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Historically, belts have always been a marvel of clothing. However, for many years, the belt has remained largely unchanged. It was an accessory that provided both utility and decoration
. This is especially obvious when it came to belt buckles, which can be either simple or elaborate. It was only relatively recently that the mighty belt has been relegated to merely stopping our trousers from falling down. Medieval belts were a different animal entirely. While the modern belt is perfectly adequate to everyday life, for LARPing or medieval costumes, you’ll need a recreation of a medieval belt to complete the look. No medieval outfit, either grounded in history or fantasy, would look right without it. If you’re looking for a recreated belt for a personal collection, it would also do to find something both attractive and based in history. Luckily for you, you can find them right here.
The Many Forms of the Medieval Belt
The medieval belt was worn by everyone at the time
, which is why it’s such an important part of what you’d be wearing as a reenactor or in a costume. Whether you’re playing the part of a bog-standard peasant, one of the pampered elite, or a warrior, you’re going to need a belt. Unlike modern belts, which are most commonly worn around the hips, medieval belts were generally worn around the waist
over the clothes. There is some variation between men and women, and as the wearer gets richer, the belt will get more elaborate and less practical. However, the style of belt and how it’s used will differ when worn by these different people. It’s best to know the perfect belt for your purposes. Unless you want to be a peasant who stole a noble’s flashy belt, who are we to judge?
These belts were designed primarily for practicality, although some aesthetics likely came into the design of these belts. Even peasants had some sense of fashion, after all. By the 15th
century, even the poorest peasant could afford a simple belt buckle
. The belts worn by the peasantry had to be very sturdy and thicker
than those of the more well-to-do, because they were usually worn to hold the tools of their trade, or whatever else the wearer didn’t want to carry. This was true of all belts, but peasants usually had a lot more to carry. Along with the belt knife
that everyone would have with them, peasants would have large bags of the tools
that they used throughout the day. This makes a peasant belt more akin to a modern workman’s belt than anything else. It does go better with a tunic, though. The belt also kept the tunic or dress sinched closer to the body. This wasn’t necessarily a fashion choice, but primarily kept the material out of the way of whatever backbreaking work our poor peasant would have been doing.
Now, a lot of you are going to want to dress as some kind of warrior, be it a random soldier, or a mighty knight. If so, don’t forget your belt. Once more, status plays a part in what the belt will look like. A knight will have a more elaborately designed belt, much like the nobility. However, both belts will essentially have the same form and function, being meant primarily for war. So, while a knight’s belt will almost certainly look nicer, it will still be made from thick leather
. The belt of a warrior was meant to carry everything they would need for battle. So, whatever weapons can fit on the belt will go on the belt. This means that swords, axes, and daggers
alike will find themselves on the belt. Also, arrow quivers were often found on this belt. Larger weapons may find themselves on a belt worn over the shoulder, but this would only be to carry them from place to place. When in battle, a weapon in the hand or at the waist was far more accessible. Like peasant belts, warrior’s belts also served to keep clothing and armour in place while moving about, stopping them from getting in the way. Some belts could even serve as an extra layer of armour, adding a small measure of protection.
Alright, now we’re onto the fancy stuff. The belts of nobility were still practical pieces of clothing, being used to carry certain objects and keep them handy. This is especially true for women, as sewn-in pockets weren’t often found in feminine garb. This surprises nobody, I’m sure. However, the belts of the rich were also something more akin to jewellery
, being a status symbol and highly decorative. They were usually long and thin, with focus often put on the delicate workmanship and the fine materials used. Designs could vary hugely. Different styles of buckles were used, some even displaying the heraldic badge of a certain individual or family. These would be worn not only by the nobility, but by their retainers and servants as a mark of allegiance. Not only could the buckle show off the incredible wealth and stunning fashion sense of our nobles, but extra belt mounts could be added. These were metal decorative pieces that would be made of silver for those who could afford it, or of pewter for those who can’t. Belts could also be trimmed with silver or gold thread, and have precious minerals set into them. A well-made and lavish belt like this could be worth more than a peasant could hope to earn in several lifetimes. It’s a far cry from the simple belts that they would use to carry their tools.
The Medieval Leather Belt
The vast majority of belts in medieval times were made of leather
. Leather was, and still is, a fantastic material for making belts. It’s easy to come by, making it relatively cheap. As well as that, leather is both sturdy and flexible enough to be used as a belt. Finally, leather can be an attractive material. No matter the status of the wearer, leather was common. Even the richer people used leather belts, although the workmanship was much finer. Often, the leather would be finely processed and would have patterns stamped into the leather itself. This fine leather along with the rich mountings made for a stunning piece of jewellery.
