How Do You Wear a Belt? Frequently Asked Fashion Questions

Chicwish dress, $45, Tory Burch earrings, $195, Paolo Iantorno "Florence" black strappy heel, $239, Clare V. Supreme "Oui" clutch, $199, and Maison Boinet belt, $235.

Whew. I’m so glad you’re still reading. After my pantyhose-burning tirade, I was afraid I’d lost you. So if it’s okay, I’m just going to continue being all bossypants and issue another edict:

Belts. You should try them.

Unlike most of my fashion proclamations, I don’t take a hard line on this one. I know. Shocking. The thing is, belts are optional, most of the time, and wearing them well is largely the result of experimenting. There are few hard and fast rules. There are, however, guidelines. (Aren’t there always?) But first, a story.

The day I bought my first ADA belt, my life changed forever. The tired peasant dresses and shapeless tee shirt dresses in my closet took on new life. Suddenly, after months of hanging there, all forlorn, they were cute again.

I wanted to apologize to all the shapeless shifts I had ever rejected: “It’s not you, it’s me. I didn’t know how to wear you.” Fortunately, they agreed to stick around, and we’ve been inseparable ever since.

The magic is that a belt gave this short-waisted short girl a waistline. Which is pretty miraculous, when you’ve spent half your life wishing for one. This, my friends, is the power of a belt. (Also, it can totally disguise the two donuts you had at 10:30 last night because, well, fried dough is awesome and you didn’t want them to go to waste.)

How Do You Wear a Belt?

Carefully. Belts are one of the most transformative things you can add to your wardrobe, and the most misunderstood. Here, a few tips to start…

1. Switch it Out

More often than not, it’s a good idea to toss the belt that comes with a self belted dress, and replace it with a proper belt.

Neiman Marcus high low soft denim dress, $67, lastcall.com

Neiman Marcus high low soft denim dress, $67, lastcall.com

2. Make it Pop

A belt in a contrasting color or a print adds impact to an otherwise simple look, like a solid color dress or a top and jeans. Or use it to mix prints. A floral dress looks adorable with a thin leopard belt, for example.

Chicwish dress, $45, Tory Burch earrings, $195, Paolo Iantorno "Florence" black strappy heel, $239, Clare V. Supreme "Oui" clutch, $199, and Maison Boinet belt, $235.

Chicwish dress, $45, Tory Burch earrings, $195, Paolo Iantorno “Florence” black strappy heel, $239, Clare V. Supreme “Oui” clutch, $199, and Maison Boinet belt, $235.

3. It’s a Wrap

Belts that are adjustable are so versatile and easy to wear. Look for elasticized and wrap style belts. Conventional buckled belts don’t need to be limiting, either. Buckle the belt first, then tie a knot with the end and loop it through.

Madewell shirtdress, $60, Isabel Marant Etoile sandals, $495, Furbish Studio tassel tote, $145, J. Crew earrings, $58, and Lauren Ralph Lauren woven stretch belt, $58

Madewell shirtdress, $60, Isabel Marant Etoile sandals, $495, Furbish Studio tassel tote, $145, J. Crew earrings, $58, and Lauren Ralph Lauren woven stretch belt, $58

4. Balance the Bust

If you are blessed with a large bust, a wide belt worn directly underneath it will overemphasize it and make you look top heavy.

You get the idea.

You get the idea. There is simply no better example of this concept.

5. Whittle the Waist

You can transform a large, overly billowy dress or top with a well-placed belt. It will subtract pounds. I promise! A belted style will almost always be more flattering, unless you’re very tall and very willowy, or the dress is pretty short.

A belted style is generally more flattering than a shapleless one.

A belted style is generally more flattering than a shapleless one.

6. Add Definition

Belt where you want definition. A belt over an already snug dress doesn’t accomplish much, and can even add inches, but a belt over something loose and flowy, or to create a line between a flowy top/fitted bottom, or flowy bottom/fitted top, works beautifully.

Belt over something that is flowy, or to add definition between an outfit that is half flowy, half fitted. A belt over a snug dress doesn't do much to define the waist, and can even add bulk.

Belt over something that is flowy, or to add definition between an outfit that is half flowy, half fitted. A belt over a snug dress doesn’t do much to define the waist, and can even add bulk.

7. Add Sparkle

Substitute a belt for jewelry. A metallic belt, embellished belt, or even a belt with gold hardware can serve the same purpose as jewelry, and should count as one of the accessories in your look.

This pretty pearl belt adds glamour to a very simple black dress. H&M dress, $46, and NastyDress.com belt, $7.34.

This pretty pearl belt adds glamour to a very simple black dress. H&M dress, $46, and NastyDress.com belt, $7.34.

Where do I belt?

It depends. Comforting, I know, but it’s true. In general:
If you have a long torso:
You probably wear your tops tucked in. A medium to wide belt helps break up that long line and makes your body more proportional.

long torso belt

In the examples above, a wide belt is worn at the natural waist to break up the long line of the torso. A contrasting color also helps.

If you have a short torso:

You probably wear your tops out and a little long. Wear your belts a little low on the waist, or at the hips, for maximum flattery.

In general, on a short waisted frame, it's best to wear a slim to medium belt. Wear the belt lower than the waist, or high, and keep the color neutral or monochromatic.

In general, on a short waisted frame, it’s best to wear a slim to medium belt. Wear the belt lower than the waist, or high, and keep the color neutral or monochromatic.

4 Belts Every Woman Needs

Stretch Belt

A great waist-cincher, this is the belt to reach for when you want to highlight a small waist and works well over a pretty dress or flowy top.

Vince Camuto smooth linen stretch panel belt, $45, Amazon

Vince Camuto smooth linen stretch panel belt, $45, Amazon

Wrap Belt

Easily adjustable, this style can be worn a number of ways and works well over tunics and dresses.

Leather wrap belt, $39.99, Amazon

Leather wrap belt, $39.99, Amazon

Skinny Belt

A slim belt in a neutral is an essential for wearing with jeans and pants, but also for replacing the belt on your favorite dress. Note: The most versatile neutral belt is one with a buckle of the same color, so you don’t have to worry about mixing metals. They’re a little challenging to find (Talbots sometimes has them) but are worth looking for!

Perforated metallic leather belt, $25.61, Amazon

Perforated metallic leather belt, $25.61, Amazon

Fun Belt

A belt in a bold color or a leopard print is a fun way to add interest to everyday looks.

Set of 5 skinny belts, $12.99, Amazon

Set of 5 skinny belts, $12.99, Amazon

Always remember that you have a horizontal frame (torso width, bust width), and also a vertical frame (torso length, leg length, etc.). My cardinal rule: Don’t put anything where you don’t want someone to look. Any detail, belts included, will draw attention to that area. (Just another reason not to pierce my belly button.)

Finding a flattering belt, and its proper placement, is largely trial and error, so don’t be afraid to take some time in the dressing room to test out a few options. A picture is more revealing than a mirror, in many cases, so take a few while you are in there. Or ask a trusted friend to come along. Not the friend who tells you that you look good in everything. An honest one who gives solid fashion advice and whose hair always looks perfect, even in 100% humidity. Oh, okay, I’ll come. Thanks for asking.

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