How to Wear Belts for Work

How to wear beltsLately I have been on this crazy belt binge.  I’ve been strapping around the waists of clients, turning them to finish my own outfits and have just been loving the way they show off the waist.  Right now it’s all about the waist.  Pants are higher in the rise, skirts are more highwaisted and dresses are more cinched.  After years of seeing just how low a rise could go its time for the waist to have its moment, making sense that it would also be all about the belt.  In this week’s installment in this series I decided to talk about how to wear belts for work.

There are different types of belts out there.  To help you decide which style is best for you and your body shape, here are some examples of different types of belts out there and who they flatter best.

Different types of belts

Contour waist belt

How to wear beltsContour waist belts curve.  The benefit of the curved shape is they sit close to the body when worn without being too tight.  They can also be worn in a more low-slung manner.  Everyone can wear a contour waist belt, but those with tummies benefit from this belt shape because it shapes the body without being constricting or creating that dreaded muffin top.  Contour waist belts also tend to be very comfortable to wear.

Because of the curved shape, to properly wear a contour waist belt, the belt should be worn with the curve facing up, or like it is smiling.

Obi belt

How to wear belts The Obi belt is named after the Japanese sashes worn with kimonos.  The beauty of an obi belt, which is basically a sash, is that it can be tied and tightened to someone’s liking and will fit a variety of body shapes well.

Skinny belt

How to wear beltsSkinny belts are great for a pop of color or worn with a pair of trousers.  However, if you are looking for major cinching in the waist a skinny may fall short.  Unlike a wider belt, a skinny belt may emphasize the lumps and bumps of a tummy or muffin top when it is cinched.  My recommendation when wearing this belt style when you have a tummy is to either belt it loosely or wear it in a more empire manner on the waist.

Chain belt

how to wear beltsChain belts are great for decoration but don’t expect them to do much more than sit there.  All body shapes can wear a chain belt because it delicately sits around the waist not doing much more than looking pretty.  For major waist cinching a chain belt should be avoided.

Elastic waist belt

How to wear belts For cinching the waist, an elastic waist belt is the perfect option.  The elastic sits snugly around the waist and can create a beautiful hourglass figure.  However, you need to be careful with an elastic waist belt.  If the elastic is too tight tummy bulge can spill over.  If you have a tummy this does not mean that an elastic waist belt is off limits.  Just make sure it isn’t too tight.

Wide belt

How to wear beltsWide belts look beautiful, but without elastic or a contour shape they can be very uncomfortable to wear as they will just sit on the body and won’t really move as you move.  My suggestion to realistically wear a wider belt is to look for one that is elasticized, contour shaped or not so wide that it hurts when you sit or is uncomfortable when you wear it.

Accessorizing with a belt

Adding a belt to a work look is a great way to add an accessorized finish to an outfit.  Below are three work looks that are shown with and without a belt.  With a side by side comparison you will be able to see just how much of a difference a belt can make.

What am I going to wear to work tomorrow? Look 1


This printed skirt by T. Tahari, shaped Reiss top and Mango cardigan gets a splash of color with a navy belt that also accents the waist.  Many women avoid belts thinking they will make their waistlines look wide but you can see in this comparison how the eye is drawn in and the waist looks more defined.  The look is finished with a Vince Camuto handbag, grey pumps by Rockport and Athena Designs earrings.

Look #2

What am I going to wear to work tomorrow? Look 2


Often, a belt is more about function than it is fashion. You can use a belt to change up the look of a basic dress, like this one from Boden with this belt from Nordstrom changes it up. Some style grey with black but I prefer brown. In addition to the brown belt I added a brown pair of boots from Frye, a handbag from Coach and added a gold bracelet from Stella & Dot and brown and gold earrings from Andrea Valentini.
Look #3

What am I going to wear to work tomorrow? Look 3


Don’t forget to use a belt to add a pop of color, which is how this yellow Lodis belt is being used here with brown pants from Max Studio and cardigan from J. Crew. A cardigan and basic pair of pants for work can look boring when they aren’t styled with some pops. In addition to the yellow belt, I added an animal print pair of pumps by Nine West, Modcloth handbag and printed scarf. And, yes, you can belt a cardigan.

  • Amanda Toop

    So here is why I stopped wearing belts – pilling. Everytime I would layer a belt on top the fabric beneth would get damaged.

  • Cheryl Schwarz

    Amanda, I hate when tops pill. Using the seatbelt in my car can even do that …grrrr

  • LS

    Any tips for wearing belts with wide hips?

    • I’m assuming this means you have a defined waist? I’d stick with a contour shaped belt or skinny belt. If your chest isn’t that large you can go for a wider belt.

  • Pat

    Great suggestions!!! I’ll try out the contour belt tomorrow. Can you please share tips for taming the volume of infinity scarves? I have one that I love, but the volume is just too much!
    Thanks, Bridgette,
    Your faithful fan,

  • Laura

    Dear Bridgette,

    Are contour belts always on the thicker side, or do manufacturers make a skinny contour belts as well?


    • Hi Laura, typically contour waist belts are thicker in order to get the shape right.

  • Amy27

    This is going to sound dumb, but on the grey dress the belt is lower than the narrowest point on the waist. Isn’t that narrow space the waist and not the lower above the hips? I’ve defined my body with a “high waist” but maybe I’m just not really knowing what my waist is and am miss dressing it?

    • Yes, you are right, that belt is definitely on the high hip. Some belts are low slung and sit below the waist vs. right at it. You can find that often with contour shaped belts. I hope that helps. Your waist is usually around your bellybutton.

  • How do you wear belts when you’re short-waisted? I’m a rectangle shape and so would love to define my waist more, but it just looks dumb when I add a belt, even a skinny one as I’ve seen suggested in other places. I can just about get away with it if the belt is the same colour as my shirt, but I have yet to figure this conundrum out. Or I can manage it with low-waisted trousers, but I’d love to figure out other ways if possible since I actually love belts and would like to be able to add more colour into my wardrobe with them.

    • When you are short waisted with a thicker waist, belts can be the kiss of death. You try contour waist belts that sit a little lower on the waist and have a curve to them. They may sit on your body better. The problem is, because of how you are built, putting a horizontal line across your waist is going to draw attention to the fact that there isn’t much of a waist there and it is very short. You can try a skinny belt with low slung trousers and see how that works. However, it might also be an issue of acceptance that belts just aren’t your thing. Jeesh, what a Debbie Downer am I?

      • Not a downer, just perhaps realistic! The truth is, I feel pretty lucky with how clothes work for me, so if I have to give this one up, so be it. I’ve never tried a contour belt so the next time I’m shopping (which will be a long time since I’m doing one of the 33 items for 3 months challenges), I’ll look for one. Cheers!