Reader Request: Belted!

Lovely reader Herbee had this request:

I would love to see you cover belts. How can they look so good on everyone else and so dorky on me? Do some people just not have the body shape for belts? I just can’t figure them out…at the waist, below the waist, loose, tight…it eludes me!

OK, so you all know I love me a GOOD belt. But I am quite new to the belting game. Quite. Like, I’d say, a year into my love affair with the cinched-waist look. So I called in a long-time expert and belter extraordinaire for a guest post, and she went above and beyond! Without further ado, I give you the incomparable Audi of Fashion for Nerds:

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First of all, let me start out by saying how flattered I am to be contributing a post to Sally’s wonderful blog. Today I’ve been tasked with providing a tutorial on belts, which I certainly hope lives up to the quality of writing that her readers have come to expect.

Belts are one accessory that get a lot of use in my wardrobe, and I employ them for different reasons. What I hope to do here is to give you a few strategies for knowing when to use a belt, and which type of belt to select.

I think of belts as fulfilling one of 3 different functions:
• Drawing attention to your smallest point
• Creating a waist
• Purely decorative

Some might argue that belts are needed to hold up your pants. And while that might be true for many men, most women have hips to do the job for us, so if you really and truly need a belt to keep your pants from falling down, I’ll give you a word of advice: buy some smaller pants! OK, now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s discuss the real value in belts, one purpose at a time.

1. DRAWING ATTENTION TO YOUR SMALLEST POINT

What is it?
This one is pretty self-explanatory, really. With this approach, the idea is to employ a belt to focus attention on the narrowest portion of your torso; this is typically the natural waist, but might also be located up on the ribcage or right up under your boobs, depending on your body type.

Why do I need it?
Use this approach when you’ve got an outfit that already hugs your curves but is lacking in definition. For instance, take a look at this dress with and without the belt.


The fit is great, but the continuous pattern causes my figure to get lost because the eye has nowhere to rest. This happens a lot when you’ve got a long expanse of solid color or pattern and the garment doesn’t have a lot of obvious shaping. Look at the difference between the pattern in the dress and the pattern in this jacket.


The jacket also has a lot of continuous pattern, but the alternating angles of the stripes give a very distinct definition to my waist, so no belt is needed here.

How do I do it?
Here are a few examples of using a belt to draw attention to the smallest point.


As you can see from the photos above, the belt can be narrow or wide; all that really matters is that it fits you at your thinnest point. The subtlest way is to use a thin belt that matches the outfit; the most dramatic is to use a wide, contrasting belt. For even further definition you can use a belt with shaping, such as the saddle belt shown in the second example (coincidentally, that very belt is available in my Etsy shop!).

One word of caution for the short-waisted: steer clear of wide belts, as they will have the exact opposite effect from what you’re going for.

2. CREATING A WAIST

What is it?
Depending on your body type or on the outfit, you may need to create a waist where there otherwise is, or appears to be, none.

Why do I need it?
The need to create a waist can arise for several reasons: You don’t have a naturally defined waist and you want to create the illusion of one; you’re wearing a loose-fitting, bulky, or shapeless garment that hides your waist whether it’s there or not; or you want to move your waist up or down to create a different look or proportion. In all of these cases, what you’re doing is using the contrast and fit of the belt to place a waist exactly where you want one.

How do I do it?
Wide belts are superior by far in this category, because they have the most visual impact. Elastic belts are the most versatile in terms of being able to wear them high up on your ribcage or down around your natural waist, and they have the added benefit of keeping loose or layered clothes in place.

Below are a few examples of creating a waist with a belt. In the first and second photos, I used a stetchy obi belt (also available in my shop) to rein in a loose cardigan, and then an elastic belt to shape a chunky sweater.


In the next two examples, I’ve repositioned my waist, first up under the bust, and then down towards the hips. Note that the second example above (with the yellow sweater) and first example below (with the olive dress) both use the same belt, but placed differently.


Beware when moving the waist emphasis down towards the hips; this isn’t for every figure or for every outfit. A hip belt over a somewhat baggy top, as in the outfit shown above, merely moves the waist down. But a hip belt worn over a form-fitting outfit actually places the emphasis on the hips, not on the waist. This is really great if you have a good hip-to-waist ratio, but can be dangerous if you don’t.


If you’re worried about the belt making your hips look larger, then choose a hip belt that’s on the narrower side, and wear it just above the hips rather than all the way down across them. You can also try slanting the belt to one side, or if the belt has the right type of buckle you can push the center down into a ‘V,’ which has a narrowing effect.


3. PURELY DECORATIVE

What is it?
I don’t feel like many very belts truly fall into this category, but every once in awhile there’s an outfit that has plenty of waist definition but just needs a little more oomph. A belt can be used in this case to add contrast or to reinforce the particular aesthetic you’re going for.

Why do I need it?
Only you know the answer to that one. Sometimes you look at an outfit and think, “This needs something.” Perhaps that something is a belt. Sometimes you might be going for a look that’s say, a little bit punk; in that case you might add a belt with pyramid studs before you head out to steal a car and go slam dancing. Maybe you want to add a little sparkle, and a belt with shiny hardware or jewels is just the way to add it. In any case, sometimes it’s OK for the belt to be completely non-functional and purely for looks.

