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Guide to Western Belt Buckles

Jun 7th 2022

Western Belt Buckle Guide

A buckle is the centerpiece of any men’s or women’s Western belt; it can draw attention or create a subtle highlight. Belt buckles come in a variety of materials, shapes, styles, and sizes so you choose how much or how little you want to stand out. Before you choose a new Western buckle for your belt, explore our helpful guide to discover which style works best for you.

Common Belt Buckle Materials

Cowboys and cowgirls who work and play hard need a belt buckle that can keep up with activities from ranching to riding. Western belt buckles can be made from just about any material, but the strongest buckles are metal. The most popular belt buckle metals are those that can stand up to a long day at work and retain their good looks for a night out.

  • Brass – A common material for Western buckles, brass is a versatile metal that can be molded, stamped, or hand-detailed with intricate designs. Over time, brass gains an attractive patina that adds character.
  • Zinc alloy – Many belt buckles are constructed in zinc alloy, a mix of zinc, copper, aluminum, and magnesium. Zinc alloy is a durable, corrosion-resistant metal that can be finished to take on the appearance of polished or antiqued gold, silver, or even copper.
  • Stainless steel – Stainless steel is a tarnish-free, corrosion-resistant metal that contains steel, nickel, chromium, and molybdenum. This silver-toned metal can be polished, brushed, or matted to create contemporary Western belt buckles.
  • Pewter – This tarnish-resistant silver-toned metal is an alloy made of tin mixed with copper or antimony for durability. Since tin is a malleable metal, pewter buckles can be curved or designed with complex and three-dimensional details.
  • Silver – Both silver and sterling silver are elegant, high-quality metals with different purity ratings. Solid silver carries a 99.9% purity rating, while sterling silver rates at 92.5%. To ensure your belt buckle is made in solid silver or high-quality sterling, look for a stamp of 925 on the back.

Shapes and Sizes of Belt Buckles

Belt buckles come in different shapes and sizes, ranging from small and thin to large and intricate. Belt buckle shape has less to do with strength or durability and instead allows you to customize a belt with a detachable buckle to suit your style preferences.

Popular belt buckle shapes and styles include:

  • Frame –The most common buckle is a frame style, which consists of a piece of metal with a prong in the middle that goes through a hole in the belt. Dressy belts often come with a thin frame-style buckle while casual frame belt buckles are usually thicker.
  • Plate – Large, decorative plate buckles often feature bold cowboy, Western, or biker designs. Most plate buckles are detachable and feature a hook that goes through the strap.
  • Box frame – Hollow, opened-ended, metal box frame buckles attach directly to the strap. Box frame buckles don’t require holes: a post presses the strap against the inside of the box to keep the belt firmly in place. Box frame buckles are often found on webbed belts.
  • O-ring and D-ring – Named for their shape, O- and D-ring buckles include one or two rings; the strap is threaded through the rings until it reaches the desired fit. They’re often used on casual woven belts.

How to Choose a Belt Buckle Size

To find the right belt buckle size, ensure the buckle is the same width as your belt: if your belt is 1½ inches wide, pick a 1½ inch buckle for a comfortable fit. If the belt is wider than the buckle, it won’t slide on; if the buckle is wider than the belt, it will go on, but may shift around uncomfortably.

Western Belt Buckle Styles

For some cowboys and cowgirls, belt buckle style means more than the material or frame type—it’s about honoring history. Large plate-style belt buckles were first worn by American Civil War soldiers, then by members of the U.S. Army Cavalry, Texas Rangers, and Western movie stars including Tom Mix and Gene Autry. Plate-style Western belt buckles have been synonymous with cowboys and cowgirls ever since they were first awarded to rodeo cowboys in the 1920s.

A plate-style Western belt buckle offers enough surface area for scrollwork, pinpoints, rope edges, lettering, and, of course, expressive artwork. Plate-style cowgirl and cowboy belt buckles come in assorted themes, designs, and slogans on the front that proudly show where you stand, how you think, and what’s important to you.

Common Western belt buckle styles include:

  • Patriotic symbols, including the American flag or bald eagle
  • Desert motifs such as longhorn steers, horses, and cacti
  • Designs showing personal preferences, from cowboy brand logos to custom monograms
  • Bucking broncos, championship trophies, and rodeo themes
  • Spiritual designs that embody the Western way of life, featuring praying cowboys and crosses
  • Statement makers including the Confederate flag, Second Amendment rights, and the thin blue line

How to Put on a Belt Buckle

A Western belt with a removable buckle usually has snaps on the underside for a quick, easy swap and can accommodate most buckle styles: A plate, frame, or ring style works best on a leather belt with a detachable buckle. A webbed belt or other style without holes works best with a box frame buckle.

Follow these steps to update a belt with a removable buckle.

  1. Lay your belt face down on a table and undo the snaps.
  2. Remove the existing buckle.
  3. Feed the tip end of the belt through the new buckle.
  4. Re-snap the belt. If the belt has holes or studs, push the studs all the way through the holes to attach.
  5. Put on your belt to ensure the buckle is right-side up and looks straight.

Belt Buckle Fashion Tips for Western Wear

You can match a new buckle with almost any type of belt strap, from leather to canvas. This gives you plenty of options without buying a new belt for every occasion. These belt buckle fashion tips help you create a look to suit your preferences.

Coordinate Your Belt Buckle and Western Attire

As with the rest of your Western wardrobe, a statement-making belt buckle is meant to stand out, so wear it proudly no matter the occasion. Generally, you’d wear a thin, classic buckle with a suit or formal attire and a larger buckle with casual wear. A big, Western plate-style buckle looks best with jeans, but can be worn with khakis or trousers for a business-casual event.

Can You Mix Metals When Wearing a Belt?

Though not set in stone, a general recommendation is to match your jewelry and accessories with the metal of your belt buckle. A silver, brass, or gold-toned buckle should complement your necklace, cufflinks, bolo tie, or watch. The exception to this rule is your wedding band, which does not need to match your metal accessories.

On Which Side Should You Wear Your Buckle?

Generally, men’s belts are worn from right to left, with the end of the belt passing through the buckle on the left side of the zipper. Women’s belts are designed the opposite: left to right with the strap threading the buckle on the right side. But, you may prefer to thread your belt based on your dominant hand. Wear your belt whichever way is the most comfortable for you.

A Western belt buckle is an important fashion accessory for any occasion, from casual, everyday wear to special events like a wedding or the rodeo. Find a belt buckle made in your preferred metal, with a design that best represents your hobbies, beliefs, and personal tastes. Explore our blog for more Western fashion tips and inspiration.