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”)

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]

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]

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]

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]



Most watched eBay auctions    

Us Krag Spanish American War/pre Ww1 Cartridge Belt & Buckle Woven Anson Mills Ann Demeulemeester Womens Black Leather Zipper Double Buckle Belt M NewGucci Brown Trim With Green&red Belt With Gg Logo- (95 Cm - Size 38) Gray BuckleHo Brass Westside At&sf #3000 2-10-10-2 W/belt Buckle Articulated Atsf Santa FeGucci Men's Black Leather Logo Buckle BeltVintage Victor Coochwytewa Hopi Overlay Sterling Silver Kachina Belt BuckleAntique Brass Union Officers Civil War Belt Buckle With EagleVintage Calvin Martinez Navajo Sterling Silver Belt BuckleOld Navajo Indian Pawn Sterling Silver Turquoise Western Ranger Belt BuckleVintage Victor Coochwytewa Hopi Overlay Sterling Silver Rams Head Belt BuckleRare Original Antique Civil War Us Military Belt Buckle #1Mid Century Navajo Sterling Silver Turquoise Stamped Belt Buckle Signed JpRvca Aaron Horkey Banjo Owl Fedora Belt Buckle Steampunk Bluegrass SkateboardJames Reid Sterling Silver Texas Ranger Belt Buckle Set Santa Fe New Mexico U.s. Plate Belt Buckle Civil War Dug Appomattox, Va Surrender Grounds Rare Original Antique Civil War Us Military Belt Buckle #2Vintage Giant 3.5" Chunky Turquoise Sterling Silver Navajo Indian Belt BuckleEdward Bohlin [4] Piece Belt Buckle Beautiful Handmade Sterling Silver ;[unused]Mid Century Navajo Sterling Silver Large 3.5" Sandcast Belt Buckle Jewelry 68.5gWwi Imperial German Saxon Army Belt Buckle W/ Tab-originalAuthentic Gucci Bronze Metallic Horse Buckle Brown Leather Belt Size 95 - 38Navajo Concho Belt Sterling Silver & Onyx 11 Conchos & Buckle Marked AmbSalvatore Ferragamo Reversible Belt Brown/black Leather Belt Silver-tone BuckleCivil War Belt Buckle Officers Brass Uniform Part Captain Collectable OriginalVtg. Western Tooled Belt With Sterling & Turquoise Stone Buckle, Tip & KeeperSterling Silver 10k Gold Mccabe 1960 Camp Pendleton Rodeo Champion Belt BuckleFerragamo Belt Reversible(large Buckle) Fits 32,34 95 CmBarry Kieselstein Cord Made In Usa 1994 Gorgeous Sterling Silver Belt Buckle SetGucci Guccissima Belt,black Buckle, Black Belt W/ Green & Red Stripe Sz 112 CmVintage Hand Stamped Navajo Sterling Turquoise Rectangular Belt Buckle. Nr!Vintage Navajo Handmade Sterling Silver Stamped Belt Buckle For 7/8" Belt ”Sunset Trails Ranger Belt Buckle .925 Sterling Silver Stars Longhorn 10k GoldGenuine 32mm H HermVintage Turquoise Navajo Belt Buckle, Large, Heavy Barry Kieselstein-cord Sterling Rain Forest Buckle W/ Calfskin BeltOld Sunset Trails Pierced Sterling Silver +10k Gold Western Belt Buckle 3d HorseCartier Santos Belt Silver Buckle Leather Belt New In Box AuthenticLarry B. Tom Vintage Signed Navajo Indian Sterling Silver Turquoise Belt Buckle Vtg Brown Leather Tassel Sporran Brass Scottish Thistle Buckle Leather Belt SetRare 1974 Hesston Belt Buckle Excellent Condition "orange Peel Back"Gucci Monogram Gg Black Belt Strap Metal Buckle Unisex 37" Long StrapNice Old Pawn Vintage Navajo "kee" Signed Sterling Turquoise Coral Belt Buckle Hermes Reversible Black Box & Brown Togo Leather Gold-plated H Buckle Belt Sz 95Vintage Vogt Sterling Silver Belt Buckle 10k Gold Horse Cowboy Hand Engraved U.s. Breast Plate Belt Buckle Civil War Dug Appomattox, Va Surrender Grounds Nice Ww1 German Got Mit Uns Imperial Crown Belt Buckle, Original Decent Shape!!Vintage Handmade Renoir Designer Signed Wide Copper Belt Buckle Cuff BraceletSterling Silver & Turquoise Concho Belt Leather Buckle Bracelet Vintage Art Deco Repair Lot Brooches Dress Clips Bracelet Belt Buckle Pot MetalKiss Belt Buckle Vintage Prism Logo Blue/gold Very Good Condition Ami 1978Original Prussian Officers Parade Belt Silver Brocade With Gilt Wii BuckleTory Burch 100%auth Off White Leather Reversible Belt W/ Silver Reva Buckle NiceW. Begay Navajo Vintage Sterling Silver Turquoise Abalone Horse 4" Belt BuckleNew W/ Tag Authentic Escada Gold Buckle Ee Logo Brown Leather Belt Size 40Authentic Escada Golden Buckle Beige Ostrich Leather Belt Size 40$1995 Authentic Hermes Belt 4,2mm Gold Buckle Size 36-38Louis Vuitton Damier Graphite Black Belt Initials BuckleWw2 German Luftwaffe Belt Buckle & Cap Em Visor Cap Insignia Wings.original J.d.Very Rare 70's Era Kiss Prism Belt Buckle By One Stop Posters-excellentAdidas Men's Golf Trophy Belt Chrome Buckle Smooth Leather Strap White 36"