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    

Old Pawn Navajo Handmade Solid Sterling Silver Turquoise Belt Buckle | J IlHermes Reversible Leather Silver "h" Buckle Belt Size 90Vintage Natural 1/2ctw Ceylon Blue Sapphire & Diamond 18k Gold Belt Buckle RingStunning Vtg Navajo 17 Turquoise Heavy 82gr Sterling Silver Belt Buckle Old PawnPrada Men's Black Brushed Leather Plaque Buckle Belt Size 34/21Hermes 32mm Belt Buckle Gold Genuine 60 X 38mm NewMadame Alexander 1950's Tagged Dress For A 18" Doll, Pink White, Belt W Buckle!!Civil War Eagle Belt Buckle Relic Battlefield Pick Up Mill Springs Kentucky Kiss 1977 Vintage Pacifica Belt Buckle Black N Blue Prism Logo Super Rare!Salvatore Ferragamo Men's Black Leather Silver Gancini Buckle BeltSalvatore Ferragamo Red 38 Leather Oversize Double Gancini Buckle Belt New $440 Hopi~franck Lahaleon~sterling~overlay~multi Inlay~sunface Kachina~belt BuckleDavid Yurman Belt Buckle Sterling Silver Waves Collection SpiritualNavajo~indian~martha Cayatineto~sterling Silver~turquoise~belt BuckleOriginal Ww1 German Bavarian Military Brass Belt Buckle - In True FateWwi Imperial German Prussian Nco Telegraph Complete Belt Buckle Leather Belt SetCivil War Relic Brass Belt Buckle. Estate Find In Gettysburg, PaOld Rare Vintage Antique Civil War Relic Original U.s. Dug Belt Buckle Skin U.s. Army American Civil War To Indian Wars Us Buckle And Belt Catch Ww2 German Belt Buckle "gott Mit Uns" With Tab 1937Vtg Old Navajo Indian Sterling Pawn Silver Turquoise Coral Belt Buckle 29gHallmarked Chester 1890 Lady’s Sterling Silver Belt Buckle: Fine Pierce WorkConfederate Cs "exaggerated Serifs" 2pc Belt Plate Buckle Dug Caroline Co VaSny State Of New York "artillery" 2-pc Belt Plate Buckle Dug Aldie Loudoun Co VaDerby Ncha 1991 Open Champion ~ Gist Sterling & 10k Rodeo Trophy Belt Buckle Beautiful~navajo~martha Cayatineto~sterling Silver~turquoise~belt BuckleOld Pawn Navajo Hallmarked 925 Sterling Silver Turquoise Coral Belt Buckle J AiOld Navajo Sterling Silver Concho Belt Buckle-southwest Native American PawnGucci Men's Black Leather Square Buckle Belt Size 95/38Ultra Rare Pre-wwii German Reichmarine Navy Wiemar Reichswehr Full Belt & BucklePrada Men's Black Leather & Silver Branded Buckle BeltVintage Signed Richard Pawicki Hopi Sterling Overlay Sunface Corn Belt Buckle Custom Sterling Silver - Vogt 75g - Texas Belt Buckle W/ 14k Gold Filled StarSterling Silver Irvine & Jachens Cowboy Belt Buckle With Size 36 Leather BeltYsl Yves Saint Laurent Rose Gold Patent Leather Wide Buckle Belt Size 75/30 NewNavajo~herbert Pino~sterling~center For Global Volunteer Service~belt BuckleOld Navajo Sterling Silver Hopi Style Ranger Belt Buckle Set Signed T. ThomasRalph Lauren Black Alligator Dress Belt W/ Sterling Silver Buckle & Tip Size 36Prada Men's Black Leather & Silver Buckle Belt Size 100/40Ralph Lauren Made In Usa English Tan Bridle Leather Brass Monogram Buckle Belt LSuperb Quality Stunning Vintage Meiji ?japan Japanese Shakudo Birds Belt BuckleBob Berg Sterling Silver Longhorn Belt BuckleKiss Ace Frehley Vintage Aucoin 1977 Pacifica Solo Belt Buckle - Super Rare !Vintage Draghi 65 Grams Sterling Silver And 14k Gold Monogram Belt BuckleBurberry Leather Cotton Rope Webbing Belt New Sz 80/32 Tan/brown Buckle $430Rare New Jersey State Police Badge 1309 Belt Buckle Sterling SilverSalvatore Ferragamo Brown Leather Silver Logo Buckle Men's Belt Sz 50/125 W/ Box1877 Antique 84 Silver Niello Enamel Belt & Buckle Original Russian Empire Era1950s Sterling Silver Western Belt Buckle Diablo Mfg W Stage Coach 80 GramsVintage Effie Calavaza Zuni Sterling Silver & Turquoise Belt Buckle Snake DesignPrada Men's Brown Crossgrain Leather & Silver Buckle BeltArt Nouveau Sterling Silver William Kerr Sah Belt Buckle ~ As IsWw1 German Military Gott Mit Uns Brass Belt Buckle - God Is With UsSalvatore Ferragamo Black 32 Leather Double Gancini Buckle Waist Belt $340 Vintage Dan Oliver Navajo Sterling Silver Overlay Dress Pant Western Belt BuckleU.s. Army Civil War Belt Buckle Plate American Eagle Wreath Usa E Pluribus UnumU.s. Army 7th Cavalry Belt Buckle Anson Mills 1881 Us UsaVintage Navajo Sterling & Turquoise Belt Buckle SignedUsed Burberry Men's Plaid Logo Belt .reversible W/gold Buckle MedCivil War Confederate/union Waist Belt Plate Buckle Non Dug Relic British Import