Men's leather belts — where's the sweet spot re: "cheap" and "durable"?
January 10, 2013 12:56 PM   Subscribe

All my life I've bought cheap-ass vaguely-leather-ish belts (like, the $20 ones from that rack next to the cash register at the el-cheapo big box shoe store) and they've always started to warp within three months and started falling to pieces within six. I don't think I'm unusually hard on my belts. I think the ones I'm buying just suck balls and I should bite the bullet and buy nicer ones. So: How much more would I have to spend to get one that didn't suck? What would it cost me to get a leather belt that would last two years without warping or splitting? Five years? Ten? Infinity?
posted by and so but then, we to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (38 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I routinely buy $50 - $75 belts that last for a decade at a time or more. Amortized over the length of useful life they're incredibly cheap.

I also own multiple belts, and don't wear the same one every day.
posted by dfriedman at 12:57 PM on January 10, 2013

I've had my belt for years and years. It was purchased at the Gap for $40ish.
posted by something something at 12:59 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You want full-grain leather. I have a twelve-year-old leather belt from Target that is still as sturdy as the day I bought it - I doubt I paid more than $30, if that - but it's full-grain and pretty much indestructible. Just search for "full-grain belt" online and you should find lots of options.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:02 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am wearing a belt that I think I bought for... $30? $40? Something like that, from Fossil, when I was - I believe - sixteen. That was well over a decade ago. I have worn it almost every day since then, and it's still in fine shape (I have other belts I wear with nicer, non-denim pants, but that's maybe twenty or thirty days out of the year.) It is the only thing in my wardrobe that is more than 3 years old; other than my teddy bear and a handful of science-fiction paperbacks, I'm pretty sure it is the oldest object I still own.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:03 PM on January 10, 2013

Red Wing belts are pretty good and run in the $35 - $50 range. I have a very simple one that I wore every day for a while - it was just leather with no stitching, and it stretched - but it didn't come apart and is still wearable, and I'm pretty tough on my clothes.

Allen Edmonds belts are the gold standard, but they run into money - $75 - $100. If you buy an AE belt, get one that is stitched or double-layered - I got the very handsome Bombay belt (or Mumbai, it should really be - but this is a company with a shoe model called "Seneca", which strikes me as really inappropriate) which is just contoured leather, and it seems to be stretching fairly quickly. It's a handsome belt, the stretching isn't messing up the appearance and I got it for $45 on sale, but I might ultimately have to get it shortened and have new holes punched at the cobbler.
posted by Frowner at 1:04 PM on January 10, 2013

TJ Maxx has pretty good belts at relatively cheap prices; Everlane's $40 belt is a pretty good deal. So yeah, that range, but you do need to give a good leather belt a bit of care -- not as much as a pair of shoes, but a little bit of TLC every now and then.
posted by holgate at 1:06 PM on January 10, 2013

Ah! I recommend the belt man!

These are high quality leather belts suitable to be used as gun belts, so they are built to be very sturdy and durable. You can even get them reinforced and special other options.

I've had mine for years and it still looks nearly new. Be sure to check their sizing guidelines, tho.

You'll spend somewhere between $80 and $100 depending on options but probably can list this belt in your will, if you so desire.
posted by cheesyburgercheese at 1:11 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't need to spend a lot. A belt from Narragansett Leathers will be well made, $34, and ought to last as long as anything.
posted by exogenous at 1:14 PM on January 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

Narraganset Leathers sells custom, hand-made belts, most under $50.
posted by photovox at 1:14 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

All the stuff purchased at big box stores a loooong time ago -- Gap, Fossil, J.Crew -- those were good belts. The stuff they have now, no good! I bought a Fossil belt from Macy's for $42 just before the holidays. It's already looking like crap.

But, I'm a lady and our stuff is typically made of crappier materials. I'll be looking for "all grain" leather myself this year.
posted by amanda at 1:15 PM on January 10, 2013

Plain full-grain leather belts from workwear or feed stores. Look for ones made in your home country. Typically about $35, last for ages. Only phone holster/ID clips will scuff them up.
posted by scruss at 1:20 PM on January 10, 2013

No offense intended, but for me weight and how my pants fit is a large factor in belt warping. Basically, when my pants or jeans don't fit correctly I tend to use the belt to cinch them into place. This results in the "bow" of the belt particularly in stiff material, and a notch in softer leather where the strain is from the back belt loop.

