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Arts in Review

Haute Stuff: Belts

Here are my suggestions for the belts every female reader needs to have.

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By Karen Aney (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: October 10, 2012

The other week, Glee saw the much-anticipated (by some people) debut of Sarah Jessica Parker in the role of Isabelle Kempt, online editor of Vogue.

We’ll skate past the bulk of the episode that relates to Vogue – because the obscene ease with which Kurt obtained a job at Vogue and used his new-found swipe key to give Rachel a makeover (after filming a music video, of course), well, it infuriates me. Though I did spy an obscenely gorgeous coat during that scene and I’m pretty sure it was from Alexander McQueen’s last collection.

One thing that gave me pause to think was during SJP’s mini freak-out to Kurt, where they agreed that belts are, like, totally out. This freaked me out a little bit, as I’m one of those people. I’m the type of person who would wear a belt to the gym if I could just find one that goes with workout gear – people want a defined waist while they’re sweating, too! I’ve pitched the idea to Nike. They’re getting back to me.

In the meantime, I thought I’d look at the history of the belt so I could assure myself that it is, in fact, ubiquitous. According to my Dictionary of Fashion History by Valerie Cumming (totally worth ordering on Amazon, by the way) the belt has been around since the Bronze ages. Seems ubiquitous to me.

It started off almost exclusively for men – it was used to carry weapons, and later, coin purses. Women adopted the ingenious trend by wearing sashes. They were generally used to hang fans off of. For most of our history, though, belts have been used by soldiers. This wasn’t just for the purpose of hanging weapons off of, either: Russian soldiers in the Napoleonic wars used them to look good, even pairing them with small, waist-cinching corsets. See? Even Russian men want to look more like the French. It’s normal.

The belt first became part of a women’s fashion arsenal in the 1900s. These belts still resembled a sash, but were constructed with boning inside of them, much like a corset. This hybrid was revolutionary in the fashion industry, as it’s a pretty early example of a move towards women’s apparel that respected fashionable appearance while still recognizing that women care about more than just looking good. Yes, this means that they prioritized having their kidneys in the proper locations over having the smallest waist possible. Shocking.

Unless you’re wearing something with a built-in waist—an empire-waisted dress or peplum top, for example—a belt can really enhance what you’re wearing. Boys, your belt wardrobe doesn’t need to include much more than a classic, plain belt; in my opinion, anything more than that just makes it look like you’re trying to draw attention to somewhere I don’t care to look.

Here are my suggestions for the belts every female reader needs to have.

First: a plain leather belt, preferably in black or brown. At least four centimetres wide. This is what I have worn on an almost daily basis for the past four years, though mine is fake leather. I have a buckle on it that has little flowers on the sides – it’s a touch of femininity that works well in my wardrobe, but if you’re more classic find a belt with a buckle that reflects that. You can wear them through the belt loops of your pants, or overtop of a dress, cardigan or sweater. If you’re looking for a budget version, haunt the clearance racks at American Eagle. When they cycle through last season’s inventory, they often have real leather belts marked down to less than $20.

Second: a skinny belt (two centimetres or less). This should be in a colour or pattern. These are used to break up monotonous outfits – loose black shirts or plain dresses. H&M is probably the place to go for these; they sell sets of three skinny belts for $8.

And third: a wide (15 centimetres or more) elastic belt. These are on their way “out” but only in some instances. To make it look fresh, don’t wear it over a boyfriend cardigan – try it over an oversized dress. It’s more comfortable than jeans, and you’ll still avoid looking like you’re pregnant. To stretch your wardrobe, try wearing a summer dress as a skirt – use this belt to hide the messy waistband.

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