This should not come as a surprise to anyone, but I’ve noticed a lot of vintage menswear details come back in the past few years: high rise, pleated trousers are nearly the norm in our circle today. Wide lapels are now requested on most bespoke commissions. Collar points have gotten longer. Cuban collar shirts are now an essential part of a gentleman’s spring/summer attire. Hell, even white socks with loafers are gaining traction!
However, I’ve recently noticed something unexpected that threw me back to my old days of scouring vintage catalogues and hanging out with period dressers: the return of the thin belt.
The belt is one accessory that hasn’t undergone much change throughout the years. After all, it’s a piece that doesn’t require much design: a belt is simply a long stretch of leather with a metal buckle meant to prevent your trousers from falling down. Not much attention is paid to the width of it, unless it’s overly chunky like a barrel belt. Today, with the rise of side tab trousers and easy pants, a belt has even less of a need for a redesign in the grand scheme of things.
However, I encourage you to view the belt as yet another fun detail to pay attention to and use to evoke a particular aesthetic within menswear.
It’s important to mention that for a while, most belts were quite thin. When you look at old Apparel Arts illustrations, period photographs, or even general menswear ads until the late 60s, it’s apparent that relatively thin belts (max 1.5”) were en vogue. They worked well with everything, from generously pleated Hollywood waist trousers to slim-legged ivy chinos. These belts, along with horizontal metal belt buckles or rounded clasps, seemed to emphasize the masculine ideal of a thin waist that sits high on the body and begins a long leg line. It’s no surprise that a thick belt went hand-in-hand with the lowering of the rise in later years.
Today, thinner belts are commonly considered “dress belts”, which might be why they’re a rare sight, considering menswear’s love affair with side tab adjusters. Truthfully, there isn’t much demand for “dress”-anything these days, given how casual men’s clothes have gotten. When wearing a sport coat casually, for instance, a thicker belt plays into a rugged aesthetic that goes well even with denim, which is a popular choice in both shirts and pants.
As a result of this slight disappearance from the stage, thin belts may give off a vintage vibe; however, unlike a fedora, wide lapels, and pleats, it’s a subtle detail that blends perfectly with contemporary apparel and it’s not very hard to style. In my opinion it brings in a casual mid-century vibe.
I don’t think it’s my vintage collector bias showing itself here, as I’ve seen thin belts trending among people in the know, each doing it with their own flair. Aleks Cvetkovic of HandCut Radio opted for a thinner woven belt to wear with his Edward Sexton hollywood trousers. Sid Mashburn has been known to rock a thin reptile belt (with the interesting Conway closure) with his suits. Ethan Newton and Kenji Cheung of Bryceland’s routinely wear thin belts with vintage engine turned buckles. Even The Armoury has stocked thin belts by Il Micio, whose models utilize a western-esque buckle, adding even more flavor to this piece of practical menswear.
I learned pretty early on that a thin belt is a great way to incorporate vintage style into everyday wear, despite its dressy connotation. The formal flair gives an edge to an outfit, making it perfect for cords or denims, especially since I almost always wear low vamp loafers, a detail that also leads to a formal vibe. In addition to its mid-century aesthetic, a thin belt appears to streamline almost every outfit it’s worn with, not as much as a side tab adjuster, but certainly more than any wider belt.
Despite my love of thin belts over the years, I didn’t start expanding on it until my deadstock 1940’s belt (which is 1” in width) started to deteriorate. Since then, I’ve looked around. A few of my friends have suggested women’s belts, which are normally quite thin when compared to mainstream men’s belts (though Uniqlo has offered a thin belt for men in the past).
I haven’t made a purchase from a big name brand yet, but I have since added belts to my regular eBay searches which have proved fruitful over quarantine. I’ve acquired a thin “cortina” belt from Ralph Lauren (with a nice engine turned buckle) as well as a vintage alligator belt with a metal cap and delightfully bold buckle. It seems that even thin belts have room for personality, especially as most of the newer belts I’ve seen (from makers like Adriano Meneghetti and Silver Ostritch) have a western flair.
Perhaps classic menswear’s current fascination with western themes should be the topic of another article. For now, enjoy thin belts and perhaps you’ll find them to be just as pleasant to wear as your favorite sartorial trousers with side tabs.