The Making of a Leather Belt
Regardless of whether the belt is going to a Lord, a knight, or a random peasant, the making of the medieval leather belt remains about the same. This process also goes into the recreation of medieval belts
in modern times, as it can’t really be improved upon. First of all, many buckles and belt mounts were cast rather than each forged individually. This allowed for mass production, which is how even the poorer people of medieval times could have a proper metal buckle on their belt. Once the moulds for the buckle are ready, the molten metal is poured into them. This metal would most commonly be pewter, as it has a low melting point and was widely available. Pewter is a tin alloy, which usually contained a lot of lead in medieval times, although it may contain other metals. It was often used for cups and tankards but had a bad habit of giving people lead poisoning. When these metal components have solidified, they need to be cleaned up and filed smooth. If the belt has a buckle plate and strap end, they will be made from flattened sheets of the softened metal. The finer leather belts would likely have both of these. At this point, we’ve got a bunch of metal. A leather belt will also need, yep you guessed it, leather. For a belt that you’ll be wearing often, a sturdy piece of leather would be best. This is especially true if you’re planning on using it in LARPs where you’ll be fighting or moving around a lot, as it will be getting a lot of abuse. The leather needs to be cut into shape and dyed in the desired colour. At this, the metal components can be added. A richer belt may have quite a few decorative mount plates and a more elaborate buckle, but the process is about the same.
Other Materials Used in Belts
Of course, while leather was by far the most common material used, some medieval belts were made differently. This is especially true of the women
. Poorer people sometimes wore belts of thick woven wool, rather than leather. However, the rich are where we see more variety, again more so when it came to women. Because belts were as much jewellery as anything else, they could be made from fine woven silk with elaborate clasps. These could feature fine, gold embroidery. Finally, metal belts were known to exist. These could be extremely expensive, as they were often made from fine silver or gold. Now, while your minds may immediately steer to chastity belts, that’s not what we’re talking about here. These were fine chains, not dissimilar to necklaces or other jewellery.
The Symbolism of Medieval Belts
It’s become increasingly obvious how important medieval belts were to everyday life. They were a garment both useful and decorative, carrying the tools of the trade and potentially showing off the wealth of the wearer. When it comes to recreating the lifestyle of anyone in medieval times, a belt is essential
. Going without it would be a bit like wearing modern trainers (or sneakers) with medieval clothes. Except less fun to look at. However, not only were belts, or girdles, important for how common they were to outfits, but they also showed up a lot in both literature and religion
Even in modern times, girdles show up a lot in religious clothing and also appear in both scripture and Catholic legend. However, in medieval times, Catholicism had an incredibly strong grip on the people, being a part of life. This girdle is a long cord of material, sometimes bound like rope, which was tied around the waist over the vestments. This is largely unchanged from medieval tradition, which is where the image of the monk with a rope around their waist originates.
Much of medieval literature was rooted in both religion and folk tales of the time. The most famous medieval literature that comes to mind surrounds the legends of King Arthur and his knights. Saint George is another figure which was steeped in both Catholicism and medieval literature. Both of these figures mention girdles. The girdle, especially when associated with women, came to represent a sign of virginity and chastity. The girdle could be a magically protective force, capable even of subduing a dragon when Saint George is around. Often the removal of a girdle came to signify the loss of this chastity. This is likely where the idea of the ‘chastity belt’ originated, despite their existence in medieval times being questioned. For men, girdles in literature were more commonly associated with battle. However, the recreated medieval belts sold here neither give magical powers or protection, nor do they represent any kind of chastity. Whether you’re disappointed or relieved about that is up to you.
It seems that medieval belts were far more important in life than they are today. It can be easy to forget this aspect of your medieval getup, but please don’t. We sell recreations of medieval belts which are suitable both for collection and for LARP events or for costume creation. Of course, another aspect of these belts which hasn’t really been mentioned is that they look really good. While aesthetics aren’t everything when it comes to recreating medieval clothes, they do play an important part. This is true if you’re planning on displaying or wearing whichever medieval belt, or belts you buy. Remember, while there are some belts that will fit every character or outfit, some do call for a certain look. Both to be historically accurate, and to work better for the outfit.