If a higher quality belt helps, great, but just a possibility to consider.
posted by shinynewnick at 1:21 PM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wait until Coach belts wind up in Marshall's, and then I snap them up. I have two that I bought about 15 years ago that are as good as the day I bought them.
posted by xingcat at 1:32 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: shinynewnick — Excellent point!

If it makes a difference: I am a skinny hipless assless motherfucker. I wear my pants well below my natural waist because I am not 80 years old or from North Texas. I promise I am buying pants in the proper size (please just assume for the sake of argument that I am not lying or wrong about this) but even still, if I didn't wear a belt, I would end up with a pretty intense case of plumber's butt pretty damn quick.

So I guess given all that, maybe I am putting unusual wear on my belt, just by making it do actual work instead of using it for purely decorative purposes. Yes? No? Maybe? I don't generally go around trying to pull other guys' pants down, so I'm not really clear on how crucial other guys' belts are in the whole pants-not-falling-down process, but maybe I'm asking mine to do more work than those other guys are.

If anyone wants to debug my Pants Retention Protocol further, the way my belts usually end up warping is, they'll get stretched out over my hipbones, and they'll stretch and warp at the spot where I attach the buckle.
posted by and so but then, we at 1:39 PM on January 10, 2013

A good leather belt will stretch somewhat - any leather will - but won't look noticeably different and definitely won't split or fall apart. You just want to get one that you're not buckling on the very last hole on first wearing, is all.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:43 PM on January 10, 2013

My fiancé just got this belt after enduring Bad Belt Syndrome like yours:
Allen Edmonds Wide Basic Dress Belt

It's not the cheapest, but it's attractive and made to last. Read the reviews, there are some negative ones as well. Plenty of other belts to choose from there, too.

Good luck! We'll be watching the thread to see what is recommended and what you find if you weigh in later.
posted by xiaolongbao at 1:46 PM on January 10, 2013

If you live anywhere near an Amish community, ask their tack workers if they make belts. They're usually inexpensive, well made, and not-at-all commercialized.
posted by deezil at 1:47 PM on January 10, 2013

If Allen Edmonds belts are made anywhere near as well as their shoes, then $100 is a bargain - they will last forever. (I have AE dress shoes I bought 20, 30 years ago, have had resoled, and the still look and feel as new. Amazing value compare to $100 throwaway shoes).
posted by mr vino at 1:51 PM on January 10, 2013

I've been wearing this belt from LL Bean every day for at least 10 years.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:01 PM on January 10, 2013

Response by poster: Okay, one last follow-up and I'll shut up. It sounds like "full grain leather" vs. "other stuff" is a really important distinction. Within the category of "full grain leather," are there additional features that make a difference in terms of durability? Or is it all just a matter of style after that?
posted by and so but then, we at 2:07 PM on January 10, 2013


I recently picked up the "forever belt" from Duluth Trading Co. and it's pretty great so far. It's a thick piece of leather that feels solid but wears surprisingly well.
posted by mkultra at 2:13 PM on January 10, 2013

I posted the last comment on the "Recently" thread cited by mkultra, and I've continued to find the full grain belts I got from are holding up nicely. I've only had them several months, but so far there are no creases or discoloration and no problem with loose threads since there aren't any threads. They were priced much lower than brand name full grain letter belts I researched.
posted by Dansaman at 2:44 PM on January 10, 2013

Filson makes some very nice belts that age well. (my husband has been wearing the same one for 15 years.)
posted by vespabelle at 2:45 PM on January 10, 2013

If you can get a Coach belt used, do it. Mine still looks almost as good as the day I bought it—although unfortunately, I, er, "outgrew" it after wearing it for a couple years. I'm keeping it for the day I can wear it again.
posted by limeonaire at 2:55 PM on January 10, 2013

I also have no butt, and I particularly like gun belts. They're made much stronger to support the weight of a holster & gun, which would warp and ruin most "normal" belts. I paid $60 for mine at Cross Breed Holsters.

