What Kind of Belt Is That Guy Wearing?

by John Holbo on May 28, 2016

The Library of Congress Flickr photostream is a steady source of curious gems. Today, for example: what kind of belt/waistcoat is that boater hat guy on the left sporting?

Marines in France (LOC)
I downloaded the original file. Here’s a closer look.

Is it some sort of utility cummerbund? Maybe you can store things in it?


UPDATE: We have a winner! Dave W. has (with minimal research – now why didn’t I think of that?) correctly identified the fashion accessory in question as a French military officer’s belt:




Yankee 05.28.16 at 6:07 am


Michael 05.28.16 at 9:01 am

I reckon it’s cowhide. Yep. Cowhide with the hair left on. He’s proud of it. Would-be cowboy, a tourist from Columbus, Ohio, got that belt out in Cheyenne, Wyoming in the early days of Western tourism. Quite the dude.

Some other puzzles: who is the kid who sneaked into the photo on the lower right? Are those ladies nurses in mufti (including a set of identical twins)? Why did the photographer snap this photo, when it looks like he could have had a better one, some seconds earlier or maybe later, which would have had everybody looking at the camera? And who is the kid with the Marines in the center top of the photo? A mascot? Maybe the kid in the lower right wants to be the mascot, but looked too weird so they went with the other kid.

Questions, questions.


Dwight Cramer 05.28.16 at 11:55 am

Can’t say about the belt, for sure, but I’ve worn that kind of buckle. It was early 20th century military issue generally used with canvas webbing (which is what the material to the left of it looks like, though I agree that the stuff on the right looks like leather and there is what appears to be a leather flap a little further to the right ). In the canvas version, at least, there were a series of grommets around the belt that you could hook things on (a canteen, a trenching tool cover, whatever). If you look at the three guys to the right cut off at the shoulders, who have their arms linked, their belts are the standard military issue of the era just to keep your trousers over your hips. The dude’s belt let your hang stuff from it–like a modern carpenter’s belt.

Given the date and the context (a civilian visiting the Marines in WW1?), I’ll bet it was a war souvenir that he either bought or was given.


Layman 05.28.16 at 12:08 pm

It does appear to be a military ‘web utility belt’ of some kind. Not surprising, given the context of the photo. I wore one very like it in the 80’s, though it was made of woven nylon rather than canvas. Mine still had the metal hook-and-eye buckle, but they’re more often plastic clips these days.


mjfgates 05.28.16 at 2:14 pm

The guy’s tie is inside the belt. He just got that thing, and just put it on, like two minutes ago. Maybe it was presented to him for some reason?


Alan White 05.28.16 at 2:25 pm

A moneybelt?


Glen Tomkins 05.28.16 at 2:33 pm

Looks like an ammo belt, or web belt, so called because it works with your web gear, or when worn alone, to allow you to carry more ammunition and other gear than you would otherwise be able to manage.

I can’t be certain, because it is not of exactly the same design as the gear we used when I was in the US Army, but it definitely looks like the ancestor of the stuff we used to wear.

He is with the Marines in France, as the caption tells us. Maybe he only had that one set of civilian clothes in his duffel bag, but forgot to pack a civilian belt. Or maybe he’s rotating back to the States and was given the belt by people in his unit as some kind of award. Either way, he would have to put it on last, because it’s too broad to fit through belt loops.


Dean C. Rowan 05.28.16 at 3:06 pm

It’s from LC’s Bain Collection, about which there’s more here: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ggb2006002346/ See the links to Bain Collection, but also to “Browse neighboring items by call number,” where you’ll see at least one other photo of U.S. Marines in France, another labeled “Routing the ‘Cooties.'” I’m wondering what the inscription on the woman’s dress at bottom left says, if anything.


Glen Tomkins 05.28.16 at 3:27 pm

Other details.

The children look like locals. The younger one hasn’t graduated to fully adult garb, and is still wearing a smock.

The women may be nurses. We used to have “candy stripers” way back when the world and I were both young, and two of the younger women look like candy stripers. Not sure they still exist. One of the older women has a badge on her hat. I’m not familiar with the symbol, but maybe she is with some sort of nursing corps. Nor sure how the Marines organized their nursing support in those days.

