Our Favourite Well-Made Leather Belts to Buckle Up Your Selvedge and Workwear Looks
No accessory is as frequently overlooked as the belt. Denimheads generally opt for untucked looks, so the belt is often hidden away. Since it’s so rarely noticed, many untucked denimheads simply transfer their trusty old belt into their raw denim. Job done.
Some don’t even go this far. In both untucked looks and tucked ones, it’s surprisingly common to see top-shelf denim with empty belt loops. It’s like boots without socks or coffee without caffeine: something’s wrong; something’s missing.
Most of us don’t need a belt to hold our pants up. If we’ve found the perfect-fitting pair of jeans, they sit exactly where they should sit with or without a belt. But this isn’t why we cinch the strap of leather around our waist.
We wear a belt primarily to frame our jeans. Each side of the frame should match. If we’ve gone with boots below the cuff, we need matching leather at the waist. We need to complete the frame. The picture is incomplete without it.
If you’re still using your old belt, or if (gasp) you’re not wearing a belt at all, the list below will be an excellent starting point.
The sections we cover in this guide:
- 9 well-made and essential leather belts we recommend
- Why a well-made leather belt is essential
- How to identify a well-made leather belt
9 Well-Made and Essential Leather Belts
Mass-market retailers almost always have a rack of belts somewhere in the shop. Give them a miss. These chrome-tanned belts can’t hold a candle to the genuine veg-tanned article.
If you want a belt worthy of your top-shelf selvedge, start at the door of your local well-made goods stockist. Better yet, use the list below to help you narrow down your search from the comfort of home.
NB: This list focuses on natural belts that patina with age, but all of these makers offer belts in a wide range of colours. We prefer natural belts for the patina potential, but you might prefer to start with a dyed belt. Even if it’s been dyed, if you start with the right maker, you’ll get a great belt that will get better with age.
We’re leading off with a strong contender for the denim world’s favourite belt maker. Isaac is a self-taught craftsman with as strong a passion for well-made goods as you’ll ever encounter. If you’ve spent any time poring over pictures of faded denim (and who hasn’t?), you’ve probably seen dozens or even hundreds of pictures of his belts.
Speaking from experience, the quick-release buckle (a 19th-century design that gave firemen quick access to their bundled hoses) takes a few days to get used to. As its name suggests, it releases very quickly, but putting it back together takes a bit of practice.
After a couple of days of bathroom breaks, you’ll be operating it like a master. Both belt and buckle will patina beautifully.
- 9-10 oz. Herman Oak veg-tan
- Choice of nickel-plated or solid brass
- Choice of single or double prong
- Patented quick-release buckle
- Hand-made in the USA
- Buckle hand-made in England
- Belt and hardware both made to patina
Other PigeonTree belts to consider: There’s not a belt in Isaac’s range that will disappoint. We’re particularly fond of the Navy Sedgewick (a rich and vibrant dark blue), Horween Chromexcel (the truly classic leather), and for the man who has everything, the Green Tärnsjö (complete with sterling silver buckle).
PigeonTree Crafting ship from the US. The only place to buy Isaac’s belts is directly from the maker himself.
The pride of Singapore, Obbi Good Label continues year after year to prove that they belong in any conversation about the world’s best makers of dependable leather goods.
Their bags and wallets are a popular favourite in the denim community, and, thanks to their immediately recognizable octagonal buckle, their belts have become something of a standard for picky denimheads.
They make these belts out of full-grain South American bovine leather held together with a single brass screw post. They promise that the belt is ready for lifetime use, and we’ve yet to see anybody wear through one of these things. It’s a belt for the ages, and it’ll quickly show onlookers that you take both denim and leather seriously.
- Full-grain undyed veg-tan leather (10-12 oz.)
- Leather imported from South America
- Built in Singapore
- 1.5” width
- OGL Works solid brass buckle
- OGL Works brass screw post
- Debossed Obbi Good Label logo
Other OGL belts to consider: Single Prong Natural (same belt but with only one prong), Vintage Natural (same leather, but a more classically styled buckle), Narrow Natural (thinner with a more elegant buckle)
Iron Heart ship from the US and the UK. If you’re looking for other places to buy OGL belts, try: Standard & Strange (USA), Franklin & Poe (USA), James Dant (USA), Rivet & Hide (UK), Second Sunrise (Sweden), Untouched (Australia)
Studio D’Artisan are better known for their impeccable work with denim than with leather, but the brand was one of the original badges behind the raw denim revolution, so, when they speak, the denim world listens. They do simple things as well as anybody, and this belt is no exception.
