christopher. Getting to that point (a 100% interchangeable wardrobe) is a challenge, but it’s definitely one worth taking on. I’m not even quite sure it’s doable, but having a majority of your pieces work with one another is always something to strive for.

  9. SEO on

    I would like to add that Saddleback Leather makes quality belts. Not cheap but excellent quality, and they guarantee them for 100 years. Very much a long term purchase…

  10. Gary on

    Good article and I thought I’d weigh in.  Stay away from reversible belts.  Their normally GLUED together and will split in half after light to moderate wear.  So you’re losing two belts instead of one.  Stick with a single-colored whole grain leather.  

    • Barron on

      Good point! haha, losing two instead of one. When you look at it that way, why even bother with them in the first place. I’ve had a few in my day (including one that’s now probably about 20 years old). Most were pretty shitty but I’ve kept the 20-year-old one just because it’s actually lasted this long and hasn’t shown any wear.

      • Gary on

        Barron, true but like the saying goes “they don’t make them like they used to.” You’ve found a gem so hold onto it!  Keep up the good work!

  11. Josh Jensen on


    While I’m aware of the classic “no black & brown together” rule, I’ve been wondering what you think: I wear the standard low-top black (sometimes white, depending on the weather) chucks about every day…does a brown belt work with them?

    • Barron on

      Hi Josh,

      I’d do black or brown with the white, but a black belt w/ the black chucks, just like you’d do with any black leather dress shoe.

  12. guest on

    I get my casual belts made at the local leather shop.  Awesome quality, lots of color choices, can add contrast stitching, good price, supports a local business, can use a buckle from a worn-out belt or buy one of theirs for extra $5.

    Go to Outback Leather, Laurel, MD.

  13. massage wage on

    The combination will repeat over and over and then you need to go out and buy a new thing with a freshness expiration of a month. Basically you become a series of outfits stuck in reruns. 

  14. Matthew on

    this article is great. but being 16 and trying to figure out my wardrobe so i dont look like some kid that has “swag” i try to wear leather only when im working. what do you think about cloth belts? ive been wearing them for a while and they last but all of mine are from DC or Volcom or some skate company.

    • Barron on

      I wore leather belts when I was like 8. Why would wearing a leather belt make you look like you’re trying to swag out? It’s pretty standard material for a belt. They come in different styles (some more casual, some meant for dress).

      Not sure what a cloth belt is. You can do something like this in canvas?

  15. nicknacknick on

    Does the rule of matching shoes and belt applies to canvas sneaker? I have a pair of black chucks (not the monochrome one, the one with some white parts), can I pair it with a brown leather belt or I must go with the black leather belt?

  16. Jurgen De Cleen on

    When I was younger, I didn’t spend almost any money on belts. A wrong choice! I had quite a number of belts, but there was always something wrong with them (Buckle came of, leather was ‘chipping’,…) now I have about three high quality belts, and I’m very pleased that I have bought them. They are worth every penny (or Eurocent, as I should say here in Belgium).
    Kind regards,