English Bridle Leather Belts. Day 1: Journeyman Leather
About the author: Chris (aka bruschetta) is an America-born university researcher and teacher based in Glasgow, Scotland. His sense of style is inspired by a childhood dressed in Ivy league trad, and the fact that he is enormously well bred. He’s the moderator that the Dappered Threads deserve, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian of style. A watchful pro, Joe, are you writing this down?
Late last year, my not-quite-trustworthy J.Crew belt reached the point where it was unwearable. After two short years of light wear, the belt looked as though it had been worn through a post-apocalyptic hellscape. The finishing on the leather was worn off around the buckle. Deep creases indicated where belt loops had ravaged its fragile hide. This was a belt that had seen things. Deeply disturbing, life-scarring things that had left it irreparably damaged. I had worn it to work once or twice a week for a period of two years.
I was annoyed. I was frustrated. I was determined to find a better belt.
Over the course of the month I sought out belts from various brands that were recommended on the Dappered Threads forums, Styleforum, and other style websites. The mass-produced belts from these sources varied dramatically in price, but the quality was universally low. I ordered belts from a highly-recommended American company that makes genuine Made in the USA leather goods. The belts arrived with an unfinished back, streaking in the leather, and spots of raw leather where the tanning and dye had not been applied. A few of the company’s fans on the forums informed me that the company was still working out their process of dying brown leather.
Finally, I hit a belt breakthrough when a mysterious stranger recommended that I explore custom English Bridle Leather belts. Custom belts? My skeptometer read over 9000. But curiosity got the better of me and I began searching.
Shetland. The Beauty. The Belts. The… bizarre dialect?
Far to the north-east of mainland Great Britain lies the Shetland Islands, an eccentric Scottish archipelago that maintains a culture of preservation and tradition. It’s on the Mainland isle that Ian Gidney handcrafts leather goods using tools and techniques that have remained unchanged for generations. It was here that this journey to find the perfect custom English Bridle Leather belt began.
Journeyman Leather’s owner, Ian Gidney, makes his belts by hand. Now, when companies claim to make goods by hand in this day and age I tend to take their claim with a grain of salt. Not so with Ian. Ian uses the same tools that have been used for hundreds of years to make his leather goods. The most advanced tool that Ian utilises is a gas flame to provide heat for the creasing tool. I’m going to repeat that again in case you didn’t catch it: the most advanced tool that he uses is fire.
Ian makes a small variety of belts in his shop. He offers a small number of options for customization on his website, but you can further customize a bit more if you take the time to contact him directly (custom lengths & hole placement, plus a couple extra shades of leather… namely light tan or red).
When ordering my belt, I chose a “Plain Belt in a 1.25” width in the brown colour with a West End buckle. I also requested (and paid for) a gift box. My goal was to find the perfect belt to wear with dark denim. The total cost was £41.69 GBP ($69 USD).
There are a few disadvantages when ordering a belt online. The most obvious being that you can’t be entirely sure that the belt will fit. Ian attempts to solve this by providing a range of lengths. I ordered a belt described as fitting “34 to 37 inch” waists (I am a solid 35″). The second disadvantage is that most people aren’t aware of the width of their belts. Here’s my handy little guide:
- Dress belts: 1 inch to 1 1/8th inches wide. (I prefer 1 1/8th inches)
- Casual belt width: 1 1/4th inches to 1 3/4th inches wide. (I prefer 1 1/4th inches)
As an aside, Ian’s succinct product titles and descriptions amuse me. His belts are made with expensive, top-quality English bridle leather in the Australian Nut colour and he chose to name this work of art “Plain Belt” and call the leather “Brown”. Ian is a skilled artisan who is focused on his craft rather than his marketing.
I went through the ordering process like a regular customer to test out the process. Ian delivered the belt after a little over a week (keep in mind that I am a Scottish resident; delivery to the United States is likely to take an extra week at the least). The belt itself was excellent, but the gift box that I had ordered (and paid for) was no where to be found.
Soft, a little rough, and very real.
The belt is beautiful. The leather is thick, soft, and smooth to the touch. A word of warning: English bridle leather is much thicker than calf leather (a quick eyeballing estimate puts it at 2.5x thicker). It can also be a bit stiff at first. It took a few hours of wearing for the belt to conform to my waist. There’s a nice (albeit a little bit crooked) Journeyman Leather logo stamped just below the buckle.
The belt is not without its flaws. The edge polishing is not perfect, and the decorative lines are not machine-precision straight. The end of the belt is hand finished, and the leather by the buckle is clearly hand stitched. I love it. The flaws in no way detract from the belt’s appearance; on the contrary, they give the belt the feel of an authentic, unique article.
Denim fanatics will love this belt. Like high-end denim, each belt has small differences that increase as the belt is worn over time based on the wearer’s habits.
Ian’s belts can be worn in business casual workplaces, but I do not think that the belt that I received would be a good choice for business wear (i.e. suits). He does offer a raised belt that might be a better option.
Company: Journeyman Leather
Width: 1 1/4th inches
Colour: Australian Nut (“Brown”)
Cost: £32 plus shipping within the UK, £26.67 plus shipping to USA ($71 at the time of this review)
Warranty: 10 Years
Coming up tomorrow, the second installment of Beltman Bruschetta’s search for the perfect bridle belt. Same belt time! Same Belt Channel! Shetland photo credit #1: Simaron. Shetland photo credit #2: shirokazan.