When you think of essential fashion accessories, the belt surely appears high on the list. But have you ever wondered about its origins? If you’re like me, the answer is “probably not”. To tell you the truth, I’m mostly ambivalent about belts. In an ideal world, all of my pants would fit my waist perfectly and my belt loops would remain forever unencumbered. Unfortunately, this is the real world, and I am someone who was blessed/cursed with thunder thighs that could crush a watermelon, and as such find myself usually sizing up on trousers.
Belts have come a long way from their earliest beginnings. Whether it’s an ostentatious branded buckle from a French fashion house whose name you can’t pronounce, a rugged leather piece that wouldn’t look out of place in the Wild West, or a sustainable option for the eco-conscious consumer, belts have and will continue to evolve, holding together the fabric of our favorite pantaloons from the perils of gravity and potential humiliation. The path from utilitarian strap to sartorial staple is a winding one, and we’re here to buckle you in for the ride.
If you nee some primers on belt styles or simply want to jump into some buyer’s guides on the subject, check out: Common Belt Styles, Explained, Garrison Belts – Five Plus One, and Stationed in Style – The Garrison Belt.
The Belt’s Primitive Origins
Belts have a rich history that dates all the way back to the Bronze Age. Originally they they were essential tools for survival. Created from readily available materials like plant fibers, softened tree bark, and animal hides, early belts served a pragmatic purpose. They were primarily used by our ancestors to carry tools and weapons, helping them to complete daily tasks and providing easy access during hunting or combat.
Another one of the earliest forms of belts in recorded history is the military girdle band. These were strapped around the waist and were meticulously designed to keep weapons securely in place. Such belts were crucial in the context of warfare and defense. Leather belts, revered for their flexibility and durability, became a staple in Greek and Roman military attire. Their adaptability allowed for greater freedom of movement, and they also provided a certain degree of protection to the wearer. An interesting evolution in the use of belts can be observed with the introduction of the “cingulum”. This was fastened around the waist and held a dagger. It also had several leather strips decorated with studs for decoration. This was not only a tool holder but also a symbol of prestige and rank within the military hierarchy. Roman soldiers donned these decorative belts, and the more elaborate the belt the higher rank it signified.
Belts weren’t just limited to soldiers during this period. Emperors also wore more ornate versions, typically with a toga, which were fashioned shut with gold fabric tied around the waist. This marked a shift where belts began to serve as indicators of status and not just functional items.
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