Even just a glance at the made-in-Japan veg-tan beast shows you that this belt means business. It’ll put up a fight for a long while, but, when it stops fighting, you’ll have a friend for life.
It may not be as thick as some of the heavyweights on this list, but it’s made out of bend cowhide, one of the world’s toughest forms of leather, so it more than makes up in heart what it gives away in bulk. It comes with a matching leather keychain, so you can race the two to see which will cross that perfect patina line first.
- Veg-tanned bend cowhide
- 3.5mm thick
- Nickel-plated brass buckle
- Made in Japan
- Fish-eye holes
- Debossed SDA logo
- Matching keychain
Corlection ship from Australia. If you’re looking for other places to buy SDA belts, try: Okayama Denim (Japan), Son of Stag (US), DC4 (Germany), Self Edge (USA), Blue Owl (USA), Frans Boone (Netherlands)
There’s significant competition in this space among the major Japanese denim brands. You really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Momotaro, UES, and Strike Gold (just to name a few) all make excellent veg-tan belts that would be perfectly at home on this list. With so many great makers to pick from, making these choices has not been easy.
Along with Iron Heart, Stevenson, and SDA, who also made this list, Samurai just pushes their craft that little bit further. They make everything with the future in mind. Their denim is some of the best fade foundations around, and their small range of belts will make an excellent companion for your fade journey (no no matter how long the road stretches ahead of you).
Their Full Grain Garrison Belt has a sheen that makes it stand apart from a lot of the other belts in this space. It’ll quickly begin to change colour, and the inner character of the leather will come charging to the surface. The hand-stitched details mark this as a quality piece. Like the leather, this stitching will change colour as the belt ages.
- Full-grain cowhide
- Pictured in tan (also available in black and brown)
- Ultra-thick iron buckle
- Made in Japan
- Oxidized hardware
- Hand-stitched belt head
- Belt, stitching, and hardware will change colour with age
Corlection ship from Australia. If you’re looking for other places to buy Samurai belts, try: Okayama Denim (Japan), DC4 (Germany), Son of a Stag (USA), and Statement (Germany)
If you want bulletproof accessories to go with your tough-as-nails selvedge, Iron Heart has got you covered.
The brand has built their reputation on the durability and dependability of their products, and it’s no surprise that they make a prominent appearance on a number of our Well-Made Essentials lists. They’re leaders in nearly every category—not just denim, but anything that pairs well with denim.
Their Heavy Duty Tochigi Belt is another square-buckle made-in-Japan beauty. It’s 4.2mm thick, so it’s not the heaviest piece on this list, but it’s anything but a lightweight. They’ve chosen a brass Chicago screw assembly, which allows you to adjust the belt’s length for a perfect fit. Like the other garrison belts on this list, there’s no keeper, so it’s best to keep that in mind when sizing.
- Tochigi leather (Japanese tanner founded in 1937)
- Nickel-plated garrison buckle
- 4.2mm thick
- 1.5” wide (fits most belt loops)
- Brass Chicago screw construction
- Easily adjustable with just a few basic tools
- Made to fade
Iron Heart ship from the US and the UK. If you’re looking for other places to buy Iron Heart, try: Franklin & Poe (USA), Corlection (AUS), Self Edge (US), Franklin & Poe (US), Brund (Denmark), and Statement (Germany)
Our last natural veg-tan belt is from another of our favourite American leather artisans. There’s a great deal to be said for the Japanese brands operating in this space, but they’re leveraging their reputations as excellent denim makers for a leap into the leather goods space.
PigeonTree, Guarded Goods, and Tanner Goods have all built their reputations entirely on their leatherwork. In a space as crowded as this one, distinguishing yourself doesn’t come easy, so these reputations are meaningful.
The kind of care and quality you can expect from Portland-based Tanner Goods is on full display with their Standard Natural Belt. Made of a hefty 11 oz. veg-tan leather, the belt has heft to spare, and there’s a rich creaminess in both look and feel that has made this belt a huge hit with finicky denim fanatics.
If you’ve made it this far and still haven’t found what you’re looking for, this beauty might punch your ticket.
