Thursday, June 25, 2015

In Review: Don't Mourn, Organize! Bridle Belt



Don't Mourn, Organize! Havana Belt
General

Some time ago, I learned that there are leather belts out there that don't suck. This came at a huge surprise to me as for decades I was buying whatever belts I could find around the mall when they went on sale - some reversible plasticky thing that felt more like a hard binder than a piece of leather. Time and normal use were not kind to them - they aged like old tupperware. Crap would flake off, the compressed leather will separate at seams, etc. It wasn't pretty.

So I wanted to get a good, tough-as-nails, Made in the USA casual belt made of quality leather I could wear for a long, long time. After I started researching the topic, my first stop was Orion Leather Belt Company, recommended as a good place to start and a great value for the money. Their belts are all made with top or full grain vegetable tanned leather, and they sport an impressive array of leathers, widths, colors, and finishing with generally very good feedback and loyal customers. I ordered a 1.5" tan leather show harness belt from them a while back that I've been really happy with. It's a slightly oily-feeling thick slab of leather, vegetable pit-tanned with a great pull-up effect - meaning as the leather bends certain parts become lighter due to the oils, waxes, and tallow.

A couple months later, I saw the Massdrop on Don't Mourn, Organize! I have come across Don't Mourn's work before and was always impressed. DMO is a one-man organization run by a guy named Scott working out of Utah who makes belts, small leather accessories, and bags. For some reason his website isn't up currently, but his old blog features a lot of beautiful custom work he's made in the past for customers. I'd been meaning to get another belt for some time, so was quick to jump on this drop after I heard he was making them.

Here's what I found.


Construction

 

Orion Belt Thickness vs. Don't Mourn, Organize!
There are three general types of saddlery leather - saddle, harness, and bridle. Intuitively, the names tell you exactly what they were initially developed for, though the descriptions and differences between the three can be confusing. Oversimplified, I've heard that saddle has the least amount of oils and wax, harness the next, and bridle the most.  Unfortunately, I've also read in different sources that some harness can have more than bridle, and both categories can be further split up into separate entities with their own characteristics (show harness vs. work harness, English bridle vs American bridle, etc). This "Havana" brown DMO belt is made of 100% vegetable pit-tanned English bridle leather, hand waxed and oiled.  The leather has both sides of the leather stuffed with a blend of fats and waxes, finished smooth on both sides. There's a slight white waxy film on some parts of the belt due to the saturation of the leather, which I'm told will settle into a matte finish. It is also very weather resistant as a consequence of its processing. It's stiff in hand, similar to the Orion show harness belt but thinner by maybe a millimeter or so.


Teardrop Belt Holes vs. Standard on Orion
Unlike the Orion belt, which has nickel button snaps, the DMO brass buckle is hand stitched to the belt using waxed polyester thread. This is obviously more time-intensive, and I was surprised to find it is considered by some leather workers to be a more lasting option vs. snaps or Chicago screws, albeit without the flexibility of being able to change out the buckle easily. You can see the DMO belt also has some great hand finished details - teardrop belt holes, hand beveled edges, and hand burnishing. Each belt is stamped on the back side of the buckle fold with the Don't Mourn logo, a nice touch that shows pride of craftsmanship.
Back Stitching and Logo Stamp





The brass buckle is a bit shinier than I thought it would be, but I expect it to settle out into more of a satin finish with wear. It also has a stainless steel tongue, which initially struck me as a bit odd aesthetically.  However, some searching revealed that stainless steel tongues are much stronger, with brass being a comparatively soft metal. So having a brass buckle with stainless steel tongue preserves the luster of brass while lending the superior toughness steel is able to offer. One thing I love about researching is finding out details someone has been thinking about for a long time that I never considered. It's the sort of thing that yields a lasting appreciation for well-engineered items and elegant design.

I would say there isn't a gigantic leap in the overall quality from my Orion to this Don't Mourn, Organize! belt, but it's definitely higher quality and finished to a more exacting and "loving" degree, if that makes sense.

Fit and Sizing

Belt sizing and pant sizing are not the same. While that may make sense, as they are measured differently, it isn't something that's obvious to someone not used to caring about their belts. On average, you go up ~2" from your waist size, but there's really no substitute for having a measuring tape around (and not just for belt measurements).

My actual waist size is ~33 inches (measured where my pants normally sit). I ordered a size 34 (choices between 34 and 36) and I usually sit in the second hole. I probably could have ordered a 36 but it might have put me at the fourth hole - ideally there would be a 35 option (sizing goes by even numbers). In any case, the belt is neither too short to leave a weird little nubbin nor too long to have a huge redundant flap going around my side.  1.5 inches is about the widest a standard belt loop is able to fit, but doesn't seem like it's stretching. For casual wear, the belt fits really well.




Impressions and Value

Don't Mourn, Organize! Belt vs. Orion Show Harness
Most casual belts you would run into in a random mall are just flat out bad, in my opinion. As a functional tool, it's true I haven't had any fail to hold up my pants, but in many respects you could say the same thing about wearing a potato sack with a hole poked in the top instead of a real shirt. I've had my Orion belt for several months, and besides a few scuffs and being a bit more malleable it's worn in beautifully for me. I have no doubt the Don't Mourn, Organize! Bridle belt should do the same. The great thing about great leather is that it ages so beautifully, developing character over time one could argue is more attractive than a new product.

The average belt from Banana Republic, J. Crew, Gap, etc. will put you back about $30 if you buy it on sale (which I'm assuming you would be as you're an intelligent person). A belt at Orion will run you anywhere between ~$40-$60 (occasionally less on sale) and I bought my Don't Mourn/Massdrop belt for $57 shipped (usual prices are slightly higher than this at $75, though there is another group buy going on right now at Massdrop open for a few more days, with delivery in early August). I think both Orion and Don't Mourn charge fair prices for good work at their retail prices. At approximately the same price, the Don't Mourn, Organize! belt wins for finer finishing. At MSRP, I would approximate the difference in value as equivocal.  You can't go wrong with either.

*Update 10/22/15 - now a couple of months later, I can say I've found that I've been wearing my DMO belt a hell of a lot, and definitely more than my Orion, though that speaks more to the quality of the Don't Mourn belt than any deficiencies on Orion's part. Still a good buy on both counts, in my book.
*Updated 11/15/15 with fit pictures

Things I Liked

Solid build construction and craftsmanship
Quality leather
Thoughtful details
Ages gracefully and takes on more character with time

Things I Didn't Like

Two-toned buckle not optimal aesthetically, though very hard to see once buckled
Stitching precludes changing the buckle, if that is your type of thing
In general not available immediately at time of purchase (though this is obviously subject to change)

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