Belt Buckle Market “Cohorts”

In the 1980s belt buckle manufacturers adapted to the changing interests and lifestyles of their customers, producing belt buckles in new designs and themes. Manufacturers recognized the presence of customer “cohorts” in the marketplace. Young adults of the 1970s were growing older, starting careers and families. So, belt buckles featuring the jobs and professions grew in popularity, and new fathers would trade out their hippie-era accessories for a “Dad” buckle. Companies also began to recognize the power of advertising through clothing, and buckles featuring the names and logos of businesses were used as freebies and promotional items in a variety of American industries. Similarly, buckles were produced and given to workers to commemorate corporate achievements or as awards for meeting productivity goals. For example, this solid brass buckle set, produced by buckle-maker BTS, was awarded to employees at Pepsi as part of a sales rally event. Some new buckle manufacturers emerged and found success in producing small batches of corporate buckles. Anacortes Brass Works produced many solid brass buckles for construction and oil & gas companies to commemorate major projects or meeting safety goals.


Belt Buckle Collecting

It was also in the 80s that belt buckle collecting gained traction. Clubs formed around the hobby and there were even two magazines for buckle collectors. One was called Buckle News, by Walton and Mary Ballew. The other, called Buckle Buddies, was published monthly by Jan Rath who also organized an annual convention where collectors met to buy, sell, and trade belt buckles. The event was much like what we see today in the market of shoes and “sneakerheads”. An annual series of buckle buddies belt buckles was also produced to commemorate the event. Most buckle collectors specialized in a certain theme or lifestyle interest as the basis of their collection such as. One example is collecting of the Hesston Rodeo Final buckle series which started in 1974 and still continues today. [1]

Manufacturers aligned with the collector’s market by producing sets of limited-edition belt buckles. Award Design Medals and Tony Lama produced several of these large series that featured US states, cattle breeds, western firearms, and other themes. Companies like Bergamot brass works also created annual commemorative lines of buckles for some careers/organizations including law enforcement and the US Postal Service.

1980s Artwork and Styles

Artists continued using belt buckles as a medium for sculpture and design in the 1980s. Hippie themes such as psychedelia and nature-inspired designs waned and made way for more and minimalistic, geometric, and brutalist patterns. Buckles from David Mills Bowman and those signed “ISIS” are good examples of the progression of style from the 70s into the 80s. In addition to high-profile studio artists, there were many amateur craftsmen that produced one of a kind belt buckles at home workshops and garages. Pewter was more commonly used because of its of its low melting point (relative to brass) and did not require advanced foundry equipment. The quality and style of artisan buckles varied from folk art made from modified forks and water spigots to polished stones and fossils specimens.
Other artists used casting resins to encapsulate wood carvings and objects to create clever and unique buckles. Von West manufactured buckles-originally using Tech Ether Guild brass belt buckle blanks-by filling them with exotic woods, fishing lures, watch parts, and other objects encased in clear resin (after the Tech Ether Guild closed, they switched to gold plated blanks). Other artists used rattlesnake skins, turquoise stones, porcupine quills, insects, and bullets captured in resin to make unique belt buckles.


[1] “A History of Hesston NFR Belt Buckles” Buckles of Estes, www.bucklesofestes.com/hesston_history.htm.