I have stored my belts under my bed for many years. The reason being is that, for all too long, they have been sold to me as a magic trick; an optical illusion, a tool to make you look a bit narrower. Belts command verbs that no other accessory can — they “cinch” or “nip in” your waist. They, to borrow a much-used phrase from the Mail Online, celebrate your curves. If we are to believe what we read in women’s monthly magazines, waist belts can make an hourglass of a shelving unit.
I am exceptionally cautious of sartorial, physical or facial magic tricks. There’s only so much trickery that can be done with a contour palette or vertical stripes or a piece of leather with three holes punched in it. Take Spanx, for example. Sure, they might make my tummy look as hard and flat as an ironing board, but only upon close inspection of photos taken from behind do I realize that the fat has to go somewhere else. It’s fat on the run, fugitive fat. An optical illusion is just that, an illusion.
On the whole, magic tricks are a bit of a waste of time. It is far better to accept your shape for what it is and dress it with reverence and as much joy as you can muster.
It wasn’t until I marveled the myriad of waist belts adorning the middles of models on the catwalk in the most recent fashion week that I realized where I’ve been going so wrong with belts. They’re so much more than a makeover show’s, “top tip for dropping a dress size without having to drop the donuts.” A belt can be the crucial finishing touch to an ensemble; the cherry atop the sundae; the olive in the dirty martini.
They were slim and elegant on Monse and Nina Ricci models, in lime-green and buttercup-yellow, respectively. They wrapped around chunky cardigans at Louis Vuitton, transforming them into fitted knitted jackets. Gucci’s offering was thick, black and almost gladiatorial in its boldness — a perfect pairing for an equally noisy plaid, embroidered tunic. Belts aren’t for transforming figures, they’re for transforming outfits.
Only now can I recall a time when belts were experimental accouterments of fun and more than just a dull, suburban way to give you the proportions of a Mad Men extra. In my youth, I had a whole special drawer of belts. There was a much-celebrated one made of just a string of diamontes, for example. How I loved artfully draping it over a bare midriff or around a black velveteen flare. Then there was a thick, leather belt with eyelets and studs aplenty and a buckle the weight of a newborn baby — worn low on the hip, the natural bedfellow to a Juicy Couture toweling pant. And a thin, gold snake belt, my favorite of all the belts, carrying me from the mid-noughties right into the century’s early teens. (I think I had a matching arm band, but that’s a separate issue to be addressed in a separate article altogether).
Now, I’m officially back on belts. I’ve set eBay alerts and everything. I want a a spike-studded one a la Carrie Bradshaw in the first Sex And The City movie (oh, how perfectly it offset those sumptuously feminine florals) to wear with just about everything, I want a black leather one with MOSCHINO emblazoned across it in unapologetic gold letters (a la your rich friend’s mother picking her up from ballet class in 1999) to wear with black dresses and crisp white shirts. Inspired by Louis Vuitton, I want a chunky brown suede one to bring shape and fit to cardigans and jumpers. And, hell, I might even be looking for a slinky, thin gold one — with or without snake embellishment — to perk up a satin slip dress. Belts are back. They may well do shit-all for your waist, but the right one will make your outfit look fabulous.
Dolly is an award-winning journalist who has written for The Sunday Times, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, GQ, Marie Claire, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Vice and more. Runway photos via Getty Images; street-style images by Simon Chetrit.