I would say after looking at the picture more carefully that the war is probably still on, though it is not impossible that they would have left a unit under tents even after hostilities had ceased. The guy in the boater is perhaps the officer chaperoning the nursing delegation in their tour, wearing civilian garb in order to not alarm the ladies. We used to think it was important to not alarm the ladies back then, and had the strangest ideas of what would alarm ladies. They’re bringing them over to work on gruesome war wounds, but don’t want to alarm them with some rough military uniform. The guy with the boater may be wearing the web belt because he forgot a belt when packing his civilian gear, or the belt is just a way of telling the Marines that he’s an officer, though out of uniform in order to not alarm the ladies.


Dave W. 05.28.16 at 5:43 pm

It looks similar to this (purported) WWI French Army officer’s belt:

Here’s another one without any pockets to obscure the lettering:


DMC 05.28.16 at 10:48 pm

My first thought was some kind of truss, from how high he’s wearing it and the width of the thing. Think of those belts weight lifters wear. Second thought was it might be a gun belt or the lower part of some kind of shoulder rig. His shirt is dimpling at he edges of his jacket as though there’s something else under the jacket(a pistol maybe?) causing it to ride up a bit on either side.


Dean C. Rowan 05.29.16 at 12:10 am


Dave W. 05.29.16 at 1:08 am

I believe I’ve found something closer, but my comment with links is awaiting moderation. (It comes up as the first image link (for me) when searching on the terms “wwi french military army officer’s belt terapeak”.)


John Holbo 05.29.16 at 2:07 am

If you look at the eBay image for the Dave W. belt – clearly the correct identification – you can see why someone could mistake it for rawhide or some other American West-style item.



John Holbo 05.29.16 at 2:10 am

OK, now we just need to make this a fashion trend:

High-waisted dark suit
French military officer’s belt
Is that a white feather pinned to his breast pocket?
Boater hat
Silk tie – must be tucked into French officer’s belt!

Next season you won’t be able to hurl an artillery shell in Brooklyn without hitting one of these dapper hipsters from the late teens of the last century!


mjfgates 05.29.16 at 3:36 am

Voluntarily wearing a white feather during WWI would be odd– it was a symbol of cowardice. The object coming out of his breast pocket looks like a watch fob, but if you don’t have a waistcoat you usually wear a pocketwatch in a pants pocket. Maybe he had to move the watch as part of rearranging his things while putting on the belt?


ZM 05.29.16 at 5:13 am

John Holbo,

“OK, now we just need to make this a fashion trend:

Next season you won’t be able to hurl an artillery shell in Brooklyn without hitting one of these dapper hipsters from the late teens of the last century!”

I love boater hats. They don’t suit me though sadly.

There is a *very* dapper black guy in a boater hat and suit on Michigan’s RHJClothierStore THE HOME FOR YESTERDAY GARBS AND TODAY’S THREADS.

The suit is light, and you can’t see the belt, but I think you could order some outfits from this etsy shop and try to make this a Northern Summer trend. I remember you Summered on Martha’s Vineyard one time, so just order your outfits and see if you can start the trend. You would have to find a women’s trend to coordinate with you for Belle to wear (I hope the homeschooling is going well if she is doing that, and that Zoe’s health is improving).



Peter T 05.29.16 at 6:50 am

The belt is military, but the guy is civilian. He has his hands in his pockets (with ladies present!!) – a deeply un-military thing. So the belt is a present.


Glen Tomkins 05.29.16 at 7:53 am

I dunno. The belt our guy is wearing has that vertical band to the right (his right) of the buckles that I don’t see on the proposed belt. This band looks to me like it could be a metal quick release, because to its right (our left) there is a thinner vertical light stripe that could be the canvass surface raised by the metal bar that secures the quick release to the belt.


Dave W. 05.29.16 at 2:14 pm

I agree that the proposed belt isn’t identical; the absence of the feature you note is the main reason I hedged by calling it “similar”. The one in John’s photo also shows no signs of horizontal stripes.

But I think the common features (double buckles and small pocket) are a strong indication that the belts are at least related; perhaps they’re styles from different years. The one on eBay is also different from the one on terapeak – it’s dated 1918 rather than 1917, and doesn’t have the small pockets.

Another odd aspect of the auction site belts is the motto. I haven’t seen any other WWI era belts with that kind of decoration on Google images (aside from “Gott Mit Uns” or the like on belt buckles); and it seems odd that the French army would print “Glory to the Allies” in giant letters on their own standard issue belts. So maybe the auction site belts are special commemorative items presented in thanks to allied expeditionary forces, and the one in John’s picture is either a variant from a different year, or a real standard issue belt of the type used as a model for the auction site belts.


