A Good Belt Can Level Up Your Outfit

Here's exactly how to start your belt collection.

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Basic Belts

If you really want to wear jeans and a tee, but you also want your outfit to telegraph "I tried," tuck (or half-tuck) that top and add a simple leather belt. These medium-width buckled styles will get the job done, but there are a few things you should know before shopping for what will definitely become one of the hardest-working items in your wardrobe.

Pay Attention to Those Belt Loops: A belt should be big enough to fill the loops of your pants but not overfill them.

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Watch Out for Bonded Leather: Bonded leather is a material made from shredded leather scraps and polyurethane and it's really, really common in belts. It looks pretty similar to real-deal leather (and is often labeled as such), but will begin to crack much faster—especially around the buckle. If that $10 "leather" belt looks suspiciously smooth, toss it back.

To the Left: Belts are usually pulled through the left-side loops first, so they when they're buckled, the spare end is on the left, too. Try them on this way when you're out shopping, and make sure the loose end is long enough to tuck under your first belt loop.

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Statement Buckles

Now that you've got a go-to basic belt, it's time to have a little fun with this season's oversized buckles. Tooled silver Western styles are still going strong (see River Island's version, and B-Low the Belt's streamlined take), as are sculptural details, like the arty gold buckle on Mango's black leather belt.

Waist Belts

Waist belts are truly multi-talented. They can add interest to a simple shift dress, break up a maxi style, tie together a skirt and top, and completely change the shape of a caftan.

Where to Cinch: This style is meant to sit at your natural waist—the smallest part of your torso—unless you're wearing a dress with a defined waistline elsewhere.

Make Your Own: Any belt can be a waist belt if you believe in it. Or if you buy one a few sizes too small.

Move Around: Unless your dress or skirt has built-in belt loops, a waist-cinching belt is going to move up and down your torso a bit. Make sure it's comfortable while you're standing and sitting—you don't want it digging into your rib cage five minutes into an hour-long dinner.

Tie-On Belts

If relaxed-fancy is the look you aspire to, meet the tie-on belt—the waist belt's slightly more attention-seeking cousin. Layer a leather sash over a tailored coat, loop a cord style around a plain white shirtdress, or go full romantic with a corset belt laced over a floaty skirt.

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