top of page


Belt Buckle Market “Cohorts”

In the 1980s, belt buckle manufacturers responded to the evolving interests and lifestyles of their customers by creating new designs and themes. They acknowledged the presence of customer segments in the market. As the young adults of the 1970s aged, started careers, and formed families, belt buckles featuring professions became increasingly popular, and new fathers would exchange their hippie-era accessories for a "Dad" buckle. Companies also began to appreciate the influence of advertising through clothing and started using buckles with business names and logos as promotional items in various industries. Furthermore, corporations produced buckles as gifts for employees to celebrate company milestones or reward productivity goals. For instance, this solid brass buckle set made by BTS was presented to Pepsi employees during a sales rally event. Some new buckle manufacturers emerged and found success in producing limited-edition corporate buckles, such as Anacortes Brass Works, which created solid brass buckles for major projects or safety achievements in construction and oil & gas industries.


Belt Buckle Collecting Takes Off

The 1980s saw a rise in the popularity of belt buckle collecting. Clubs were formed for enthusiasts and two magazines dedicated to the hobby were even published: "Buckle News" by Walton and Mary Ballew and "Buckle Buddies," which was released monthly by Jan Rath. Rath also organized an annual convention for collectors to buy, sell, and trade buckles, much like today's shoe and "sneakerhead" events. An annual series of buckle buddies belt buckles was also produced to commemorate the event.Most collectors focused on a specific theme or lifestyle interest, such as the "Hesston Rodeo Final Buckle Series," which began in 1974 and continues today. [1]


Manufacturers aligned with the collector's market by producing sets of limited-edition belt buckles. By offering these rare items, manufacturers created a sense of exclusivity and scarcity, which fueled demand among collectors. Award Design Medals and Tony Lama, for example, produced several large series of limited-edition belt buckles featuring themes such as US states, cattle breeds, western firearms, and others. Companies like Bergamot Brass Works also created annual commemorative lines of buckles for specific careers and organizations, including law enforcement and the US Postal Service. These limited-edition sets were a highly effective marketing tool that helped to drive demand among collectors, making them an important aspect of the belt buckle industry in the 1980s.

1980s Artwork and Styles

In the 1980s, artists continued to use belt buckles as a medium for sculpture and design. The bohemian designs inspired by nature and psychedelia that were popular in the 70s were replaced by more minimalistic, geometric, and brutalist patterns. David Mills Bowman and "ISIS" signed buckles represent the shift in style from the 70s to the 80s. Alongside prominent studio artists, there were also many amateur craftspeople who created one-of-a-kind buckles in their home workshops and garages. Pewter was favored due to its low melting point (compared to brass), which made it easier to work with, but the quality and style of these artisan buckles varied greatly, from rough-hewn folk art to polished stone specimens. Some artists used casting resins to encase objects and create unique buckles, like Von West, which filled its buckles with exotic woods and other objects encased in resin. Others used natural materials such as rattlesnake skins, turquoise stones, porcupine quills, insects, and bullets encased in resin to make original belt buckles.


[1] “A History of Hesston NFR Belt Buckles” Buckles of Estes,

bottom of page