While originally utilitarian in function, belt buckles have taken on a major role in the fashion industry. They still serve to keep your belt fastened and your pants on, but they may also broadcast a message about who you are, what you believe or how you view the world. Belt buckles come in an array of designs and types that you can choose from in order to make--or avoid making--any statement you like.
In the 1600s, the button had just recently been invented, and most people still used eyelets and string to fasten their clothes and hold them in place. Sailors in particular had a hard time with these intricate lacings, since waterlogged clothes often overcame the strength of the strings and sagged woefully. The belt buckle was invented on a sailing ship so that sailors could hold up their pants with a leather strip instead of strings.
Belt buckles are inherently utilitarian. Belts hold clothing--generally pants--in place on the body. Without a fastener like a buckle this would not be possible. However, belt buckles can be large, small, flashy or discreet. In fact, many women use wide belts with ornate belt buckles to give their bust more shape, and do not actually need the belt buckle for anything functional at all outside of accessorizing.
Belt buckles come in a wide variety of styles. Tang buckles consist of a metal ring with two tangs, or metal tongues, that fit through holes in the belt to hold it in place. Snap buckles have two pieces of metal that must be squeezed into a hollow fastener on the other end of the belt. Once the pieces are in place, they pop outward and hold the belt securely. Clip buckles, which are often oversized and decorated, consist of a large metal plate with a peg on the back. The peg fits into the holes on the other end of the belt and holds the belt together.
Belt buckles can be simple or ornate. Tang buckles tend to be more functional than either snap buckles or clip buckles. This is because there is much less opportunity for decoration on a simple metal ring. On the other hand, both clip and snap buckles can large expanses of metal or plastic that can be adorned in many ways. Tang buckles also tend to have the most secure hold.
There are many benefits to wearing a belt with a buckle. They are easier to take on an off than a tied belt. Also, belt buckles open up a new arena for self expression for men. Many men would like to have accessories that they could use to express their sense of style without going over the top. However, men's clothing is traditionally more conservative than women's clothing, and as a result men have fewer conventional options for style expression. A belt buckle is a great way to add flair to an outfit without becoming flamboyant.
When selecting a belt buckle, make sure that it is reconcilable with the belt that you wish to use it with. If you select a large, heavy belt buckle, it can tear off your belt loops or you can end up with your pants around your ankles if the belt itself is not a sturdy weave or heavy leather. Also, make sure that the buckle has no sharp exposed edges that will damage your clothes before wearing it out in public.