Awesome shoes, but what about that belt

Awesome shoes, but what about that belt

Q. I like to wear somewhat stylish (well, at least non-standard) shoes with my clothes and I’m never sure about belt choices. I have a pair of brown and blue oxfords, a pair of grayish-blue lace-ups, some red, green, and blue leather Cole Haan leather shoes, and some lizard boots. What can you tell me about the (type and color?) belts I should choose to go with them?

A. I imagine that these are for casual settings . . . or your work is a very casual setting. As men have learned ever since business casual and dress-down began: the fewer rules, the more choices, AND the more confusion. As I often preach and you probably know, there are two basic rules about men’s dress shoes-and-belt colors when dressing in a suit or in a blazer/sports jacket and trousers:

  1. Wear black shoes with a blue or gray suit; wear dark brown shoes with tan suits or brown tweeds.
  2. For the belt, repeat the shoe color – black or brown. They don’t need to match exactly in shade or material, but the two items should be in the same general color family.

On the other hand, when it comes to dressing less formally, the rules change significantly. They’re much more relaxed. Your collection supports the fact that the types of shoe options expand greatly from the traditional dark lace-ups and simple slip-ons to include many different casual shoe styles. I imagine your brown and blue pair are saddle oxfords, and I remember those Cole Haans as deck shoes, more recently in their Nantucket loafer style. Even more than the types of shoes, the colors multiply dramatically. No longer are you limited to brown or black; now just about every color in the spectrum – from red and yellow to purple – might pop up in a smartly-dressed man’s casual closet.

In considering which belts will match with these shoes, it is important to have a sense of scope and the varieties out there. Traditionally, with dress belts, less is more. A fine strip of supple, well-finished leather and a plain, understated metal buckle are all that a belt should be. Even though belts don’t need to exactly match your shoes, they should harmonize as to the degree of formality. Thus, an elegant pair of black wingtips would call for a tasteful black belt in glossy leather or in a slightly textured reptile skin, not a roughly braided leather. These same desirable belts would be overdressed if worn with casual jeans and colored moccasins or driving shoes.

The many available types of casual belts include: not-too-shiny smooth leathers, pebbled textures, braided leathers, stretch rope belts, preppy multi-colored striped ribbon belts, Western belts, neutral colors, and such colorful imports as, say, an embroidered belt from Guatemala.

Buckles for casual belts include: metal (in gold- or silver tones, whichever aligns with your watch material and other jewelry), leather to match or contrast with the belt, ribbon belts may come with D-ring fasteners or with leather buckles, and large decorative Western designs.

Dress belts are generally narrower (about 1½ inches) than casual belts (1¾ to 2 inches). Also, dress belts are usually smoother and shinier than casual belts.

Contrasting colors are much more acceptable in casual belts. As an example, a pair of khaki pants could be worn with standard brown leather shoes and either a brown braided leather belt or a less-expected colorful belt. Jeans work with everything from a quality brown leather belt with a quiet silver buckle to the most eye-catching Western style belt.

WIth your brown-and-blue saddle oxfords, you could wear a casual brown braided leather belt or any simple belt in some shade of brown. The gray-blue lace-ups would combine well with a black or charcoal gray not-too-narrow belt. Choose silver or gold-toned buckles to match your other jewelry. The multi-color Cole Haan deck shoes would be best with khaki pants and a neutral leather or rope belt.
Showy leather or lizard boots, outside of rodeo events, probably should team up with plain leather belts rather than matching belts. They should not look like they are part of a set.

While there is little reason to limit your choices when dressing casually, I do have two specific no-no’s:

  1. Do not wear more than one attention-grabbing style at a time such as colorful shoes and a fancy belt.
  2. Do not wear a white belt with anything . . . even if you are retired.

Important note: While logic and the sizing charts may tell you to buy a belt the same size as your pants, what many men do not know is that you really need to buy a belt the next size larger.

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