A belt is a flexible band, typically made of leather or heavy cloth, and worn around the waist. A belt supports trousers or other articles of clothing, and it serves for style and decoration.
Belts have been documented both for male and female clothing since the Bronze Age. Both sexes used them off and on, depending on the current fashion, but it was a rarity in female fashion with the exception of the early Middle Ages, late 17th century Mantua and skirt/blouse combinations between 1900 and 1910. Art Nouveau belt buckles are nowadays collector's items.
In the military, belts have been worn for centuries; at times for utilitarian use, but in certain periods, particularly the latter half of the 19th century and up until the first World War, the belt was strictly a decorative part of the uniform, particularly among officers. In the armed forces of Prussia, Crimea, and other Eastern European nations, it was common for officers to wear extremely tight, wide belts around the waist, on the outside of the uniform. These tightly cinched belts served to draw in the waist and give the wearer a trim physique, emphasizing wide shoulders and a pouting chest. Often the belt served only to emphasize a waist made small by a corset worn under the uniform, a practice which was common especially during the Crimean Wars and was often noted by soldiers from the Western front. Political cartoonists of the day often portrayed the tight waist-cinching of soldiers to comedic effect, and some cartoons survive showing officers being corsetted by their inferiors, a practice which surely was uncomfortable but deemed to be necessary and imposing.
In modern times, men started wearing belts in the 1920s, as trouser waists fell to a lower, natural line. Before the 1920s, belts served mostly a decorative purpose, and were associated with the military. Today, most men wear a belt with their pants; women tend to wear them for more decorative functions.
Since the mid 1990s, the practice of sagging has been popular at times among young men and boys. This fashion trend consists of wearing the trousers very low on the hips, often exposing the underwear and buttocks of the wearer. This urban style, which has roots tracing to prison gangs(and the prohibition of belts in prison, due to their use as weapons and devices for suicide) has remained popular into the 21st century, particularly among pubescent boys. A belt may or may not be worn with this style - if a belt is used, it is cinched tightly at the mid-buttock region, with the effect that the trousers of the wearer are being held up by genitalia underneath. Many public schools now enforce belt-wearing, often only for the male population, and requiring the belts to be worn tightly at waist level with a tucked-in shirt.
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See sting and thud for more on this distinction.