Trousers, jeans, chinos and even smart shorts all look better with a belt. Somehow, empty belt loops just dont look right. So, adding a smart belt completes the image? Not for long
Todays modern belts are often made of different and usually man-made layers glued together. The technical term is bonded leather.
But it says real leather on the belt! Yes, some belts do have the words real leather (or the leather symbol) stamped on the inside. So that layer might well be real leather. But what about the other bits?
After a period of time, the other bits make their appearance. The glue that kept them together starts to fail. The belt splits into layers as body heat, tension and pressure do their work. Examine the pieces closely and you may find a thin layer of cloth or webbing, a strip of padding and maybe a vinyl top layer.
Shoes and other footwear have symbols to explain their construction a leather upper, man-made sole etc. Unfortunately, without this same information on a belt, when the words real leather are seen the assumption is that the whole thing is leather. The manufacturers of this type of poorly labelled belt are doing nothing to set the record straight. Shame on them.
So, apart from the passing off of a belt as all leather, shouldnt it be ok to wear?
Well, man-made materials should be long lasting, so how long do these belts last? A few months? A year? More? Well that depends on the use they get. Anecdotal evidence varies. Cost is not a factor either. Unless the belt is made of semi-precious metal or stones, its the brand that pushes the price right up, not the raw materials.
Where do they break? At the pressure points. Where the prong fits through the strap. Theres a lot of tension on that little metal stick and the belt area near it. The other main failure point is round the back where the belt pulls against the belt loops when the wearer sits down.
At some point some of these bonded belts are no longer the smart accessory as theyve begun to disintegrate. Maybe not all belts and maybe not all the time, but enough for those who know to be a bit more careful when they are buying their next belt.
So whats the alternative?
Solid leather. Rather than split, it will give. Being solid leather it cant break into layers, it stays in one piece. (Unless you let the dog chew on it). After years of wear, when it gets a bit tired, it can be relegated to second best and worn during diy jobs or when gardening or working on the car, rather than thrown in the bin. These long lasting belts are often handmade in tourist and craft areas and maybe expertly tooled with patterns or images (native American Indian craftwork, for example). An overly busy pattern might not be right for formal wear, so a plainer finish is probably more appropriate.
So how do you tell what a belt is made of?
At the buckle end of the belt, look for the cut edge. Examine the cross-section and it will be obvious. Multiple layers of different shades and thicknesses give the game away. If the cut edge has been sealed then again it is probably man-made.
Ultimately of course it is a matter of personal choice. Buy mens leather belts or buy bonded belts. Either will look great in the shop. Just take care to see what the belt is made of and think of the use the belt is going to be put to (infrequent or every day, formal or informal). Then make that informed decision.