Style Stories

What does a belt do for your outfit?

A bottoms equation to help you get dressed
by Leandra Medine Cohen
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It usually takes a couple of years for the trends on a runway to drip through the percolator of fashion commerce before large-scale integration sets in. What I mean by integration is that thing where after you clock a burgeoning trend, like take note that it’s coming even though you might not care to participate yet, you slowly undo that apathy and start to feel like your outfit is incomplete without the trend in question.

Prada Fall 2020, J.W. Anderson Fall 2020

There’s typically a few months’ lag for me between noticing the trend and wanting to wear it but belts are an easy one to miss completely. Or, it’s not exactly that — but they’re not as easy to pinpoint.

They’re unassuming in that way that you know something is different but you can’t quite hone in on what. And they can be worn so many different ways — to accentuate a waistline, to keep a pair of pants up, or totally fecklessly as decoration. It’s kind of like when you get a haircut or grow out your eyebrows or have a spiritual awakening, and people are like, “You are different but I can’t quite tell why.”

The Row Fall 202/Nili Lotan Pre-fall 2023

That’s belts. They’re always around because they’re belts — an actually utilitarian artifact that makes clothing more comfortable to wear, but they’ve been back in the zeitgeist for, let’s say 3 years now, and it seems we’re at the point of genuine integration, so, if you want to dust off ye olde crystal buckles

Or you got your hands on one of the new, more modern iterations (The RowEmme Parsons) but still find yourself wondering, “What does a belt even do for this outfit?,” here’s a visual short list of answers.

Adds dynamism to what you’re wearing without whacking you over the head.

Khaite t-shirt, Beaufille belt (I also really like this one or $290 if you are going for a more Western vibe), Emi Mess pants, The Row slippers which you can find in black or beige too

With that dynamism, I mean. Here in this plain look, I’m simply wearing grey trousers, a white t-shirt and blue suede flats — but the belt adds a bit of polish that creates the illusion of a greater sense of put togetherness even though I lost my wallet two weeks and still haven’t replaced anything that was in it.

Towards the end of the holiday season is usually when I start to feel a bit of dressing fatigue to the extent that I don’t care as much about saying the most with my clothes, but I do still want to look put together. Turns out that a belt is a great way to wear nothing out of the ordinary, but still feel like you’re dressed. Added a big chunky gold bracelet too because there’s room to play with the overall canvas.

To this point, (a belt) can also dress up the normie base look.

Without having to change the t-shirt or pants, you can add a different belt (this one is Khaite) and shoes (Emme Parsons) and find yourself dressed in a completely different vibe. Added the velvet bow for season apropos effect

I am still floored by the impact the simple change of belt or pair of shoes can have on an outfit. It’s like, if I was going back to the restaurant where I left my wallet to try and retrieve it in the last look, here I am ready to go back to that restaurant and splay across the bar with the grace of a Kelly.


Belts can also dress down an outfit.

Balzac Paris belt (green suede with a red/white pattern; it gives Etro), Toteme boots (somehow $300 less than anywhere else, but then also, if you’re a size 6, here are old but unworn Ferragamos, OG best in class, from TRR) — they are all like Uggs, but for when you want to look a bit more put together

A jacket from a small design studio based in Tangier, you can find them on Instagram here, and the boots are from Soeur Paris. They’re $395, which is kind a sweet spot price point where the quality can still be super solid but the overall price not as distressing as like, this one

But let’s step away from the white tee and trousers now.

A belt can chill out a chaotic outfit.

The Beaufille belt in this instance grounds the feather pants (similar cut, albeit more muted, here) and adds context for the brown top, which in turns provides a bit more flexibility for the shoes to not make sense. (The one thing I’d say is that I deliberately opted for a simple silhouette in a surprising color to both compliment and counter the pants). Nafsika Skourti top, Patou pants (I like these too), Beaufille belt, Manolo Blahnik sandals

Can make a masculine coat more feminine.

Have been craving a single-breast peplum coat since I saw this one but need a new coat like I need a hole in my head, so had the idea to belt this Barbour-style number and am actually quite pleased with how it turned out

I’d have wanted it to peplum out a little bit more, but you do what you can. Emme Parsons belt, Closed jeans and Toteme flats

Shown another way, I had breakfast with my friend Rosie last week and she is probably going to kill me to including this picture here, but she was wearing:

A grey blazer with a leather knitted belt knotted over it and snaked a scarf through the lapels and into the belt while she was at it. Also reminded me that the best hat option for cold weather in a nylon bucket hat.

Belts gives waist to warmth.

Here I’m wearing a sheer dress (a Prada RealReal find) with black knee-high socks, a black high-waist bathing suit bottom, a sweater (THE sweater) from Ven Store and this one skinny belt from a small brand called Refine. The shoes are Khaite

And tie your accessories together within ~the look.~

Brown shoes and belt to buttress blue and red accents — Beaufille belt, Jacquemus shoes, here’s a good red turtleneck, and a good blue shirt, plus Jeanerica jeans

Finally, for my favorite use-case: belts make your partner’s pants fit you.

The scrappiest way to use a belt! Take a pair of pants that are big on you: maybe they belong to your partner, to a former version of you, to your parent, your sibling, your friend, wtvr!, and belt the hell out of them.

The Khaite belt and tube top in this instance afforded the khaki pants a bit of glamour they’ve never been able to experience wrapped around the legs of their true owner, while the shirt made them feel much more at home in their plainness.

In sum: belts are a worthwhile outfit add. The styles I have found most useful include:

  • The most basic belt, in brown

Consider it a primer — the belt you use to get your toes wet and explore the ways your style can transform with the fell swoop and loop of a strap. Or whatever. This particular belt was actually a surprising revelation within the constellation of my closet because brown’s not a frequent color in my rotation but I have found that it compliments charcoal grey and faded black denim, or a black tee and blue jeans in an unexpected way — and because it’s so simple, it works with the rest of the palettes too.

  • The other primer

Emme Parsons Lago belt, $115 (alternative consignment option here)

Really good on outerwear, sturdy, durable, sleek, well made, and better priced than most. It comes in a skinnier version too, but I like to use it over a jacket, so width and weight of this one work for me.

  • The studded party girl

Khaite belt, $380

The patent leather gold studded Khaite belt has turned out to be a great antidote to pretty casual clothes, making them (the casual clothes) seem more festive or just like they know how to have a better time than they do. I think the gold studs give a different, more polished vibe that is less rock and roll, and I can’t find that version of the belt around anywhere, so I’m including this squiggly buckle one, which is priced a bit better and gets the same job done on account of that patent leather band. (And not for nothing, belts are a great gift to give/get bc they among the annoying things you never want to buy for yourself, but which you’re happy to have once you have them).

  • An Etro wildcard

Etro belt, $348

This one caught my attention like a month ago, for probably the opposite reason to the Khaite one — it’s a perfect foil for a plain outfit (white tee, trousers) or a very sleek one (think a black tuxedo suit with patent leather shoe o something). My style errs more naturally casual — tons of jeans and like, shades of camel, so this guy might be too literal with the spoils of my wardrobe but if you’re a sleek all-black wearer, I love it for you.

  • And here for your viewing pleasure, some Real Real spoils from past and present.


That concludes this episode. Have a great holiday and see you back here soon. Signing off yours,