It did take some breaking in before it was comfortable, but this is simply the best belt I've ever had, and it looks great to boot!
posted by Invoke at 3:00 PM on January 10, 2013

No doubt, Allen Edmonds makes some nice belts, some really nice belts, but the sweet spot of cheap and durable isn't really their market niche. I've got a Gfeller belt that I like a lot, but it isn't theirs either.

Consider something like the Klein Tools General Purpose Belt.
posted by box at 3:05 PM on January 10, 2013

I'll nth the Fossil belts. Their web site lists them for mid-$30s so likely you can find them a little cheaper than that.
posted by mmascolino at 3:16 PM on January 10, 2013

I've been wearing one of these belts every day for... 4 years now? It's held up perfectly.

(That belt doesn't have a buckle, but you can either buy a cheap one elsewhere or the woman who makes it makes them. The buckles aren't inexpensive, though.)
posted by asterix at 3:27 PM on January 10, 2013

Best answer: If you're going to pay attention to leather grades (and you should) avoid anything labeled full-grain and go for strap leather (glossary). It's the next grade up in quality and will last you much longer. If you have the choice, you want something that's been vegetable tanned, not mineral, this will allow it to age and wear in that "classic" leather style. A solid belt should be thick enough that it's at least as thick as three quarters, the holes should be round and not have any fringe from a dull tool. The edges of the belt should be beveled. A good buckle will be cast in one piece of iron (not brass, unless you want a green stomach) and chrome plated and feel like you could use it as a weapon, if cornered. The tang should be stout and not give easily if you press on it with two thumbs. Remember to size it so it fits to the center hole so it can stretch (and so can your waist).

My go-to for quality belts is a tack shop, generally you'll get a much higher quality of leather for a lot less than you'd pay for cheap leather at a big-box store. My next stop is anywhere that deals in work-wear. I have a no-name strap leather belt from a tack shop I've been wearing for the past ten years with no major wear and two back-up belts from a workwear store, one by Schmidt's and one by Levi's that are both 5+ years and still holding strong.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 3:52 PM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

There is, as well,
posted by megatherium at 4:41 PM on January 10, 2013

Go to a town with a large Amish population and head to the local general store that sells clothing. My husband picked up a lovely leather belt for $12 in one that has been going for years now and just get's better and better looking.
posted by wwax at 4:52 PM on January 10, 2013

Maybe not a clue to why or how you wear them out quickly... but how do you store/hang your belt when it is not in use?

Do you wrap it (ring) in storage or hang it off a free hook?
posted by Bodrik at 5:00 PM on January 10, 2013

For a less dressy belt, Dappered just recommended Gap basic leather belts as lasting 4-5 years. They're $30.
posted by cnc at 5:00 PM on January 10, 2013

I find I am much more comfortable with suspenders. But I wear them under my shirt to conceal them.
posted by Postroad at 6:20 PM on January 10, 2013

Seconding wwax; you need an Amish made belt. Example. (Not what I have, but representative.) The only downside is that they can be a little bulky around the buckle because the leather is so sturdy.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 7:21 PM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

(I should have mentioned, I've worn mine almost daily (like 98% of the time) for almost 20 years and it's still going strong.)
posted by buxtonbluecat at 7:23 PM on January 10, 2013

I swear to god we just had this discussion here on AskMeta a few weeks ago, but search turned up nothing.

Regardless, the price and source of the belt mean nothing. What you are looking for is a decently thick genuine leather belt. Most of what is sold on the US market today is made of an artificial leather-looking stuff, that is sewn or bonded on its edges to seal two thicknesses together.

Real leather has no such seams along its edges, and has a noticeable grain on the "flesh" side of the leather (it may be sanded fairly smooth, but it's still present).

Real leather belts - available for about $20 and up - are durable. Of course, as with any leather product, some care (conditioner or oil) is a good thing from time to time.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:02 PM on January 10, 2013

If you're trying to save some money on good quality belts, check out local thrift shops or ebay. A very good quality belt lasts many years, so is a great candidate for buying second-hand. I have a couple Allen Edmunds belts that I bought for significantly cheaper at thrift shops.
posted by andrewconner at 10:54 AM on January 12, 2013

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