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Dress Belt vs Casual Belt – What are the Differences?

Check out the differences between dress belts and casual belts to know the appropriate belt for the right occasion and ensemble. See the different types of these two belts along with the accessories that would go with them.

A pile of casual and dress belts in a store.

  • The distinction between dress and casual belts is more important in men’s than in women’s fashion.
  • Dress belts and casual belts differ in occasion worn, size, materials, color, and buckle style.
  • A dress belt is an item a man would wear with a formal suit or trousers, for instance, if in a corporate environment or at a wedding, so it is usually a modest, elegant piece.
  • A casual belt can show off your individuality and fashion sense more, so it can be as plain and rugged or creative as you want it to be.

A belt completes and complements any outfit, making it look finished and polished. That said, wearing the appropriate belt for the ensemble and occasion looks even better, whether you’re rocking a suit or chilling in a pair of shorts. What are the differences between a dress belt and a casual belt?

The Differences Between Dress Belts and Casual Belts

Close-up of dress and casual leather belts.

There are five main differences between dress belts and casual belts:

  • Occasion: Dress belts are for formal occasions when you’re wearing a suit or smart trousers and jacket, while casual belts are suitable for jeans, chinos, and shorts.
  • Size: Dress belts are never more than an inch wide, whereas casual belts can be as broad or thin as your trousers can handle.
  • Type of leather: Dress belts are usually made of genuine leather, the best you can afford. Casual belts can be leather, but it’s fun to wear belts made of canvas, plastic, grosgrain, or even rope.
  • Color: Formal belts will usually be black or brown, while casual belts come in various fashion colors.
  • Buckle: A dress belt often has a discreet, flat clasp, while casual belts can have any shape or size hook, from a clip to embossed silver cowboy-style buckles.

What are Dress Belts?

Close-up of a brown leather dress belt.

Dress belts or formal belts are the belts you wear with a suit, either to the office or a formal social occasion, like a wedding. (Just a side note – you never wear a belt with a tuxedo. A well-tailored tux shouldn’t have belt loops.)

Because your belt will be on display if you’re stepping out in your best, it’s worth investing in an excellent quality item, preferably leather and possibly designer.

The style of dress belts is classic, understated and elegant – channel James Bond.

Materials Used for Dress Belts

Man hands holding a brown leather belt.

The ideal material for a dress belt is genuine leather. Most leather is cowhide, the standard leather for formal belts. Buy the best quality you can afford, preferably top grain.

For a softer, more plush alternative, choose full-grain calfskin, which is more supple.

Exotic leathers, such as snakeskin or crocodile skin, are trendy, but you need to be able to carry off a belt like this on a formal occasion, so stick to cowhide if you’re nervous.

Colors for Dress Belts

A display of leather belts in various colors.

Gentlemen follow a few guidelines when choosing the color of a dress belt. Formal belts should be discreet and subtle, not overpowering an outfit.

Match Your Dress Belt to Your Shoes

Match the color of your dress belt to the color of your shoes. For formal occasions, you should be sticking to black shoes and a black belt, or brown shoes with a brown belt, oxblood shoes with an oxblood belt. Lighter shades are not appropriate for dress belts.

Try to match the finish of the leather with your shoes as well. For example, if your shoes are patent leather, choose a matching belt. If your shoes are lizard skin, choose a similar belt.

Match Your Dress Belt to Your Accessories

It’s advisable to match the colors of the metals in your belt buckle, watch, and cufflinks – they should all be gold or all silver.

Buckle Styles for Dress Belts

Close-up of metal buckle on a black dress belt.

Dress belts are understated, so your buckle should also be.

  • The buckles on formal belts are always metallic, either gold or silver.
  • Choose the flattest, classic single-prong buckle you can find with a rectangular frame shape.
  • For the most understated style, wear a ratchet-style buckle.

Width of Formal Belts

At most, a formal belt should be an inch or an inch and a half thick. Wider belts belong to casual wear and will probably not fit through your suit’s belt loops.

