An Unusual Belt Design

My dad found an old belt in our house today. It wasn’t your usual black belt with uniformly distributed holes along the first third. No, it was much stranger. See for yourself:

Before today, I had never seen a belt designed with such staggered sections of holes. I’m no connoisseur of belts, especially regarding men’s belts which I guessed this belt must have been based on: a) its larger size, b) its lack of any aesthetically pleasing elements, which a women’s belt surely would require. Perhaps this segmented design is actually commonplace and I just didn’t know any better. Either way, my mind reeled with questions.

If it wasn’t more aesthetic, how was this design more functional? Who was the target audience of this belt? Was this more expensive to manufacture? How old was this belt? Was this just an outdated fashion style gone wrong? Where did we buy this belt from? Are there other belts like this? When is dinner going to be? The list goes on.

Really, it all boiled down to one, single question– why was this belt designed this specific way? I didn’t know much but I was pretty damn sure it was not a fluke. Rather, I believed (maybe hoped) that it was a conscious design decision to place the holes staggered at the exact intervals that they appeared.

My brother was skeptical and in fact, joked: “When you question the design of things that were never designed in the first place, you end up running around in circles.”

I had recently picked up the book, The Design of Everyday Things, and perhaps influenced by it, carried on with my little thought experiment.

Fact 0: Googling yielded few results. I searched “staggered holes belts,” “belts without holes,” “unusual belts,” etc. In response, I was linked to a smattering of useless pages including the wikipedia article for “Chastity belt,” a Google shopping result for a 14k gold belt buckle for $2,411 from Sears, and a blog article recommending “how to punch extra (non-crappy looking) holes into a belt.” Our problem was not yet solved.

Fact 1: This belt was marked an XL sized belt.

Fact 2: This belt fit waists of the ranges ~30-32” and ~38.5-43” (inches).

Fact 3: As of data from 2000, this belt works for 35% of the men and 35% of the women U.S. population, based on this percentile distribution of waist sizes.

[Yes, I pulled up Excel to make these graphs. Source: “Trends in Waist Circumference Among U.S. Adults,” Nature, 2003]

The crux of the question at this point was– why would the manufacturer design a belt to work for two disparate sides of the distribution and not for the majority? Why wouldn’t they just produce a belt with holes throughout the range 30” to 43” - this would have made the belt technically functional for a larger audience (the majority of the population), albeit made it awkwardly long for the skinny end of the target audience. Though, at the present moment, it still was excessively lengthy for those with 30” waists so if the current length was maintained- why didn’t the manufacturer provide the complete solution? Only reason would be if the manufacturer was solving for a different kind of problem, not trying to maximize its target audience.

5 Potential Reasons Why This Design Might Be More Optimal [1]

5) This design is cheaper to manufacture. Leather belts can be hand tooled and punched which means costs could (non) linearly increase based on the number of notches. However, non-equidistant hole spacing could increase the complexity of manufacturing, overturning any cost benefit. This reason seems highly unlikely.

4) This design improves the durability/strength of the belt. Fewer holes may mean a more durable belt due to preservation of the majority of the material. However, this reason seems to be a bit of a stretch…without clear scientific backing.

3) This product is an anomaly - a result of a manufacturing defect. Potentially, but it would have never made it all the way to a retail environment without being intercepted first.

2) This design is aesthetically superior. Not the strongest argument (a bit unfounded- this belt looks ugly- in my opinion) but not inconceivable. For this belt, the holes are only visible at the center when worn, instead of across the whole length of a normal belt. Somehow that could be more desirable - as evidenced by the (better designed) belt by Everlane below:

This was not our belt, however, as evidenced by the fact that our belt is affixed to its buckle.

1) This design simply facilitates price differentiation. The belt is marked as XL. XL (and larger) sizes tend to be most discounted due to overstock issues, at least based on anecdotal evidence that sales racks in retail stores always seem to be filled with XXXL-like sizes instead of normal ones. As the cheapest belt, the manufacturer didn’t want it to be usable (and thus be a substitutable belt) for the majority of the population – hence the design has limited holes for <38.5” waist sizes. But the key is, holes were introduced again for ~30-32” waist sizes in order to target the price sensitive skinnier customers who are willing to sacrifice exact fit for a super cheap belt. This targets another customer segment without jeopardizing the majority of the target audience.

Can you think of a better reason? Maybe the belt is just for aspirational XL size wearers - for those that one day thought they’d make it down to 30-32”. Hey, you might as well emotionally motivate your customers - as long as you force them to buy another belt in the interim ;)

[1] This list is clearly not MECE, despite my consulting upbringing.