Just last week, I found myself traversing the streets of New York City, when my belt buckle accidentally broke. Panicking that my trousers might fall down any second, I found myself running into my nearest Zara to purchase the first (faux) leather belt I could find. Needless to say, this moment made me realize just the crucial role that belts play in my wardrobe.
Functionally, belts are obviously crucial in avoid some awkward moments in public (which I was luckily able to avoid!). They can also serve as a way of self-expression and fashion, often coming in different styles with various adornments. Throughout their long history, however, belts have served many other social and functional purposes beyond just holding up our jeans.
Belts first got their humble beginnings during the Bronze Age as a means of carrying tools and other objects. This rudimentary version of the belt was usually made of tree bark or fabric–leather wouldn’t come until centuries later. Belts eventually also became common in military garb worn by strong, powerful men, they were popular amongst Greek and Roman soldiers, who actually used their leather belts as a way to carry weapons. Functionally in their design, then, the belt had origins quite different from what they’re used for today. Much later, it was similarly popular amongst Eastern European and Russian armies, in which men once again wore it during wartime.
As a result, the belt was considered to be masculine up until the middle of the twentieth century, often associated with war-time, authoritative manliness. Women’s fashion did not allow for the belts anyway, especially with trends such as corsets, blouses, and the flapper look of the 1920s. It wasn’t until the 1940s and 50s, though, that the belt started to become a woman’s accessory. Women became more open to showing their waistlines, and so the belt slowly became a fashion staple by the 1970s. By this time, bell bottom jeans were in their heydey and were often accompanied with large belts that became a form of self-expression. By the 1980s, with more women wearing jeans, it became one of the most important women’s accessories.
Today, the belt has found a certain sense of “gender equality,” where it’s not necessarily known as being either too masculine or too feminine. The belt, therefore, has a complex history that is intertwined with changing gender roles throughout the years. From strictly masculine military wear to a female fashion staple, it has been around for many centuries, and is certainly more than just something to keep our trousers up. Today, it’s both an important fashion accessory and a means of self-expression–and even a weapon against the horrible “sagging” trends that has somehow swept through hordes of prepubescent boys. With a design that can be simple or elaborate, the belt serves both an important aesthetic purpose and very important functionality (something I almost learned the hard way last week).