- Full-grain veg-tan leather
- 11 oz. English bridle leather
- Hand-made in the USA
- Hand-burnished and dyed edges
- Pictured with stainless steel buckle
- Leather keeper
- Optional hand-cast solid brass buckle
Stag Provisions ship from the US. If you’re looking for other places to buy Tanner Goods belts, try: Division Road (USA), Tanner Goods (USA & Europe), Two Jacks Denim (USA), and Bridge and Burn (USA)
We’re huge fans of self-ageing everything, but a piece occasionally comes along that makes us consider breaking our rules. The Stevenson Narrow Cowhide Belt is one of them.
Stevenson started its life as an American brand, but it didn’t last very long. Japanese style wizard Atsuke Tagaya restarted the defunct brand in 2005, and, ever since, their timeless jeans, jackets, and shirts have been making themselves right at home in deep rotations.
They’re not the first brand that denimheads reach for, but they are absolutely perfectly at home in any conversation about the best Japanese brands in the denim game.
Because it is much narrower than the other belts on this list, their Narrow Cowhide Belt tips into decidedly western territory. It looks phenomenal with higher-rise jeans or, even better, with chinos. The 4mm Japanese cowhide is more than tough enough to last, and the snap-on construction makes for easy adjustment or replacement (it’s unlikely this will be necessary).
If you want a multi-use belt that comes out of the box looking like a finely aged masterpiece, look no further.
- 4 mm thick Japanese cowhide leather
- Hand-dyed to mimic patination
- Made in Japan
- 25mm wide
- Brass buckle
- Embossed Stevenson logo
Corlection ship from Australia. If you’re looking for other places to buy Stevenson Overall Company belts, try: Son of a Stag (USA), Rivet & Hide (UK), Cultizm (Germany), and Burg & Schild (Germany).
Colonel Littleton #5 Cinch Belt
We’re closing this list with a piece that’s bound to stir up some controversy. It’s a more dramatic statement than anything we’ve covered above. If the idea of a straightforward buckle bores you to tears, American belt makers Colonel Littleton have a few tricks tucked through their belt loops.
The Colonel (an honorary title) says that he is in the “wanting” business, not the “needing” one. They make leather products with discerning customers in mind, and the popularity of the brand’s bags and belts are a testament to the Colonel’s ability to give his customers exactly what they want (even if it’s a little more than they need).
The #5 Cinch Belt is their most iconic and immediately recognisable piece. Rather than adjusting the belt at the front, you adjust it at the side. Once you’ve hitched the two pieces together with the clasp that sits on the hip, the cinch buckle at the front opens and closes easily.
The look is not for everybody, but those who want their belts to stand apart from the crowd wouldn’t dream of wearing anything else.
- Buffalo leather
- Rich in character (lots of nicks and scrapes and variations of colour)
- Edge stitched
- Made in the USA in the Col. Littleton workshop
- Brass or stainless steel cinch buckle and rivets
- Three sizes (S, L, XL)
- Use waist size, not pants size, for a perfect fit
Other Colonel Littleton belts to consider: The No. 5 Cinch Belt is also available in Italian Bridle Leather (a little cheaper as well). There’s also the No. 1 Surcingle Belt (more classic belt, but still with the hip adjustor) and the No. 4 Leather Belt (a black western classic).
Colonel Littleton products are exclusively available through their webshop.
Guarded Goods Foundation Belt
For some of Guarded Goods’ more devoted fans, these belts should have headlined this list. Undeniably one of the best leather workers in the United States, Guarded Goods uses American leather in all of their products (finishing it with American-made hardware).
Every one of their items is hand-made by the passionate maker at the heart of the brand.
The principle he abides by is one that denimheads will recognize: buy a little bit less but spend a little bit more for something that is made purposefully and passionately.
His Foundation Belt is available in several leathers and colours, and with an equally wide range of buckle and closure options.
We’re particularly fond of the belt pictured below: a Hermann Oak Natural Veg Tan with the antique brass square garrison buckle. Rivets are always a durable choice, but you can upgrade to a closure carefully stitched with waxed thread that gives the belt a decidedly hand-made feel. Whichever options you choose, this belt will be with you for life.