How do I do it?
It’s pretty easy, really. Figure out what your outfit needs and see if you’ve got a belt that fits the bill. Here are a couple examples of outfits that would’ve looked perfectly fine with no belt at all. In the first example, I already accomplished the necessary waist definition with the vest, but I wanted to add a little more rock n’ roll to the outfit. The double-wrap studded belt was the answer. The second example has a similar story; I wanted to add some hardware for more of a steampunk aesthetic, and the belt was a great way to do it.


WHEN DON’T I NEED A BELT?
Oh, of course you weren’t going to let me get away without answering that one. There are lots of reasons why you wouldn’t wear a belt, but let’s chat briefly about these:

• You don’t want waist definition
• The garment’s cut or detail elements make it impossible to wear one
• The cut of the garment acheives waist definition for you

Consider these outfits:


In the first example, the look I’m going for is a long, straight torso like the androgynous figures popular in the 1920’s. In this case I’m taking advantage of the fact that my hips aren’t a whole lot bigger than my natural waist. In the second example the dress has a pseudo-belt built right in, but moreover, the buttons on the faux belt make it completely out of the question to put a real belt over the top. When I’m considering purchasing something like this I generally ask myself, “Am I totally OK with the fact that I can never belt this?” Belts have a transformative property, so the inability to use them really resricts the way an outfit can look. Make sure that you’re really happy with the shape when considering a belt-prohibitive item.

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to achieve waist definition without a belt, as I mentioned above. Peplums, ruffled hems on tops, and darts are all design features that often render a belt superfluous. Waistcoats and fitted blazers are frequently figure-defining without any additional help from a belt. But since this is a post about belts and not about waist definition per se, I’ll close my discussion here.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Sal for giving me this opportunity to contribute!

  • Laura.

    oh. wow. this is amazing, and i have to say, still kind of a mystery to me (not because you didn't answer each question thoroughly, and with a lot of helpful information!), but because i am the girl who literally owns one belt. it's pink, elastic, ratty, dug out from the free box five years ago, and currently missing. its only job is to keep my pants up (and it doesn't even do that very well). i am in awe and i have so much to learn (really, this whole concept of clothes being fun is a fairly new one to me). i am inspired, thank you sally and audi!

  • Christina Lee

    Yeah Audi- GREAT tutorial and I ESPECIALLY loved looking at all the different and wonderful outfits!!!!

  • Stefka

    I've had a hard time with belts at my natural waist for three main reasons: 1. I'm shortwaisted (5'4" with broad hips and muscular shoulders, if it matters); 2. I find it uncomfortable (there's not much room between my hipbones and my ribs, and I need that space for breathing!); and 3. I find myself adjusting and readjusting my underlayers every 5 minutes (stretch up to reach something, sit down, walk around etc. and my clothing bunches under/above the belt). The one outfit which seems do-able with a belt is an empire-style dress or tunic, where I can cinch the belt around my ribcage, under my bust. Otherwise I can see how belts can flatter a variety of body shapes, but they always look odd or feel awkward on me. Any advice?

  • Stefka

    P.S. I should mention that I do like to wear belts w/ mid-rise pants, where the loops cinch me around my hips. S.

  • Becca

    Thanks Audi! That was an awesome explanation and I loved the associated pics. Another great blogger that wears a lot of belts (and scarves as belts)is Kimberly over at http://fabfindsunder50.blogspot.com/

    Between her & Audi, there are a lot of good ideas with belting.

  • elena-lu

    wow audi that was perfect and i love the photos that you picked for examples really helped! and i love this part: "some might argue that belts are needed to hold up your pants. And while that might be true for many men, most women have hips to do the job for us" haha yeah im a hippy girl :)

  • La Belette Rouge

    Audi has a black belt in belts!!!!! Love the way you work a belt. I have a fear of belts. I think I own three and rarely ever use them.

  • K.Line

    Great post. Audi's outfits are adorable!

  • WendyB

    Thumbelina Fashionista really has a flair for belts. Check her out:
    http://thumbelinafashionista.blogspot.com/

  • Work With What You’ve Got

    Yay Audi!~ What a fabulous guest post and tutorial!~

  • Sheila

    Awesome tutorial, Audi! Thanks to Sal for featuring one of my favourite bloggers!

  • Audi

    Hi Stefka! Sal asked me to come and answer your question, so I'll give it a whirl. If you're short-waisted, definitely try wearing a belt right up under the bust as you suggested, which elongates the rest of your torso. An empire waist would play perfectly into this approach, but I'd steer clear of anything too tent-like and look for something with a fluted shape that will skim your natural waist and hips. If you add a thin, elasticized belt just under the bust for definition, you can move the position of your waist up without adding excess bulk around your middle. Here are a couple of posts with pictures of empire tops that can be belted below the bust and that still flatter the figure below: http://geekthreads.blogspot.com/2009/02/asymmetrical.html

    http://geekthreads.blogspot.com/2009/02/breaking-out-of-fashion-rut-part-2.html (you have to scroll down in this post to the picture of me in the black top)

    I think elastic and other stretchy belts like the leather and jersey obi that's pictured in this post are the way to go for you, since you mentioned the discomfort thing. Elastic belts are really great at holding layers in place, and if you choose one on the thinner side, you'll barely feel it at all. Since it's not holding up your pants, it doesn't need the strength of a leather belt.

