It’s one thing to broker Middle East peace, reform the U.S. government, solve the opioid epidemic, fix the criminal justice system, mend ties with Mexico, liaise with China, and serve as an olive branch with the Muslim world. It’s an entirely other thing, apparently, to do all of that without wearing a belt. As Slate recently noted, Jared Kushner frequently forgoes one, before adding: “It’s like seeing a grown-up with his shoelaces untied.”
It all got us thinking: is Kushner in the right or in the wrong to walk belt-less through the world?
“If your pants aren’t drooping, if the buckles aren’t buckling, if it’s a very clean look, then yes, you can skip the belt,” says Tami Claytor, image consultant and founder and president of Always Appropriate Image and Etiquette Consulting. “But keep in mind that this is more of a European tradition. There are a lot of complexities to this.” Luckily for you, we’re here to walk you through those complexities; you just have to ask yourself these simple questions. And once you master the belt-less look, go for broke, and give the season’s toughest-to-pull-off trend, camo, a go.
“Once you hit 40, you should start thinking about your appearance at that stage in your life,” says Claytor. For reference, Kushner is 36; he can get away with a lot more than an older guy, steeped in years of tradition, can. “There’s nothing worse than a younger person trying to appear older—or an older person trying to be younger.” You can and should dress your age. For tips on dressing your age, learn the 20 definitive style rules for men over 40.
When it comes to social outings with your office, “You want to consider the mix of the group,” says Claytor. “If you’re all in the same age group,” there’s no need for tradition; forget the belt. However, “if you’re younger and are having a Saturday brunch with senior members, then yes, you have to conform and you should wear a belt.” And if you find yourself hitting the sauce with the boss, be sure you know how to behave.
However, if you work in a creative field—outside the strict and staid confines of business or law—you have more leeway with your fashion choices. “Say you’re an exec at a music label, you’re 45 years old, and your clothes are perfectly tailored,” says Claytor. “You could get away without wearing a belt because that’s not the social dress norm of that particular industry.” And if you’re concerned about social norms, learn all the ways Trump breaks handshake etiquette.
To get away with bending one rule, you need to follow the others: for example, making sure your tie is tied the proper length. (That’s one rule Kushner’s father-in-law certainly doesn’t follow.) If you’re skipping the belt, it’s tough to follow the old tip of the tie lands at the top of the belt buckle rule. So use your waistline as a guide; when you stand, the tie should fall right at the top of the pant.
It’s fine if there are belt loops on your pants—just make sure they’re flat. “If [the belt loops], for any reason, buckle and stick out, you need a belt,” says Claytor. Buttons aren’t ideal—they detract from the sleekness of the look—but you’re not technically breaking any rules by going beltless on a button pant. To be safe, though, go with a pant that has a hook and bar closure.
But the most cardinal rule? Claytor: “If you’re not wearing a jacket, you need a belt.” You heard the lady. Now get out there, and try a new look.
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