- Pictured in Hermann Oak natural veg-tan
- Pictured with antique brass buckle
- Handcrafted in the USA
- Buckle made in Japan
- Beeswax bevelled and burnished edges
- $20 upgrade for waxed thread stitching (worth it)
- Fully customisable
Thanks to its fully customisable leather and buckle options, it’s one-stop shopping for belts with Guarded Goods. We can recommend the incredible stiff English Bridle Leather in London Tan, Natural Russet, or Black.
Guarded Goods ship from the US. Their belts, wallets, and other leather goods are exclusively available through their webshop.
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Why a Well-Made Leather Belt is Essential
First as functional pieces and later as fashionable ones, belts have been with us for almost all of human history, and there’s no chance of them going the way of the dinosaur. If we want to be taken seriously, we need a good belt (ideally one that matches our footwear).
A Well-Made Leather Belt is Timeless
The precise origins of belts are difficult to buckle up, but we do know that belts predate pants. They’ve been with us since the bronze age, starting as ways to secure tunics and as places for soldiers to store weapons and other supplies they might need on the charge or on the run.
On the battlefield, a man’s belt was absolutely essential. It was not only for storage, it was also (when made of sturdy animal hides or metal) a protective covering for some of the body’s more vital bits. This made it a suitable (and bloodless) trophy that the victor could carry off the battlefield. This practice echoes down to us through the ages—the winners of boxing or martial arts bouts still leave the ring carrying with a shiny belt slung over their shoulder.
There’s a long history of finely decorated belts, which were common signs of wealth and prestige both on and off the battlefield for centuries. We’re more interested, though, in the belt as a purely utilitarian accessory.
This means we’re looking at the early part of the twentieth century, with 1922 as perhaps the most important year in the belt’s workwear history. This was the first year that Levi’s started to include belt loops on their jeans. Their earlier models featured cinch backs and suspender buttons, but no belt loops.
The loops appeared at the same time that the waistband and the navel started to part ways. Jeans were still by every measure what we’d call a high-rise jean today, but the waist was starting to retreat. Jeans were now worn across the hips rather than above them, and this made the belt increasingly essential.
Over the next few decades, the belt started to tighten its grip on the denim world. When we look at pictures of style icons from the ‘50s and the ‘60s, we see more and more of them feeding belts through those loops. The back cinch and suspender buttons almost entirely disappeared. In the evolutionary battle for supremacy, the belt had come out on top.
A Well-Made Leather Belt is Adaptable
Depending on how diverse your tastes, you might be able to get away with a single well-made belt. If you’re suiting up each morning in heavy denim and brown or black boots, you might be able to make do with a single heavily patinated belt—one belt to rule them all. One belt to bring them all and, in the darkness bind them.
This is what most denimheads do. They find a belt that works with their go-to style of denim and footwear and they just move that belt between pairs. It works with everything, so why mess with perfection.
If all your boots are black or brown, a well-made belt in the same colour will always work. If, however, you have a wide-ranging boot collection, you probably already have at least a couple of belts. If you’ve made do with a single black or brown belt while your boot collection has grown, it might be time to start branching out.
For medium rise or lower rise jeans, a wide belt (at least 1.5 inches) tends to look the best. As the jeans rise to the top of the hips, slightly thinner belts become more appropriate, but denim generally demands that you err on the wider side.
Dress belts, often with a fair bit of shine to them and usually close to a single inch in width, tend to work best with softer fabrics. They’re perfect with chinos and dress slacks, but they create a somewhat lopsided picture when paired with heavy denim and boots.
Of course, the opposite can be true if you prefer slip-ons or oxfords below the cuff. A dress belt in the right shade will work exceptionally well with slip-ons or loafers. Be warned, though: heavy denims and dress shoes/dress belts make uneasy bedfellows. Copacetic pairings tend to feature three pieces pulled from the same weight class. Heavy belt? Heavy denim and boots. Dress belt? Chinos and loafers.
Most of the belts below will work better with boots than with dressier looks. A few of them will slide nicely into chinos or other softer looks, but only accidentally. This is a website for denimheads, so we’re assuming that you’re looking for a well-made belt that will slide perfectly into your rotation of well-made selvedge (and probably boots too).
How to Identify a Well-Made Leather Belt
A lot of the well-known brands in this space either produce excellent belts of their own or collaborate with top-notch belt makers. It seems a natural fit, and every stockist will have an assortment of belts to pair with the jeans they sell.