Ronan(rf) 05.29.16 at 2:43 pm

What does Dave w get for winning? I’d be happy to chip.in a few dollars to buy him the belt …..


Fiddlin Bill 05.29.16 at 3:06 pm

The photo also looks like an outtake from the Wild Bunch, perhaps the opening railroad office robbery with temperance march massacre. “If they move, kill ’em.”


Glen Tomkins 05.30.16 at 2:54 pm

It would make sense that the ceremonial version would lack a quick release, if that’s what that thing is. I can convince myself that it’s metal that is shiner around its perimeter because that gets polished through contact during use.

The actual field gear is probably so common (war surplus!) that examples don’t command any price at all on auction sites, so aren’t on offer there. France probably has warehouses full of the stuff.

I have no idea whether the double buckle arrangement is unique to any sort of subset of ammo/web belts, or was the standard solution at the time for the mechanism you need in any belt to change size. One big buckle might be stronger, but perhaps they felt that two would give you an emergency back-up in case one failed at a juncture when you really, really needed your equipment to work.

The solution that the more contemporary ammo/web belts use avoids buckles at all. You need a quick release anyway, so your buckle(s) could only be the size adjustment mechanism anyway, and can’t double as the fastener. So the stuff I have actually used gets rid of buckles, and has a quick release fastener, plus two metal devices that allow size adjustment by doubling back on the belt and pinching shut at the desired circumference.

When I googled the topic looking for illustrations of the modern gear, I was reminded that the term “web belt” is also used for a garrison belt, presumably because they are made from similar canvass to the belts used with field gear. If you want to see field analogues to what this picture shows for WWI, you should google “web gear” and “web gear belt”.


Dave W. 05.30.16 at 11:29 pm

It appears to be a “stable belt” – a Google search for images with this term turns up many such broad belts, typically with horizontal stripes and often two buckles. It seems more decorative than functional; Wikipedia says it’s “an item of uniform used in the armed forces of Denmark, the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries” and notes similar belts used in Brazil and Lebanon. (Though not, oddly enough, France.)

This site shows a collection of UK stable belts:


Glen Tomkins 05.31.16 at 1:35 pm

Perhaps the Gloire aux Allies belt was made for their main and earliest ally, so copied a design that the Brits could incorporate into a dress uniform of theirs, even if the French themselves didn’t use anything like this. The e-bay display makes it clear that regiments or services have their own identifying color scheme. Maybe the idea was to give this belt to British officers who served in France, so they could wear it on the appropriate formal occasions.

The odd feature, if this is an item of dress uniform, and not field gear, is the pocket in the Gloire belt, which our guy has in his. That could be handy in field gear, but why would you have it in a dress uniform?

But why is our guy in the picture wearing this belt? If he’s the US or British escort for what looks like a nursing group, perhaps he is just wearing it to avoid hassles from the gendarmes as this group tools around the nervous countryside of a country at war. Proof they’re not all German spies, because, “Look, I’ve got this belt your army gave me.” Or perhaps he just dips snuff, and that little pocket in the belt is handy for that.


Quercus 05.31.16 at 7:16 pm

It looks to me that the gentleman in question might be wearing suspenders: there are hints of buttons visible just inside the vest and above the belt on either side (and on his left side, kind of looks like the leather bottom of a two-button suspender), and there aren’t any belt loops or anything for the visible belt to hold up his pants. Plus it’s butt-ugly with such a nice suit, and (as noted earlier) it’s going over his tie. All of which is an indication that this is not an item of civilian fashion, but rather a gunbelt or something similar.

I don’t know much about WWI -era dress and etiquette, but I wonder if one possibility is that he was presented the belt by the military unit he was visiting; another is that he’s an officer wearing a suit to escort the ladies, but also carrying his pistol.


John Holbo 06.01.16 at 1:29 am

It’s weird to see so much minute pictorial analysis without any paranoid political angle. Normally one wouldn’t bother wondering whether he was carrying a pistol, after all, unless one intended to argue that he obviously just shot JFK from the grassy knoll.

Also, I think we need more kerning analysis of the ‘gloire’ belt, to establish that it’s a modern fake!


Glen Tomkins 06.01.16 at 1:37 am

Sorry. Will try to be more paranoid in the future.

But it’s not entirely the fault of your lackadaisical readership. Just as this political cycle has the satirists struggling to keep ahead of the reality their satire is supposed to exaggerate, so we paranoids are hard-pressed to stay ahead of The Donald and reaction thereto. Godwin’s Law may finally need to be retired.

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