There I was: At home, walking nonchalantly across my living room when tragedy struck.
Contrary to what you may think, tragedy doesn't always strike with a gong, or a boom, or even an ominous flash of lightning and rumble of thunder. In this case, tragedy had more of a soft "fwip" as my belt broke in half while I was taking it off -- which meant it was time to shop for a new one.
Up until that point, I'd bought 3 belts in my life.
The first was some belt I bought in K-Mart, maybe Ames, possibly Zayre's when I was 16. I say I bought it. Most likely my mother bought it. I have no solid recollection.
The second was the belt that came with my suit that my mother bought me when I graduated from college. Supposedly, in order to procure a job in the dog-eat-dog world of Corporate Temping in Boston it is necessary to own one black suit (with power tie, also good for funerals). That belt has not fit me since the day I bought it because the man who sold it to me insisted that the belt not fit where I wear my pants but instead should fit within inches of my nipples -- which is where he wore his.
The third belt was the belt that replaced the first belt, which had grown a permanent S-curve in it from being worn on the same 3 holes for 14 years before the little metal wangy thing, which I'm sure has a technical name, just broke off. I bought it at a Marshall's that held my credit card number paired with Joe Procopio's cell phone number in a database that was stolen by hackers. I have no recollection of "shopping" for this belt. I'm fairly certain that just I picked it off the rack and put it on. I might have even paid for it.
That's the belt that made with the tragedy and the fwip and brought me to buy (cue tense chord) Belt Number Four.... and Five.
As you might have guessed from what I related of my previous belt shopping experiences, I don't assign enough importance to the procuring of belts to feel like I need to shop somewhere decent for one. In the grand scheme of things it's a strip of leather with holes in it. It should be difficult to screw up. So I went to Wal-Mart and had my first encounter with women's sizing.
I call it women's sizing because it appears to be somewhat arbitrary and this, in my experience, is what women's sizing is. It has no basis in reality. There's a number there, but it doesn't relate to anything concrete that I can tell. 8? 8 of what? It could be measured in adult guinea pigs for all we know. There's are lessons to be learned here. Guys: don't buy clothes for your lady friend unless she's there to try it on. Ladies: don't go belt shopping for your guy friend, even if he is there to try it on (because he won't). Mamas: don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys. You get the idea.
If you've never been to the Men's Belt Section at Wal-Mart, it's worth checking out. It's completely indicative of the type of men that generally shop at Wal-Mart. The entire rack is full of money belts, camouflage belts, belts with giant metal studs, belts with "Harley", "Mack Truck", or "The State of Texas" belt buckles, and thin 1980's-style patent-leather belts. Tucked in here or there are the actual reasonable belts that were included with the shipment as packing material.
Now, men's sizing is easy. My waist is 40 inches in diameter, thus I buy size 40 shorts. (It's an important side note that according to the clothing industry, men do not come in odd-numbered measurements, and as far as I can tell, they're right.) There's no need to try it on. It has my size on it. Everything with my size on it fits me, so after a few minutes of looking, I grabbed a belt labeled "40", bought it, and left. This is law of all things wearable.
Except this belt. What I discovered (after getting home) is that, true to word, the belt was 40 inches long. The very end tip of the belt just barely touched the buckle. Securing it would have meant breaking some fundamental rules of physics or at least a healthy section of my pelvis.
What this means is that, in order to purchase a belt, one drifts away from traditional men's sizing toward the crazy make-believe realm of women's sizing, but it's somehow worse because it's clear to me that this is an issue that can be solved given the proper application of math. There is a formula that one can apply to belt sizing that makes it correct and easy. One need only find that algorithm!
X = (ð(B * H + K)2)/2 where B = Belt size, H = The distance between holes and K = the width of the buckle? No. That can't be even remotely correct because I'm just making shit up.
Of course, I didn't bother with the algorithm. No, I did what any self-respecting lazy slob would do: I went to Wal-Mart and chose an arbitrary number larger than 40 (46) and went with that, discovering (after I got home) that it was much too big. However, like many other problems, this can be solved using an algorithm that I'm very comfortable with:
My knife has a leather punch on it, and that's all the sizing I need.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
2.16.07 @ 1:23a
Good heavens, boy, how on earth did you get to be as old as you are without knowing that you're supposed to purchase a belt two inches longer than your waist measurement?
Of course, I say this as the woman who had to explain to both of her younger brothers what was meant by the phrase "dress left/right" so maybe it's me that's not normal.
2.16.07 @ 8:12a
This column left me with a picture of too much belt hanging off of the author's waist, and I don't appreciate that.
2.16.07 @ 9:15a
I have a really novel way of trying on belts.
I put them around my waist, while in the store. :)
Women's sizing is an archane form of measurement. I think it should all be done by the alphabet.
2.16.07 @ 9:44a
Juli - where are you supposed to learn that? The didn't have dressing classes in my lousy public high school.
Joe - So long as it's accurate, sugar. Rowr.
