Belts are normally a topic that few people think about, and often times are pushed aside as simply an item that has always been around and that requires little to no thought on their origins. While we normally only wear belts in modern times as a means to hold larger pants or shorts at the proper waist area, or as a way to look more presentable during formal occasions, in Medieval times in Europe, belts were worn for a variety of different, and interesting, reasons.
Belts, at their core, were intended to be worn for utility purposes. Personal equipment and weapons, especially during Medieval times and earlier, were heavy and bulky, making carrying them a difficult endeavor. While sacks and satchels were useful inventions to assist in carrying these items they were unruly, especially if the individual carrying these items needed them to be used in a hurry. In wartime situations, as well as in fieldwork and masonry, it was cumbersome and time consuming to have to pick through a bag in order to find the right tool for whatever the job may have been. Wearing a belt to hold tools such as hammers, daggers, swords, and small carrying pouches made it easier for people to locate and use needed items immediately, without worry of spending too much time during the process. These belts could be made of various materials, usually dependent on the social class of the individual wearing them, but also based upon the sort of work that was to be done and what was needed to be carried in them. Tanned leather, which offered resilience to harsh conditions, was used by professional soldiers and middle-class to wealthy individuals. Peasantry and the poor, unable to afford the cost of leather belts, often wore cloth or cord sashes that they could use to house small field tools.
Women in Medieval villages wore sashes as an additional to dresses, using the shaping feature of tightened belts to better accent their hips. This was a sign of beauty for women and the more elaborate the sash, the higher social status the women would assume. Elaborately crafted and expensive sashes were often worn during social gatherings, such as banquets and festivals, and could be made from a large variety of different materials depending on the wealth of the woman's family. Men would also wear elaborately decorative belts during such special occasions, as both a sign of their wealth but also as a recognizable icon of their status and as a means to draw closer visual attention to themselves.
Belts of all forms were excellent examples of fashion, used both in formal and informal situations, as a model of visual social status and class. While most belts were worn for practical purposes, such as to hold weapons during combat or by farmers to assist in field labor, others were used as a way for members of the aristocracy to assert their social dominance over the masses.