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You Need This... I Promise

The Belt Collection

my favorite zebra belt at the Retiro in Madrid

 

My belt collection, like yours, probably tells a good story. Because they take up such little closet space, you may not have edited out as many over the years as you might have done with those old 80s-looking, shoulder-padded jackets or acid-washed jeans. So as you open your drawer (I keep mine rolled up that way), or stare at the hooks in your closet, you can walk down memory lane. For me, belts don't date themselves as much as the clothes they cinch... perhaps another reason I have kept so many over the years.

I still have a fantastic wide patent leather one that I wore with a very specific Karl Lagerfeld dress, purchased – like anything good I got in my early career — for next to nothing at a sample sale. The belt remains, but the dress has gone on to one of my daughters, as I don't fill it out as much on top as I used to... nursing five babies is one heck of a minimizer. It has come in handy a few times - over a simple silk dress or to visually separate a skirt and blouse – but it will always remind me wearing it with that navy linen dress to a great wedding on a boat in New York Harbor. And then I have three amazing Ralph Lauren exotics from the late 80s with classic silver buckles, also purchased on the cheap. Miraculously, I had the foresight to skip a month or two of movies and drinks to be able to afford them (even discounted crocodile is still $$$...) and I still wear them to this day. They remind me of early motherhood, after I had quit my job at Conde Nast and moved out to Connecticut to spend more time at home and go into the city once a week or so to freelance. My everyday uniform was a knit turtleneck and men's Levi's jeans, held up with one of those belts. My girls wear jeans like that now – the awesome Levi's that are a higher rise and a straighter leg – and they look so cool. But on me, they make me look like I am wearing "mom jeans" – and when I look back at pictures from that time, I was!

1997 uniform

 

The great thing about belts is how they can "theme" your look. I love my western-feeling tooled ones for when I am feeling cowboy... a black studded punk-ish one... and a thin, inch-wide one that's covered in satin that has proved just the thing for evening when I need a little shine at my waist. I picked it up at a thrift shop, which can be an excellent belt-hunting source if you are willing to sort through lots of rejects. I love the mix. Preppy ribbon belts, Kenyan beaded belts, 70s macramé, cloth-sewn obi styles, all coexisting happily together, like one of those old Benetton ads.

But here is the thing: what to do when you used to wear that belt above your hips (as I did in the 90s with those high-rise jeans)... and then you want to wear it lower with your mid-rise pants... and then the leather has that worn-in spot where the hole used to go? It's a problem. Most of the traditional buckle styles don't really allow for this kind of flexibility. You need to decide, when you make the investment, how you will wear it most often and designate it accordingly. Is it a high-rise waist belt? A low-slung hips belt? Somewhere in between? A compression buckle is a little better, but the perfect fit at your hips will still give you too much belt left over when you pull it up to your waist. I know this is technical, but I have been thinking about it for years, and I'm willing to bet that you have, too! I am getting to the point of the brilliance of the Conroy belt style... which I promise you need.

It isn't always the perfect size, but it is nearly so. It is designed so that you can adjust it easily for waist or hips, and you only see the elegant little post in the center. Brown, black, alligator.. we haven't done suede yet but I think that would be so chic. We do them in two widths, both of which have their usefulness. I know a belt is not the sexiest or most exciting purchase, but it pays back in dividends. Because a belt just pulls the whole thing together, look-wise. If you've got something that is a bit too big or blousy, you can grab that belt and fix it by emphasizing your waist and changing the proportion. It's a bit like a Swiss Army knife for your wardrobe. It can make just a t-shirt and jeans feel luxe (as it did with my toddler time uniform).

...and 2019 uniform

 

Sid and I both have zebra skin belts and we try very hard not to show up at the office wearing them on the same day. Since they are real skin, the left side of mine has lost most of the hair, because it's the side that gets pulled through the most loops when I put it on. But I love it even more for its lopsidedness... proof that I have worn it so often and it earned its keep. It is the perfect thing with a preppy button-down and jeans. The buckle is just a big brass oval and I love it. Another favorite is my vintage 1970s SID belt buckle that I found at a cool leather shop in North Carolina. It is just the kind of novelty and humor that I love. This past holiday season, we riffed on this idea by designing our own HEY and LOVE belt buckles, crafted to look a little more modern and simple and not so retro. If I had a dollar for every compliment I've gotten on that belt, I could treat the entire office to tacos for lunch. The point I am trying to make is that a belt is a great investment. There is true longevity. The Conroy style I mentioned – that one, you will wear a ton – but even the ones that only come out once every few years are important, because they can transform what you already own and make it better.

When I was a harried and often confused assistant, I would unpack all the accessories at the beginning of each fashion shoot, carefully and speedily unrolling (and then later re-rolling at the end of the day) before laying them out on the table for the fashion editor to use for embellishment. I can see her now, eyeing the model on set before walking over to the accessories table full of belts, baubles, stockings, and shoes. She would dramatically grab a belt, walk over to the model, and skillfully and intimately wrap it around her waist. She had to be encouraging and gentle – there was usually a bit of cooing – because if the model did not feel beautiful, no matter how amazing the photographer and the clothes were - the shoot was destined for failure. A waste of money and time and a precious workday. So this moment of confidence building was essential. There was some pride involved in that belt grab as well – an editor would often want to deliberately mix up and even subvert the designer's vision of the dress so that the shoot would be aesthetically her own. I think back and it was like mental whiplash, watching all these characters on set. Dominance, pride, insecurity, creativity. But with the belt, it was like she was girding the girl for performance. By wrapping her up with that finishing touch, the swift and final editor's decision, she was saying "and now... you are perfect." This is a tall order for a belt, but I have seen it in action. You need a few, I promise.

From Ann

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