Tracey - I *did*. That's what baffles me.
2.16.07 @ 10:04a
I agree with Erik. You can't buy belts blindly, and I had no idea of the "add to inches" thing either, and wrapping it around your waist in the store never proves accurate.
2.16.07 @ 10:15a
Some "dress for success" books talk about certain elements of dressing, such as having enough belt left to tuck into the first belt ring (or the two inches thing Juli mentions above), making sure the tip of the tie meets the waistband of the pants, the dress sock/shoe thing, and so on.
The waist/belt measurement thing has always worked for me, and I've bought a lot of belts, including those big 80s elastic ones with the belt buckles the size of dinner plates, currently all the rage ... again.
Men should think more about measuring a belt across their hips, actually, to get a better fit.
2.16.07 @ 10:21a
I think you labor under a couple of easy misconceptions here:
1) That men have hips.
Men are essentially flesh tubes. There's no measurement difference between my waist and my hips. If I had hips, I probably wouldn't need a belt. The only measurement difference comes from my gut.
2) That men wear their belt at their waist. Take a look around - men wear their belt as their ass-crack. Y'know why? No hips. Plus, if you wear your belt at your waist, you have to hike your pants over your gut, and that means both looking like a complete idiot, and wearing the crotch of your pants somewhere a good half foot above where the boys generally hang out.
2.16.07 @ 10:33a
men usually wear a belt below their beer gut or right on where they want their hips to be. :)
2.16.07 @ 10:44a
Right. At the ass crack.
2.16.07 @ 12:03p
Not to get all nitpicky, but diameter is the distance from one side to the other, through the center. Circumference is the distance around.
And that equation should use ð/π.
2.16.07 @ 2:56p
...And Ken brings us one step closer to sensible sizing for all.
2.16.07 @ 10:15p
I was reprimanded several times in grade school circa 1974-77 for not wearing a belt in school. I think part of where you wear your belt depends on your body type. If you're longer through the torso you tend to wear your belt at your waist and it still looks like you're wearing it just above the nether region. Shorter torso builds wear their belts lower.
In truth it's not what you wear but how you wear it that matters.
2.17.07 @ 1:43a
I'm a woman, and I never know whether to buy a belt that fits my actual waist, or my hips. I mean, yeah, the answer is obviously the question of "Where do you plan on wearing it on your body?" But what if I wanna wear it both ways? all the belts I have are either too small for my hips, or ridiculously too big for my waist. Unfortunately, I don't have a knife with a leather punch, so... I stopped wearing belts.
2.17.07 @ 10:30p
The didn't have dressing classes in my lousy public high school.
Nor in mine. It was an embarrassingly long time before I learned how to tie a necktie, too. To this day I still have to make a couple-three stabs at it before I get it done acceptably. This comes more from a lack of a male presence in the house after age 14, and little need to know how in my adult life.
As to belts, I wear one of these braided belts so I don't have to worry about having an exact fit between notches if you lose or gain half a pound throughout the day. You just poke the prong right through the braid wherever you need the notch to be.
2.19.07 @ 1:18p
A few years ago my girlfriend at the time bought me a belt and made the exact same error in calculation. You have to add about 3 inches or so onto the end of your waist to get it right. She had no idea.
2.19.07 @ 1:44p
I'm with Reem -- no belts for me. I own one, which I bought last year. But in general I have no need for them; my wardrobe just doesn't require that extra horizontal line.
2.20.07 @ 12:42p
Plus, you own hips!
If I didn't have to wear one, I wouldn't. They're not comfortable.
They're necessary to keep my pants away from my ankles.
3.7.07 @ 4:44p
You know those teeshirts you can get with a tuxedo front imprinted on them? Like trompe l'oeil, only without birds. They should make pants with a fake belt imprinted on them. And if your pants fall down, that's God's way of saying you have a nice bum.
3.19.07 @ 11:49a
This is why they make pants with elastic waistbands.
4.4.07 @ 9:36p
Funny, I had a similar incident just last week - luckily I was wearing some jeans that fit somewhat snug enough to stay up, as long as I kept my hands in my pockets as anchors whilst walking. And I agree that they're uncomfortable, and I would not be caught in elastic anything, so I cinch a belt tight around my sausage-straight torso every day, and just bear it.
And try growing up in the UK as a male - you start wearing a belt to school at age 9 and have no choice until you leave school, at which point you are a grown male with no physical geometry to hold up your pants, so your belt becomes a part of your persona. And believe me, there's not a day that goes by that I don't dread cinching that blessed belt in, every morning.
Maybe belts are the male equivalent of women having to wear bras..........
4.5.07 @ 9:21a
I wouldn't be caught in elastic anything, either.
You also have to understand that the person who left that awesome suggestion is my mother. :)
So, the working theory, then, is that belts were created for men, by women, in retaliation for men creating bras for women?
I can get behind that.
Honestly, we just need some good engineers of the correct gender working on either problem and everybody would be all set.