From the late 1800s to the late 1930s, before the widespread popularity of belts, the back cinch (also known as a ‘martingale’ and a ‘back buckle’) was a common feature of almost every pair of jeans.
The cinch was originally placed on the waistband but later moved down to the yoke. It consists of two strips of denim, reinforced with a rivet on either side, held together with a buckle.
It literally cinches in the waistband, allowing the jean to fit snugly on the waist yet still be comfortably loose on the butt and hips. By the early 1940s, jeans had abandoned the back cinch.
Why the cinch disappeared
By the early 1920s, belts were becoming an everyday item no longer reserved for decoration or military uniforms. This change in tastes was reflected in the addition of belt loops alongside the cinch, as introduced by Levi’s in 1922.
Essentially, this allowed customers to choose between holding up their jeans the old-fashioned way with a cinch, or keep up with the new times and wear a belt.
Opinion and personal choice were polarised between younger and older generations of jeans wearers; retailers famously kept a large pair of scissors behind the counter with which they could cut off the cinch, should the customer desire it.
Whichever way customers’ tastes leaned towards, by keeping both options, many jeans brands ensured their garments would be attractive to new, younger customers whilst still catering to loyal, long-time customers too.
By the mid-40s, though, the cinch had been consigned to history and the belt was the de facto method of holding up your jeans. Indicative of this change in fashion tides was the release of the Levi’s WWII 501 model, which featured only belt loops, no cinch and no button suspenders (which I’ll talk more about later).
Nowadays, even though a classic five-pocket jean you pick up in a store won’t feature a cinch, the last decade has seen a revival in the interest of true vintage and vintage-inspired jeans.
Although still very much in the realm of die-hard denimheads, the cinch is making a comeback on the jeans of many denim brands and even becoming a defining feature of brands like RRL’s range.