Where to Buy a Dress Belt

HUGO Men's Garney Smooth Leather Belt, Black, 38

The best place to buy a dress belt is at the store or tailor where you buy the suit you want to wear with it, or at the shoe store where you get the shoes you’ll wear.

Many dress belts are available at major stores and online, and you’ll pay around $35 for a decent belt, rising quickly to over $100 for something with a label.

Try Hugo Boss, Steve Madden, Coach, Ralph Lauren, and Calvin Klein for a great, stylish belt.

What are Casual Belts?

Man wearing a polo shirt and chinos with casual belt.

In contrast to dress belts, casual belts are the belts you’d wear with chinos, jeans, or shorts, and so you’ve got much more leeway to express your fashion sense and individuality.

That said, really narrow belts are currently not on-trend, so look for something thicker to look up to date.

Materials Used for Casual Belts

Formal belts are usually made of leather, but you can get casual belts made of a wide variety of materials to meet different trends.

A casual leather belt is a classic look, especially with jeans. Choose a supple, soft leather or suede.

Dickies Men's Casual Leather Belt, Black, 38

A ribbon or grosgrain belt is essential if you’re going for a preppy style. The best ribbon belts have leather backing.

Columbia mens Comfort Stretch Casual Fabric apparel belts, Khaki Stitched, 36 US

Canvas belts are ideal with cargo pants and shorts, giving a military touch. They usually have a box buckle, click buckle or D-ring clip.

Drizzte 55'' Plus Size Long Double D Ring Big Mens Canvas Fabric Cloth Belts Black

Nylon webbing belts are handy for athletes or hikers who need a flexible, sweat-absorbing belt that can carry items. Buckles on these belts are often plastic.

Fairwin Tactical Rigger Belt, Nylon Webbing Waist Belt with V-ring Heavy-Duty Quick-Release Buckle (Green, S(Waist 30''-36''Width 1.5''))

Rope belts give an outfit a nautical air and are tied rather than having a buckle.

BytherR Mens Slim Dark Rope Belt Twisted Durable Thick Cotton Ivory

Vinyl, plastic, and faux leather belts are fast-fashion items and not worn seriously. These are fun items for your wardrobe and last for a season at most.

115x3.5cm Unisex Women Men Adjustable Rubber Silicone Belt with Plastic Buckle (Army Green)

Types of Casual Belts

Dress belts are a style or type of belt on their own. However, there is a casual belt for every occasion and style you want to pull off. Choose the size, color, and buckle shape to suit your shoes, or not – anything goes, from white to navy.

Braided Belts

JUKMO Elastic Braided Belt, Stretch Woven Belt in Gift Box (Coffee, Medium)

Often made of leather, but even of raffia or cotton, braided belts add interest, color, and texture to an outfit. They’re great with smart-casual outfits, such as a summer linen suit, but also work well with shorts and deck shoes.

Western or Cowboy Belts

HA0038-BS036-W Cowtown Western Tooled Full Grain Genuine Leather Belt 1 1/2"(38mm) Wide (Brown, 30)

Modern Cowboy belts have little in common with the rugged, rough belts that working men wore.

The best Western belts are full-grain leather and are often distressed, embossed, tooled, or embroidered to add interest.

The buckle is a focal part of a Western belt and may be heavily engraved or even bejeweled.

Wear your Cowboy belt with black jeans for a night out, but be careful of adding a hat and boots unless you’re from Texas or going to a party.

Biker Belts

50127 Rhinestone Belt Fashion Western Crystal Bling Studded Design Cross Conchos Leather Belt 1-1/2"(38mm) wide (Black, 36" L)

For rock star chic, every man needs a biker belt. Whether you choose a simple black belt with studs or an embellished strap with a large plate buckle, pair it with your jeans and a simple white T-shirt.

Biker belts are solid and robust belts and go well with a leather jacket and boots.

Where to Buy a Casual Belt

You can pick up a casual belt wherever you buy your gear – Timberland and Columbia have some great ones, while Tommy Hilfiger has more smart-casual styles.

You can pick up a belt for under $20, but expect to pay more if you want genuine leather.