Monday, July 30, 2012

Belts 101: How To Pick A Leather Belt

        After much ado....I am posting a belated guide to picking a quality leather belt while I work on other projects this week. I'm running short of time so I apologize in advance if correspondence is slow.  Leather belts were the first men's clothing accessory my old boss Herb Eckerlin taught me about when I started as a lowly sales associate in childrens at Belks a decade ago, and his advice has always served me in good stand. So I am passing on his wisdom to you today. I've got a couple more posts I'm working on for sales associates looking to increase their sales, but right now I want to focus some on sharing the practical basics for my customers. I always have more ideas to put on paper than time to do it.  Herb's currently the store manager at the Belk's store on Capital and remains the wisest manager I've served directly under in retail. There's flashy accessories, most people start with shoes, others sexy underwear, but Herb started with belts. So that's where I will start.
       The first distinction many people make is to switch from cloth belts which last a season to leather belts which can last from a year for a cheap one to a good belt which can last 15-20 years. Many people also pick up that metal belts will often scratch or tarnish in a year or two from wear. But one of the harder distinctions people fail to make is leather belts have significant quality differences for the same price so a few easy rules allow a small amount of knowledge to stand one in good stead. To help you, the consumer, choose more wisely, I am opening up my belt collection today to help demonstrate the major differences. Belts are usually best purchased in January when they are at their lowest prices, but you can get a good belt any time of year for $20-80 simply by using your eyes to pick through the selection. The best belt will rarely be the most expensive, though a better brand belt will often be better quality. I paid less that $5 each of my belts as I bought them at the end of the season. One of my continuing pet peeves is the best belt I own was a Goodwill find so I have no idea who made it or how to buy another. Moral of the story, mark your goods people and don't use cold-press in leather or it WILL come out over time.

In order from lowest to highest quality they are with original retail price:

Woven Ralph Lauren Belt $97.50
Metal Calvin Klein Belt $69.50
Pressed Calvin Klein Belt $69.50
Stitched and Pressed Reversible LeatherBelt by Ralph Lauren (White and Black) $59.50
Stitched and Pressed Reversible Leather Belt by Ralph Lauren (Brown and Black) $59.50
Stitched and Pressed Leather Belt by Brighton Belt $66.00
Stitched and Pressed Brown Leather Coach Belt $98.00
Stitched and Pressed Lizard Skin Belt Unknown Goodwill $1.99

General quality can be summarized as follows with the following 4 rules:

1. You need two belts or one reversible belt in black and brown. If you are light in the wallet, make sure to get a reversible belt to stretch your dollars further at first until you can buy one in each color. Be aware that a reversible belt will wear out in the pin before a normal belt so it will only last 3-4 years compared to 15-20 from a good solid belt. Reversible belts have swivel point in them which is the first place to break. The twisting motion tends to also work the screws out of the leather so it's a popular, but flawed design. To see if a belt in the store is reversible, grab the top right below the buckle, pull down the base to separate the buckle from the leather.

2. A stitched belt will outlast a simple pressed belt by a minimum of 3-4 times. To see if a belt has been pressed look around the edges to see if the belt has been sewn. If you do not see this, pass on to another belt. You'll be glad. Compare the cheap pressed Calvin Klein belt to the better quality belt by Ralph Lauren. These were originally the same price in the store, but vastly different in quality. You will often see this the hand-tooled leather crowd where they will do all this handwork, and never bother to stitch the outside for reinforcement. Drives me NUTS.

3. Next, look at the belt to see if it is flat or raised which is an indication that the leather has been reinforced in the center. The old school leather makers will not only use two pieces of leather instead of one, but also put stiffener in the center to improve the wearing of the belt. The stiffener will generally raise the center and the edges of the belt will occasionally be turned under instead of burned to finish it. Not all stiffeners are created equal. Good stiffener will be soft and bend smoothly. Cheap softener (often cardboard or paper instead of cotton fabric) will crunch and move unevenly. Coach makes a lovely reinforced belt for a reasonable price.

4. Lastly, check to see if the belt buckle is solid metal. The best belt buckles are solid brass and generally come from England. The second best belts are solid nickel and often come from Germany. The rest of all belts are plated and the cheap coating comes off with wear in a year or two of wear. It's a waste to buy a good leather belt with a cheap buckle. This is a harder thing to test for since some manufacturers have gotten clever at anodizing or bonding paint to the metal. To test in a store, flip to the back of the buckle. Next make a small scratch in the surface with a small sharp instrument. Many people will use their fingernails or small pocket knife. You don't want ruin someone's hard work, but check to see if a millimeter depth changes the color or not. If it doesn't, you have a winner. My favorite are brass buckles as they last forever, but it often raises the cost of the belt by $5-10. Personally, my taste is pretty static so I think that's a reasonable investment, but belt manufacturers will surprise you with wide shifts in quality unrelated to prices.

Hope this post helps you. Have a great day. 

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