Belt buckles—for men, at least—are like modern-day versions of crowns. Whether they’re attached to concho, cowboy, or wrestling-title belts, the bigger and more loaded down the buckles are with heavy metal and stones, the more accomplished and important the men wearing them, right?

Of course, buckles began as strictly utilitarian devices, clasps designed to fasten things together, like the opposite ends of belts and straps. They were used for harnesses and saddles, as well as on boots, shoes, and clothes.

But it wasn't long before they became elaborately decorated status symbols. The semi-nomadic Chinese people known as Xiongnu around the 3rd or 2nd century B.C. wore belted tunics with fancy buckles, sometimes in the shapes of powerful animals like oxen. Ancient Greek and Roman metalsmiths forged beautiful and imposing belt buckles for Teutonic warriors.

Germanic invaders attempting to take over the Roman Empire had intricate belt buckles picturing animals engaged in fights, echoing Scythian-Sarmatian motifs. A heavy filigreed rectangular buckle, unearthed from the tomb of Childeric I, the king of the Franks, who died around A.D. 481, is considered a prime example of this kind of buckle.

It was around this time that Celtic styles of belt buckles emerged, including the Celtic cross, Celtic knot, Celtic shield, the Tree of Life, and Nidhogg the dragon. These motifs are still tremendously popular today.

In the 7th century, Anglo-Saxons wore belts to hang their knifes and pouches from—the metal of the buckle, usually designed in the "shield-on-tongue" style, telegraphed the wealth of the wearer. A particularly magnificent gold example has been recovered from the Sutton Hoo ship burial. Its curvilinear design shows snakes intertwined with four-legged animals. Clearly forged by a master artisan, it features a complex system of fasteners.

The belt buckle as ornamentation reached its peak in the Middle Ages, when the knights of the late 14th century wore the most magnificent belts ever made. After that, buckles onc...

Even though goldsmiths had invented buttons in the 1600s, British sailors used eyelets and string to keep their clothes in place. But these proved useless to military and merchant seaman, who often got soaked during intense ocean storms. Belts and buckles were then put to good use to keep sopping wet clothes attached to the body of a storm-battered sailor. Around the same time, the Puritans who fled to America employed cheap belt buckles—they felt buttons were sinful.

In 1888, and Englishman named Charles Ashbee founded the Guild of Handicraft to preserve the craftsmanship of jewelry and metalwork. Ashbee and others were reacting to the poorly made objects coming out of the Industrial Revolution. This Art Nouveau movement produced delicate, decorative belt buckles that are some of the most coveted today by collectors.

Across the ocean in America, many Southwest Native American tribes, particularly the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni, began making silver jewelry and belt buckles, often adorned with turquoise, in response to the demand for souvenirs from Victorian Era tourists visiting the West via the railroad.

It wasn't really until the 1920s and the Art Deco period, though, when the waists of pants were lowered to a more natural waistline, that belts became popular for American men and women outside the military. The most common types of belt buckles include frame-style, plate-style, and box-frame buckles.

The fantasy of cowboys in the 19th-century Wild West facing off with their big belt buckles gleaming in the sun is a pure 20th century invention, made up by Hollywood. Real cowboys kept their britches up with suspenders or plain military friction belt buckles. But early Hollywood costume designers wanted to add a little flair and swagger to their Western heroes.

Those designers knew what they were doing. The "Western belt buckle" exploded as the biggest American buckle style of the 20th century, worn by cowboys in rodeos, country-western singers, couples two-stepping at clubs, and even an U.S. president or two.

Western belt buckles, also known as Texas, cowboy, or cowgirl belt buckles, come in a wide variety of styles. Some of them feature American flags and patriotic symbols such as the bald eagle. Longhorn cattle and cowboys riding bucking broncos or bulls are other common motifs. Early examples were heavy, made of silver-plated iron, but these days, new metal alloys allow for cowboy buckles to look large and imposing even though they are deceptively light.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Ventagli.org

Ventagli.org

Anna Checcoli's homage to the beauty and art of hand fans ('ventagli,' in Italian). Use the left-hand nav to browse… [read review or visit site]

The Black Tie Guide

The Black Tie Guide

Peter Marshall became an authority on formalwear out of necessity — he needed a tux to wear on the maiden transat… [read review or visit site]

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

Fashion Columbia Study Collection

The Fashion Columbia Study Collection (FCSC) is the digital home of the Columbia College Chicago’s fashion archiv… [read review or visit site]

