In my last post on side buckles, side straps or whatever you want to call them, I made rather a presumption: that you would not be wearing your trousers with a belt. These are my reasons for that assumption.
First, the most obvious reason: side straps work better. As anyone who wears both will tell you, a belt is surprisingly inefficient at keeping trousers at a certain height. The cloth folds, turns under, tries to find any means to escape its leather captor. And it’s uncomfortable. You never realise quite how thick and stiff a leather belt is until it is tightened hard against your waist. A side strap hardly adds anything; it’s virtually weightless and what’s there is concentrated in one small area.
(Braces, of course, work equally well. But I’ve written about my reasons for avoiding braces here before.)
Second reason: you’re not going to wear a belt with your suit are you? A smart, worsted suit, worn with a shirt and tie, has its look substantially undermined by a chunky belt. A plain waistband looks cleaner, sharper, better. No one considered wearing a belt with their suit until manufacturers stopped including side straps because they were more expensive than belt loops.
The only time I ever wear a belt with a suit is as an accessory. When, for example, I am going without a tie and the outfit needs some added texture other than the silk handkerchief. A nice silver buckle against grey flannel, or gold against tweed, does that. The leather of the belt would, of course, be similar to that of my shoes. In all other circumstances the belt is eschewed.
So that’s suits. The tricky part comes with casual trousers. Do you go for side straps or belt loops there? Perhaps even (whisper it) both?
In a casual outfit there is far more call for an item like a belt that can accessorise. Without a tie and very possibly without a pocket handkerchief, it is one of the few areas of focus. Shame to take it away. Plus there are many thicker cloths where side straps just don’t work very well – on denim, for example, and on thicker corduroy.
On trousers that can take side straps, which do you go for? The straps work so well; but it’s nice to have the option of a belt. For example, in my last post I mentioned that I was wearing khakis with blue-and-white side straps. They add a nice bit of colour, and function well, but I do often feel that it would be nice to have the option of wearing a brown leather belt – with a plain white shirt and brown slip-ons, it would add some much-needed detail. If the straps were plain, it would be even worse.
Some trousers I have bought in the past did have both belt loops and side fasteners. Some had loops and elastic attached with buttons. But neither worked that well – without a belt the waistband looked rather messy, and with one the belt always had small lumps at either side where it had to go over the strap.
There’s no real solution, but I generally recommend straps on smartish trousers, belt loops on very casual ones. Where your trousers sit is your call. And everyone should go the tailor more – alteration is the only permanent solution.