The History of Belts: The Story Behind One of the World’s Most Popular Accessories

Posted by Phillip Young on 19th Feb 2015

Most men and women slide on a belt without much thought. It is, after all, nothing more than a strap or band that fits around the waist. While the technology behind the belt may be simple, this is one accessory that has been with us for a very long time. It serves as a support for our lower body clothing and can enhance the visual appeal of our favorite outfits. You may be surprised to learn where belts came from and who wore them first.

The Belt’s Early Beginnings

Men first donned the earliest belts way back in the Bronze Age. They were typically utilized for decorative purposes or as a means of carrying belongings. Men would attach tools and weapons. Women also wore belts and would sometimes apply bronze plates that indicated rank within society. This was particularly prevalent among the people of Scandinavia.

Mens belts stuck with us as we humans developed and expanded. As technology and fashion changed, so did the belts we wore. Centuries later, the men of Julius Caesar’s time would put on belts to carry objects and as a way of improving the fit of their tunics (although belts were not really considered macho at the time).

If you were to Google the word “cinch belt”, you would discover many feminine styles. This type of belt typically consists of a wide band that attaches using laces or a clasp positioned in the front. The design makes the waist appear slimmer, which is why it is considered fashionable to some. What’s surprising is that this type of belt was introduced by Russian and Eastern European soldiers during the 19th century. They were typically an accessory for officers who would also put on a corset to make their waists look even smaller. Needless to say, the cartoonists of the era found this very amusing and frequently used it as material for their illustrations.

Belts as a Symbol

While most belts throughout history were worn for practical or fashionable reasons, some were actually very symbolic and considered powerful. Soldiers would attach gemstones to provide them with benefits against an enemy. For example, a piece of amber might be attached to shun the infamous Evil Eye while amethyst was believed to aid in blocking attacks.

The Franks also valued belts. They believed that if one could steal the belt of an enemy, that they would possess that enemy’s power. The Mongols would exchange belts to symbolize an alliance.

Belts Reinvented

There was a period where belts started to fall to the wayside. Women would carry their belongings in a purse and men started wearing clothing with pockets, which eliminated the need to attach belongings with a belt. During the 1800s, clothing styles embraced high cut trousers which made it hard to wear belts.

Belts started to fade until the 1920s when the waistlines of men’s trousers began dropping back down to the hip. More men started wearing belts to keep their lower cut trousers in place. By the 20th century, more women began putting away their skirts and dresses for pants. This presented another demographic for the belt.

Today, many people of all ages, genders and sizes wear belts. Modern belts include a huge variety of styles, patterns and belt buckles but still offer the same practical benefits. Chances are good that, unless we all begin to wear silvery jumpsuits or forgo clothes entirely in the future, belts will continue to feature heavily in wardrobes all over the world.