We’re spoiled for choice, and the number of brands in this space can be dizzying, so we’re going to help you narrow down your search. Here’s what to look for.
What It’s Made of
As with boots, 100% leather simply won’t cut the mustard. We need more than that.
Those who make the best belts take extra care to start with the best available leathers. You should be able to see this immediately. You should expect full-grain leather. Look for subtle variations in colour on the surface of the belt. Does it look like plastic, or does it look like an animal’s skin (imperfections and all)? Only the latter will do.
You might have heard words like ‘veg-tan’ or ‘vegetable-tanned’ floating around in discussions about belts. In this context, vegetable doesn’t refer to carrots or broccoli. Rather, it refers to the all-natural tanning process, a much slower and environmentally friendly tanning process that, with the help of the tannins in oak and spruce bark, produces a supple but durable leather.
Best of all, the leather remains porous enough to allow oils to penetrate its surface. This means that, unlike chrome-tanned leather, vegetable-tanned leather will patina with age. This is why denimheads can’t get enough of the stuff.
You’ll notice that quite a few of the makers on this list offer natural or raw leather options. Like raw denim, this belt is purchased in an unfinished state. While fading denim is the art of subtraction, with a raw veg-tanned belt, we are practising the art of addition. The oil from our skin transfers to the belt and it takes on the beautiful brown tones that no amount of dye can replicate.
If you’ve never been through this process, we highly recommend it. Yes, the belt clashes with everything for a few months, but, as with raw denim, our patience is rewarded. We end up with a belt that is uniquely our own, shaped by how we’ve worn it and handled it.
What to look for in a well-made leather belt:
- Leather from a respected tannery
- Full-grain leather
- Vegetable-tanned (aka veg-tan)
- The right width for our belt loops
- A good colour match for our footwear
- Thick if everything else you wear is heavy (<8 oz.)
- Thinner if you tend to wear lighter denim/shoes (>8 oz.)
How It’s Made
How it’s made really comes down to two things. The stitch and/or rivet work and the hardware. With most of the belts we’ll cover below, the stitching is confined to the area around the buckle assembly. The rest of the belt showcases the high-quality leather.
The belt maker folds one end of the belt over to create a loop that the buckle will sit in. The end is then fastened to the rest of the belt either with heavy-duty stitching or sturdy rivets. The buckle is usually a fairly simple affair, though some makers (PigeonTree and Colonel Littleton spring to mind) feature thoroughly original patented buckles that make their belts immediately recognizable.
There’s no need to go with an extremely heavy buckle. There are plenty of extremely well-made belts that aren’t topped off with industrial-grade materials.
This is one of those categories in which even some of the best makers seem determined to outdo everybody else in the field by producing the biggest and baddest hardware around. This hits a lot of denimheads right in the sweet spot, but it’s often more than is absolutely necessary.
If nothing but the toughest piece of leather held together by Vulcan-forged steel will do, by all means, reach for that heavyweight champion. If you’re simply looking for a high-quality belt, though, there are plenty of middle-weights that will keep your pants up and look great while doing it.
Construction details to look for in a well-made leather belt:
- Rivets or heavy-duty stitching
- Minimal/no stitching on the body
- Keeper/loop of heavy leather or matching metal
- Hardware options (nickel, brass, bronze, and sometimes silver)
- Stitching extremely tight
- Heavy is good, but not a must
- Clean finishing throughout
Why It’s Made
Our favourite belts are all made to take on character as they age and share experiences with the wearer. The oils from our hands will turn it a rich golden brown, and it’ll just keep getting darker and darker through the years.
We’ll add a little blue into the mix each time we wear the belt to break in a new pair of raw denim, and we’ll end up with a belt that we’ve had a hand in producing.
Great makers all offer their customers the opportunity to patina their belts like this. They’ll offer dyed versions of the belts as well, but the diehard patina enthusiasts are as likely to buy these (as beautiful as they are) as denimheads are to buy pre-faded denim.
If you’re evaluating a maker that’s not on this list, see if they offer raw versions of their belts. It’s a surefire sign that the maker speaks your language.
Cinch it All Up With a Rugged Kit
If you’ve got the belt, you definitely need the jeans and the boots to pair it with. If you’ve got the downstairs covered, it might be a good time to start looking at a jacket or a heavy-duty flannel. The right belt will tie the whole outfit together perfectly.