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The Extravagance That Goes to Waist

By Jose Antonio Vargas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2005; Page C01

You wear pants, your pants might fall down, you need a belt. It's a matter of practicality -- a functional thing.

Try telling that to Leslie Trece.

Urban Outfitters sells more than 40 types of belts in its Georgetown store. (Juana Arias -- The Washington Post)

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Trece is in the midst of the usual girlfriend-dressing-boyfriend bit, sorting through dozens of men's belts -- some in cotton, others in leather, priced from $14 to $32. In the lower level of Urban Outfitters in Georgetown, 40 types of belts and, since last fall, 10 types of belt buckles are on sale.

"Can you believe the choices?" asks Trece.

Nicholas Fiedler, her boyfriend, sighs. "There's too many," he says. "They're too expensive."

Just a few blocks away, in the edgier, chain boutiques Energie and Diesel, belts cost up to $89 and $125.

They're not just the classic preppy belt or the attention-grabbing cowboy belt buckle. It's a black leather belt with star cutouts in hot pink stitching. It's a white leather belt with studs called the Hedor Belt.

"It used to be that most men had one belt and that was it. These days men, especially younger men, are creating a wardrobe of belts," says Marshal Cohen, chief analyst at the marketing research company NPD Fashionworld.

Last year, sales of men's accessories -- belts, hats, wallets, bags and scarves -- were up 11 percent from 2003, he says. Overall, the men's market in the same time period grew only 2 percent.

"For men, the belt has become the new statement piece. Think of it this way: Instead of buying a new pair of G-Star jeans, for example, they'd buy two or three belts that go with those jeans," Cohen says.

That arduous task of accessorizing, already deep in Girl Territory, is continually staking its claim in Boy Land. Turn the pages of Cargo magazine, the male equivalent of Lucky, and you'll realize that accessorizing, in its mix-and-match and hit-and-miss glory, is more than about bling -- though that's been its most obvious part. It's about the finer, subtler details of an outfit, how one accessory, such as a beanie or a pair of cuff links or a belt, can complete a guy's look, give it that finishing touch.

That trendy belt, after all, not only holds up those trendy fitted jeans -- the baggy look, for the most part, is on the decline -- but also complements it.

"It's a hot look on guys," says Trece, 22, who's helping Fiedler, also 22, find "a sexy belt" for his fitted jeans. Fiedler, standing in front of a loaded belt rack, scratches his head. There's a D-ring belt with the black-and-blue stripes. (Are those his colors?) There's a brown leather belt with studs. (Studs? In a belt?) There's a green military grommet belt. (Is that really him?) There's a belt with a buckle that reads in caps: "FIGHTER BY DAY, LOVER BY NIGHT, DRUNKARD BY CHOICE." (It's definitely not him.)

"My friends have these belts," says the shaggy-haired Fiedler. He realizes he's got some catching up to do. He's been wearing the same hand-me-down brown leather belt -- "It's from my dad," he says embarrassingly -- for six years.

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