Belts made of various materials have been in use since the Bronze Age, from 3000 to 1200 B.C. During the 19th and early 20th century, belts were largely worn by the military, before coming back into civilian vogue in the 1920s. In women's fashion, more so than in men's fashion, the belt is often regarded as an important visual accessory that completes a "look," as well as a way of cinching the waist.
Regardless of the type of material used to manufacture a belt, the one characteristic that all belts have in common is a flexibility that allows for comfortable movement, while offering needed garment support.
Leather clothing artifacts dating back to at least 1300 B.C. have been found in Egypt, and the first recorded use of leather belts dates back thousands of years to the Roman era. The tanning process used to skin and preserve leather for garments is itself thousands of years old, having evolved from merely drying the animal skins in the sun, to the use of modern chemical solvents.
Leather belts tend to be more expensive than belts made of cloth or recycled materials because of the amount of labor involved in the tanning process. Despite the growing number of cheaper, alternative materials being used to make belts, leather belts currently continue to outsell other types.
Canvas is a durable, woven fabric made of cotton, or sometimes hemp. This fabric is plain-woven, meaning that the weaving pattern is crisscrossed. The use of cloth rather than leather creates less labor during the manufacturing process, often resulting in a lower-priced product.
The use of canvas belts originated with the military, being utilized as a less expensive way to outfit military personnel. Eventually, their usage trickled into the civilian mainstream, becoming a popular fashion accessory during the 1980s and early 1990s, and falling out of favor until the current resurgence in 1980s fashion.
The reuse of discarded rubber materials has made for an interesting and eco-minded method of producing durable belts. Companies such as English Retreads gather unwanted inner tubes from truck stops, and refashion the rubber into handbags, wallets and belts. The process and product appeals to those who wish to lead a more sustainable, responsible lifestyle, as well as vegans who wish to completely avoid using animal products of any kind.