Shopping for a men's belt is not like shopping for any other item of clothing. The short, obvious explanation to this truth is that a belt is not like any other item of clothing: it's perhaps the sole men's accessory that takes the measurements of the body into account. Whereas virtually all men's ties and men's socks can fit any purchaser, the process of buying a belt requires careful consideration.
The first thing to consider is the measurement of the belt itself. Like a pair of pants, a belt's width is typically measured in inches. But unlike a pair of pants, you shouldn't buy the width that corresponds to your own waist measurement. You should buy a width that is at least two inches greater. For instance, if you typically wear a 32-size pant, you should purchase a size 34 belt.
This is because belts do not buckle at their absolute end point. Instead, they buckle several inches before the belt itself ends. This allows the end of the belt to pass through the buckle, and be tucked into a belt loop if desired.
But proper sizing is not the only consideration. The color and width of the belt will play a large role in what kind of shoes the belt can be paired with and in what settings it can be worn.
We wouldn't consider ourselves to be sticklers for the rules, but there is one commandment of men's dress we steadfastly uphold: black belts with black shoes, and brown belts with brown shoes. The reason for this is that a black belt will blend in with a pair of black shoes, as will a brown belt worn with brown shoes.
When the opposite combination is worn, whether that is a black belt with brown shoes, a brown belt with black shoes, or any other mismatched pairing of the two, the items will stand out against each in stark contrast. That contrast isn't what you want when you are wearing a suit, which is meant to look seamless from head to toe. But the wearing of brown against black can also upset the balance in a casual outfit, too.
The English, who favored black shoes in the city, had a maxim stating "no brown in town." While you can make the case that a black belt worn with black shoes is more formal, both black and brown shoes can be worn with suits. Just be sure to match whichever color you decide upon to the belt.
There is not "right" or "wrong" width for a belt. Rather, it comes down to what other items of clothing and what kind of situations the belt will be worn in. If you plan to wear it casually with men's jeans, a wider width belt can be a great choice. A belt in a wider width—which we might loosely define as a belt that is 1 3/8" inches wide or more—can complement the naturally rugged character of denim.
However, the same width belt worn with a suit can look chunky and may awkwardly disturb the clean line of a suit. Instead, consider a belt in what's considered a "dress width." Generally speaking, belts cut to a width of 1 3/16" inches or less can be considered a dress belt. This may seem like an inconsequential difference in width on paper, but it presents a strong contrast visually. Because of that thinner width, a dress belt blends into the background of a formal look rather than sticking out.
A dress belt can be worn with jeans as well, making it the most versatile in terms of width. If you are looking for your first belt or a belt you can wear with anything in your wardrobe, we'd recommend looking for a belt in a dress width to start.