    Hope this answers your question!

  • issa

    oooh great post.. i love the wide belts at the waist.. i just think it's very flattering

  • futurelint

    Such a great post!! I don't know why but belts are so confusing to me (although that doesn't stop me from owning like 100). Thanks for the tips!

  • Libby

    Awesome post. I'm a novice belter, having just started belting two weeks ago. So far, I have one thick white belt, and one patent leather skinny belt. I've been using the white for "decoration" and a pop of freshness with my colored outfits, and the skinny belt to emphasize my (high) waist while wearing black or neutral bottoms. I think I'll take some tips from this post and get more creative with it. Thank you!

    Colorbylibby.blogspot.com

  • Marie

    I've struggled with knowing how to wear belts – thanks for the tips! I do have to wear them to keep my pants up. I have hips, but that's exacty the problem – many pants are practically as large around the waist as they are at the hips, and not because I'm buying them too large, they're just not made for my body. They gape and there's nothing to do but belt them (short of altering them which makes me nervous to try even though I'm adept with a sewing machine). I own a few pairs that don't require a belt, but the vast majority do. Any recommendations of brands?

  • lisa

    This was a very thorough post with lots of great illustrated examples. However, I beg to differ re. using belts to hold your pants up: I'm a little narrow through the hips and very narrow through the waist (ah, the inverted triangle silhouette!), and sometimes belt-wearing serves a very pragmatic purpose. :)

  • Kirsten @ Apotheca

    Holy moly, that last outfit on the bottom left may be the cutest thing I have ever seen. Great tutorial!

  • budget chic

    This is an excellent post, I seldomly ever walk out the house without a belt. I believe Lucky Mag had a small write up on this a month or two ago – they referred to some belts as being outfit makers. Take a simple dress or skirt and top combination and take it a totally different direction with an incredible funky and detailed belt and some killer heels! Works everytime!

  • Anonymous

    Great tutorial. But doesn't help me. See, after 3 kids and menopause, I have an apple shape. My hips are very narrow…from the FRONT. From the side, I have a stomach pooch in that area. How do you create a waist when there isn't one from any angle?

  • a cat of impossible colour

    Yay, great post, Audi! :)

    Andrea xx

  • Sal

    Marie: The Gap family of brands makes a line of "curvy" pants that could work. They are meant for body shapes that have smaller waists and larger hips/bootays. For those who have the gapping problem, they seem to work great! (Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy)

    Anonymous: If you're a true apple, creating a waist – especially with a belt – might not be your best bet. Here's a post I wrote on apple-shaped bodies: http://www.alreadypretty.com/2008/12/reader-request-happy-apples.html

    And an even better one from You Look Fab: http://www.youlookfab.com/2006/05/09/the-adorable-apple/

    YLF also has a forum about body shape where you can toss ideas around with other stylish ladies!

  • CR

    great post. you make it look quite fun. makes me want to get experimental!

  • ♥Jozee

    i totally had a post on belts and how to (and not to) wear it! http://www.thisiswhatadultswear.com/2009/04/how-to-wear-it-to-belt-or-not-to-belt.html

    I personally think 9/10, belts shouldn't be used for decorative purposes as you highlighted in pt. 3. Sometimes it can be accomplished with aplomb, but generally I see so many unnecessary "decorative" belts! It would have been much better to decorate with a necklace or bracelets instead of a belt :(

  • Mervat

    Two great bloggers for the price of one! Thanks Sal!

    And thank you Audi, beautifully, said and beautifully modelled!

  • The Seeker

    I'm kind of suspicious because I'm a belts lover (maybe sometimes I over do it ???), and I LOVED this post.
    Two great and beautiful ladies working together, how great.

    Also thank yu so much my dear Sal for all the support you've been giving me.

    Lots of love

    xoxo

  • Mademoisselle Chic
  • Herbee

    Wow, Sal! Thanks SO MUCH for picking my question and thanks to Audi for the awesome tutorial on wearing belts! You did an outstanding job of explaining all things belts! And thanks to Stefka for her question…that is another problem I have with belts! I am going to be doing some SERIOUS belt shopping now!

  • Stefka

    Audi- Thanks so much for the personal advice! I haven't tried elastic/stretchy belts yet, so I will experiment as you suggest.

    Sal- LOVE these kind of tutorials with lots of photos and comparisons… I bookmarked the one on sleeve lengths when it came out and refer back to it from time to time. I'll do the same with this one.
    –Stefka :-)

  • Missa

    WOW, this was so well done! Great job Audi!

    Although, I must admit Sal, now I'm feeling some pressure to step it up for my pending guest post, yikes! ;)

  • metscan

    Thank you Audi for your thorough report. Can´t help it though, that the IMO the best pictures of you are the ones with the belt on the hips, or with a narrow belt. The wide and dark ones pop out a little too much.

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