Belts have been documented both for male and female clothing since the Bronze age nearly always for decorative purposes depending on the fashion of the time. Also to hold items such as knives or tools.
In the militarain periods, particularly the later half of the 19th century and up until the First World War, the belt was strictly a decorative part of the uniform, particularly among officers. In the armed forces of Prussia, Crimea, and other Eastern European nations, it was common for officers to wear extremely tight, wide belts around the waist, on the outside of the uniform. These tightly cinched belts served to draw in the waist and give the wearer a trim physique, emphasizing wide shoulders and a pouting chest.
Often the belt served only to emphasize a waist made small by a corset worn under the uniform, a practice which was common especially during the Crimean Wars and was often noted by soldiers from the Western front. Political cartoonists of the day often portrayed the tight waist-cinching of soldiers to comedic effect, and some cartoons survive showing officers being corseted by their men, a practice which surely was uncomfortable but deemed to be necessary and imposing.
Men started wearing functional belts in the 1920s, as trouser waists fell to a lower, natural line. Today it is common for men to wear a belt with their trousers; women tend to still wear them for more decorative functions. Art Nouveau buckles are very collectable.
Snake belts were a simple idea two S shaped links on an elasticated band that simply lock together to hold in place. Ideal for children.
Belts are made from all sorts of different materials. Leather is the obvious one which has been hole punched, plaited embroidered and stamped over the years. During the 1940s and 50s belts covered in the same fabric as the dresses and suits gained popularity. Sometimes even the buckles were covered to match.
In the sixties chain belts were slung low on the hips, PVC was also a common material used. Suede hip belts, patchwork designs were popular. During the 80s belts crept back up to waist level. Soft and wide to cinch in the waist often with elaborated designs and rhinestones. Soft bum bags were also added to belts.
Belts with decoratice changeable buckles have been popular more recently depicting common logos for example Superman sign, Playboy bunnies and flags.