Antiquespectacles.com

Antiquespectacles.com

Dr. David Fleishman's comprehensive spectacles site (over 3500 images), in collaboration with museums around the wo… [read review or visit site]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Rare Original Confederate Georgia Civil War Belt Buckle-dugBrown And Silver Salvatore Ferragamo Belt BuckleMattel Shootin' Shell Mint Buckle Gun Western Belt Set, Never Used, RemingtonDug Civil War Belt Buckle With Stud Hooks-dug Near Battle Of Franklin, TnGenuine Ferragamo Belt Buckle Brand NewVtg Handmade Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Coral Belt Buckle Signed "g"| J TxVintage Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Stamped Pawn Belt Buckle 29.5 GramsOrvis Vogt Sterling Buckle Set With Hand Tooled Leather Belt Size 36Vintage Southwestern Hand Engraved Sterling Silver Belt Buckle Mccabe │rs BxSuperb Antique Victorian C1890 Silver Scottish Agate Belt Buckle Bracelet BroochCivil War Waist Belt Plate Buckle - Dug Kennesaw Mountain Relic 1861- 1865 Nice! Original Us Civil War Union Enlisted Mans Belt BuckleWayne Cheama Zuni Vintage Sterling Silver Turquoise Snake Belt Buckle 34.8gPowerlifting Lever Buckle 10mm Belt Strongman Crossfit Gym Weight Lifting Inzer Vtg Old Pawn Navajo 183g Sterling Silver Turquoise Concho Belt W/ BuckleAntique Silver Ferragamo Belt Buckle1896 Stunning Antique Solid Silver Nurses Belt Buckle By William Comyns 81gramsOld Zuni Mosaic Inlay Rainbow Dancer Ranger Belt Buckle SetVintage Large 1 Inch Sunset Trails Sterling Silver Texas Ranger Belt Buckle SetAntique Vintage Chinese Silver Filigree Dragon Belt Buckle Fendi New Tan Leather Shimmer Buckle Casual Belt 95 BhfoOriginal 1810. Us Military Belt BuckleWonderful Indian War Model 1874 " Us " Brass Buckle With Belt -cavalry / Inf.Native American Navajo Pawn Turquoise Tooled Leaf Sterling Belt Buckle M ThomasVintage 1950's Sun Record Company Johnny Cash ' I Walk The Line ' Belt BuckleOld Zuni Angelita Cheama 4 Pc Nugget Ranger Belt Buckle SetWw2 German Wehrmacht Army Officer Dagger Sword Leather Belt Hanger Frog & BuckleOwsley Stanley Grateful Dead Inscribed Belt Buckle #2Hermes Belt Silver With Silver BuckleVintage Southwestern Sterling Silver Ranger Belt Buckle Mccabe │rsVogt Silversmith Belt Buckle Set - Solid Sterling Silver With 14k Gold Fill!Authentic Men's Black Suede Gucci Belt With Interlocking G Buckle 36-38Vintage Old Pawn Fred Guerro Navajo Sterling Silver Heavy Embossed Belt BuckleBeautifull Red Hermes Belt With Gold Buckle Size 125 Cms ( 34-36)Vogt Silversmith Belt Buckle 2 Pc Set - Solid Sterling Silver With 14k Gold FillBotkier Metallic Blue Pebbled Leather Belt Buckle Shoulder Strap Shoulder BagLarge Old Pawn 20s Navajo Green Turquoise 112g Sand Cast 925 Silver Belt BuckleVintage Old Pawn Hopi Sterling Silver & Turquoise Stone Belt Buckle * OVintage Sterling Silver Western Horses Ornate Floral Cowboy Belt Buckle 82.5gHermes Constance H 38mm Etoupe/black Belt Brushed Gold Buckle Size 90 (105cm)Vintage Sterling Silver 925 & 10k Gold Plefina Taxco Western Belt Buckle 4pcsOld Pawn Vintage Ss Genuine Turquoise Sand Cast Belt Buckle Navajo Unsigned ~60gOld Pawn Quarico Belt Buckle Hand Made Sterling Silver TurquoiseVintage Navajo Indian Sterling Silver Turquoise Buck Deer 91g Belt Buckle SignedScotty Cameron Belt Buckle Titleist Scotty Dog Custom Club CameronWw1 German Officer's Belt & Buckle / 27th New York Division War TrophyNudie's Rodeo Tailors Inc Sterling Silver Custom Belt Buckle Rider ����⭐️����Classic 32mm H Hermès Belt Buckle Gold Polished Herme No StrapClassic Hermes 32mm "h" Belt BuckleVtg 1950's Early Zuni 'ransom Cooyate' Sterling Silver Turquoise Belt Buckle99 Cent Auction! Mens Vintage Elk Creek Sterling Silver Belt Buckle-ranger? Nr!Antique Art Nouveau Enamel Belt Buckle.Versace Jeans New Green Patent Leather Blend Buckle Casual Belt 85 BhfoCartier Santos Belt Silver Buckle Leather Belt New In Box AuthenticLouis Vuitton Mens Damier Belt Graphite Black Buckle Size 100 / 40 LvVtg Old Pawn 50's Hopi Sterling Silver Walter Polelonema Corn Stalk Belt BuckleAntique Shiebler 19c Insect Beetle On Leaf Sterling Silver Ladies Belt BuckleScotty Cameron Belt BuckleWw 11:medal,pins,wings,100 Plus Photos,dogtags,papers,belt Buckle Tin Box,moneyMexican Heavy Hand Engraved Sterling Silver Belt Buckle Mexico Signed │rs Bx