What are the Different Types of Buckles?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Buckles can be distinguished both by their purpose and by the material they're made from. Some buckles are primarily functional, while others serve a decorative purpose.

Abalone shells with mother of pearl, which is often used to make buckles.
Abalone shells with mother of pearl, which is often used to make buckles.

Functional buckles are adjustable attachments that link two ends of a belt together or attach two straps. Because buckles are adjustable, they can be used to tighten or loosen an opening, as with a belt or the carrying straps on a backpack, or a closure can be secured, as with the straps on a satchel. They can also be used on straps to hold something in place securely.

Some buckles may include bead designs.
Some buckles may include bead designs.

Buckles are commonly used with items that we attach to our bodies: watches, belts, fanny packs, and backpack straps all characteristically have buckles, often made of metal or plastic, depending on the function and strength needed. Buckles of this kind are also found on riding saddles. Buckles used to close items include those for satchels, handbags, and knapsacks. Buckles used to help keep things in a particular place include those found on automobile and airplane safety belts, stroller and car seat straps, and straps found inside some pieces of travel luggage.

Ornamental buckles are widely available for belts and a popular item of Western clothing, specialty clothing that grew out of ranch and cowboy culture. Ornamental buckles may also be considered jewelry. Western buckles may include precious stones, precious metals such as gold and silver, or rhinestone decoration. Popular themes for Western buckles include abstract designs, scenes or objects from ranch life, or a word or initial. Commonly found are longhorn steer, horses, patriotically themed images, and words like cowgirl or cowboy up.

A specialty group is Native American belt buckles. Hopi, Zuni Pueblo, Navajo, and other Southwestern Indian jewelers are among those whose work in this area is widely known, and they often work in silver, turquoise, and sometimes beadwork. Artisan buckles are not limited to Western and Southwestern themes, however, and individual jewelers work in silver, legal ivory, mother of pearl, and a wide variety of gems, as well as pearls. One can also find antique buckles including Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and cloisonné pieces for belts, shoes, and capes, both available for sale and on display in museums.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


There are several different types of belt buckles. They range from the huge Texas state seal and oil derricks to the simple, elegant buckles. Buckles worn at the turn of the 20th Century are highly collectible items.

There are many belt buckle collectors today. There are companies, such as Hesston, that puts out a new, dated belt buckle every year. Those are a hot commodity in the collector’s world. Silver belt buckles have become very popular. Those with eagles, American flags, Confederate flags, and anything else patriotic have very much increased in popularity, as well.


@dinoleash: The famous cowboy belt buckle originated at the turn of the 20th Century. In reality, these great buckles were not the first choice of real cowboys. They were just not that comfortable when out riding on the prairie. Many of the cowboys wore suspenders or buckles that were similar to military friction buckles.

Hollywood’s famous western movies are what made the cowboy belt buckle so popular. Today, it is more commonly known as the Western Belt Buckle.


Does anyone know when the first cowboy buckle came around? We are doing some trivia in my history class and that was my question to answer.


'buckles hold things together and stuff, buckles come in different colors and sizes, sometimes buckles have stuff on them, buckles are for different things' - that's great and all, but what are the different styles called?

There's the kind that have the whole circumference of the buckle exposed, then there are the kind that have only one side. As a designer, I'd like to know if there are names for these different styles (and others) and possibly some background on them.

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