The Lowdown on Cowboy Belt Buckles

The belt buckle is a fixture of cowboy fashion. But do you know their fascinating history? Read on to learn more about the reasons—both practical and…not so practical—why cowboys wear those big, shiny buckles!

The Earliest Belt Buckles

When did people first start using belt buckles? Earlier than you might think! According to archaeologists, humans as early as 1000 B.C.E used pieces of antler or bone in order to fasten their belts. The first stylized belt buckles, however, didn’t appear for another thousand years. That’s when functional belt buckles with attention to aesthetic were first produced both in ancient Rome and ancient China. Belt buckles were then used practically in many circumstances and many societies—though their true rise to popularity (especially in terms of fashion) would come in the 19th century. That’s when belt buckles became associated with military equipment—and, therefore, became a symbol of masculinity.

Cowboy Belt Buckles.

When did cowboys begin using traditional cowboy belt buckles? In this case, the answer is actually “later than you might think!” That’s because, up until the 1920s, most cowboys actually used suspenders, and those cowboys who did use belt buckles used the very distinctive military style buckle, which you may be familiar with if you’ve ever seen the uniforms of the American Civil War. What happened in the nineteen twenties? The movies happened! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves...before we talk about the movies, first, we have to talk about the Navajo.

Navajo Silversmiths

During the latter half of the 19th century, Navajo Indians began crafting iron and silver in order to make a variety of goods—among which were belt buckles. These belt buckles were influenced by the prominent military style of the time, but they were also influenced by native traditions, as well as the general aesthetic of the 19th century American west. These belt buckles were the earliest version of what is now known as the traditional Cowboy belt. Because they were hand-crafted by specialists, however, they were only moderately successful. That is, until they were popularized by the movies!

Okay, now we’re ready to talk about the movies.

When silent movies became popular around the start of the 20th century, one of the first genres of film that became commercially successful was the western. Especially during the 1920s, western films began experiencing a great deal of commercial success. One noteworthy detail about the cowboys that were portrayed in these movies? They tended to wear the exotic and aesthetically pleasing Navajo cowboy belt! This caused people everywhere—including many cowboys themselves—to associate these belts with cowboys. That’s when the traditional cowboy belt first attained widespread popularity.

Own your own traditional cowboy belt!

As popular as cowboy belts may have been in America ever since the dawn of the cowboy movie, they remained very difficult to find here in the United Kingdom—especially if one was searching for a true, quality belt. Luckily, that has all changed now thanks to Bronco Bill’s Americana Emporium. Check out our online store today for the best selection of cowboy belt buckles, as well as other great western wear!