On a recent trip to the mall, I popped into Free People and was instantly catapulted right back to my high school days, thanks to one accessory in particular: the big, chunky belt. I’d already gotten a taste of my teenage wardrobe thanks to Aritzia’s current fondness for the gauzy white maxi skirt, but the vintage-inspired belt was the nail in the proverbial coffin of my youth.
When I say big belt, I’m not talking about the thick waist belts of the late 2000s and early 2010s, where you’d cinch a giant black or white stretchy belt over your long-sleeved tunic and skinny jeans to highlight your waist even when it made zero sense—though with how fast trends are moving, that’s not far off. Nope, we’re talking about low-slung, western belts typically made from giant leather circles that we wrapped around the aforementioned prairie skirts for a faux-Sienna Miller cool girl look that was clearly ideal for fourth-period health class.
Seeing the aforementioned belt in the Free People window made me finally commiserate with my mom, who winced when my friends and I wanted bell bottoms and ‘70s floral print dresses in the mid-’90s. With the resurgence of the big belt, the polarizing trends of my youth are officially, officially back—and I’m not sure how to feel about it. I’ll unpack that and the trend itself ahead.
It should come as no surprise that the big belt is making its triumphant return, given that all things Y2K are back in a big way (even Von Dutch trucker hats). When I was a teen, the useless belt was a TRL mainstay; everyone from Beyoncé to Hilary Duff to Shakira wore a version. We paired them with tank tops, sweeping prairie skirts, cargo pants (and heels, of course), super lowrise jeans, and gaucho pants.
The belt, which has its roots in the concho belts worn by Native Americans in the 1800s, also echoed similar trends of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, but the 2000s evolution in all its bold, bedazzled glory was the perfect accessory for the “anything goes” attitude of the decade where a dress over jeans was the height of fashion. Its loud, “Here I am!” POV fit right in during the dawn of reality TV and red carpets, not to mention the early days of music festival chic.
Because I couldn’t get the big belt off my mind, I asked my Instagram followers for their memories of said trend. “I don’t want to talk about it!” replied one. “Sometimes I would wear two belts slung around my hips,” wrote another. “I literally wore that monstrosity with bell bottoms and a hoodie and a super long tank top altogether,” reminisced another. Clearly, this thing made an impact.
There were several variations on the big belt trend at the time; you could rock the leather “link” or “disc” style for a real statement, the metal and chain version, or the slightly more subdued woven leather style with a bold buckle, preferably in a metallic gold or bronze hue. If you were punk-lite like Avril Lavigne, maybe your version was more Hot Topic than Hippie. The common denominator, no matter your style, was that it was worn low and over your belt loops, serving absolutely zero purpose. Regardless of the vibe, the big belt was the statement accessory for a time, and it worked just as well with Converse as it did with cowboy boots or pin-thin Manolo Blahnik stilettos.
Where You’ve Seen It
Like all polarizing trends from 20 years ago, the useless belt has found new fans on TikTok, and it’s back in our collective consciousness just in time for summer. Some of the belts in question are thrifted finds from folks like me who wore the trend the first time around and were definitely ready to ditch it, while others bought the 2023 version from Amazon and other trend-forward retailers.
While early 2000s-inspired styles like coin, western, and even shell belts are trending slung low over dresses and jeans, some designers and TikTokers are taking things even further, adding useless belts and buckles to mini skirts and bra tops, sometimes even replacing the top completely. Miu Miu, for example, sent models down the runway with leather belts holding up their deconstructed crop tops, and singer Rina Sawayama appeared on a recent Nylon cover wearing an outfit solely made from various belts. Cool girl beachwear brand Gimaguas has even made a case for layering studded, oversized belts over bikinis and itty bitty shorts.
How to Wear It
TikTokers are wearing the belt just like we did in the ‘00s: with a low-slung skirt and a baby tee or tube top. If it ain’t broke, right? To modernize the look ever so slightly, swap the prairie skirt for a fitted tube, satin slip skirt, or denim midi style instead. The belt is also a fun layer atop a teeny mini or micro-short, a look that would have been right at home at TRL.
For a slightly less literal Y2K interpretation, consider wrapping the belt over a slip dress or a fitted off-the-shoulder T-shirt dress. If you don’t want to look like you’re wearing a castoff costume from the set of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days or Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s So Little Time, skip any super trendy Y2K accessories, like baguette bags, trucker hats or shield sunglasses in favor of more classic counterparts.
Though I do not ascribe to the “If you wore it the first time, you can’t wear it the second time around” rule, the disc belt isn’t a trend I see myself coming back to quite yet. Maybe next time!