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To me, the $200 belt looks no different from the $12 belt. What’s the difference?

To me, the $200 belt looks no different from the $12 belt. What’s the difference?

The Solution:
The major difference is that a quality leather belt will get better with age, while the lower-quality material of an inexpensive belt will always look cheap and will eventually crack. Banana Republic makes a leather belt ($49) that's 1 1/4 inches wide, which makes it substantial enough to wear casually with jeans or khakis, or elegant enough to work with a pair of dress pants. In an ideal world, you should have at least one casual belt and a slimmer, more elegant one to wear with dressier clothing. But a well-chosen, quality option can do double duty.

Obviously, the first point of difference is the quality of the leather. Opt for full-grain -- preferably bridle -- leather because it's designed to cope with many years of outdoor use and to remain very strong.

Remember to look at the stitching behind the buckle. If there's a staple there rather than stitching, it's been cheaply made. Filson ($47.50) makes a beautiful 1 1/4-inch-wide belt using the same leather and stitching technique as those used to make saddles.

A nice buckle will also age well, while a cheaper one may turn a different color or fade after only six months or so. Brooks Brothers makes a great Cordovan leather strap and a polished gold buckle ($198) from Tiffany & Co. Both the buckle and the leather acquire a nice patina with age. Make sure to care for it properly to maximize its life span. Try rubbing a bit of saddle soap onto the leather -- being sure not to use too much -- and then wiping it down with a soft cloth.

A better belt made with higher-quality leather and hardware requires maintenance, but it will last forever if you take care of it. For best results, take it to your shoe-shine man and have him treat it with a good conditioner, and shine the buckle yourself a couple of times a year.

About the Expert

Terry Corbett is a professional style consultant who has provided clothing to 50 Cent, Jay Z and Outkast, among others. He runs Terry Corbett Bespoke Inc., a private tailored-clothing brand for men.

Tags: Accessories