How to Wear a NATO Strap (and Why You Totally Should)

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Admittedly, there are some guys who think that time spent learning how to wear a NATO style strap is not time well spent.

How to Wear a Nato Strap

But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the (handsome) devil is in the details.

Guys who aren’t willing to learn the more esoteric aspects of menswear and dig deep into topics like NATO watch straps probably aren’t very well dressed—and they’re definitely not James Bond (more on that below).

Fortunately for the rest of us, the guys who tend to stand out most from the crowd are the ones who are willing to dig a little deeper. 

And more fortunately still, NATO straps make it pretty easy to stand out.

In this post I’ll explain the best way to properly wear a NATO strap, show you where to get these classic (and, if I dare add, kick-ass) men’s style staples, and give you a bit of history to help explain why you should.

How to Wear a NATO Strap

(And more importantly, how to rock one)

A (Quick) Bit of History:

What is a NATO strap?

A Nato strap watch with a Pepsi dial
[image: Paul Cuoco / Unsplash]

Originally developed for the British special forces, a NATO strap – also sometimes called a G10 strap or a Zulu strap, although there are some subtle differences between the two – is a watch strap made from a single piece of material, which slides underneath the watch case.

The original NATO strap was made from nylon, but in recent years the number of options has expanded, and now you can find everything from a leather watch strap to canvas, polyester and perlon options on the market today.

From a practical standpoint, it’s both one of the most comfortable straps you can choose, and safer than attaching a watch case in the traditional way.

A single-pass strap like a NATO ensures that the watch remains attached to your wrist, even if one of the spring bars used in a standard watch strap happens to break.

But from a fashion standpoint, the real beauty of these watch bands is that they let you easily swap out your current watch strap with a new NATO strap in a different color or material.

It’s is a great way to change up the look of your watch without having to buy a whole new one, or needing a spring bar tool or any other kind of special tools.

In addition to its relative inexpensiveness, the fact that the modern NATO strap evokes the original military watch straps is also a plus.

Many a classic look owes its origins to a military uniform, including aviator sunglasses, bomber jackets, dive watches, trench coats and more.

Now that we know what a NATO strap is and where it comes from, let’s take a closer look

Step 1:
How to Put on a NATO Strap

How to Wear a Nato Strap

Physically attaching the strap to your wrist is fairly straightforward, but if you’re completely unfamiliar with the process, Crown & Buckle provides a perfect little primer.

Here are the steps they recommend:

  1. Slide the long end of the strap through the buckle, and secure the buckle using the appropriate sizing hole on the strap.
  2. Next, pass the “tail” of the strap upwards through both of the keepers. For most wrist sizes, there will be excess strap sticking upwards. …
  3. The last step is to take that excess bit of strap tail, and fold it backwards into the keeper a second time. This step will hold the tail of the strap tucked in neat and tidy.
  4. You can tuck the tip of the strap in either direction. Tucking inward is a cleaner look, but this may not work for very small wrists.

Need a little more help? Here’s a great little video I found on YouTube that lays it all out:

Step 2:
How to (Not Just Wear, but Absolutely) Rock a NATO Strap

Learning how to wear a NATO strap is one thing; learning how to rock one is another.

To help you with the latter, below you’ll find three ways to wear a NATO that make both the strap, and the guy it’s strapped to (hint: that’s you!), look great.

Look 1: Casual Cool

How to Wear a Nato Strap
Photo via Pinterest

NATOs are perfect warm weather watches, which means they pair well with the kind of casual outfits you often wear in spring and summer.

Fortunately, the best way to rock this look is also one of the easiest to pull off:

A short- or long-sleeve tee in a dark color like blue or black, a pair of jeans or khakis, and a NATO watch with a white face and a pop of color in the strap itself.

For this look, the Timex Weekender is perfect. I’ve raved about the Weekender at length elsewhere, but what makes it perfect here is the sheer number of straps available.

You can pick up four or five different straps to pair with the classic simplicity of the white (or black) watch face, and essentially get a half dozen durable, stylish watches for less than the price of one leather-strapped variety.

Look 2: Business/Smart Casual

How to Wear a Nato Strap
Photo via Pinterest

One of the great thing about NATO straps and watches is their versatility. 

Not only can you take the exact same watch and dress it up or down, you can also swap out the NATO band or the watch case to create a whole new look.

The “smart casual” look offers the most versatility and options in terms of watch choice:

You can easily get away with wearing the sort of dressier watch that would look good with a suit, or you can throw on the exact same casual option you’d rock with shorts and a tee.

One good in-between option here is the Timex Weekender Chrono.

It has basically all the same advantages of the regular Weekender, but because it’s a chronograph, it looks just a little more sophisticated.

I particularly love the blue face chrono paired with a brown leather NATO strap, a classic and masculine color combo that pairs well with the shirts and sweaters that make up your smart casual wardrobe.

Look 3: With a Suit or More Formal Attire

How to Wear a Nato Strap

The NATO’s traditional nylon strap definitely makes it a more casual option, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be paired with a more formal outfit—James Bond even wore one with a tuxedo, as you’ll read below.

The key is choosing a sleek and sophisticated watch case to go with your strap.

One of my favorite, most sophisticated NATOs is the Classic Glasgow from Daniel Wellington.

The watch head itself looks like something even those of us without a license to kill could wear with a tux, and the blue and white strap perfectly blends sophistication with comfort.

When wearing a NATO with a suit I actually prefer a sleek nylon strap like the DW one above over a leather strap, which is traditionally considered more formal.

The reason is the width of the band: NATO straps are a uniform 20 or 18 millimeters in width, and don’t taper off to a point the way more formal watch straps do.

For this reason, the leather versions tend to look more casual, at least in my humble opinion.

What is a NATO watch strap?

How to Wear a Nato Strap
[image: Alexander Andrews / Unsplash]

Unlike traditional watch straps, a NATO strap is a one-piece strap that slides underneath the watch case (which is what watch aficionados call the clock part), rather than two separate pieces that emanate from the case’s top and bottom.

Designed by the British Ministry of Defense, the NATO strap offers a few advantages over the traditional design.

First, because it’s all one piece, it’s a lot less likely to break or fall off, which is a helpful feature whether you’re ducking for cover in a trench or cannon-balling into a pool.

How to Wear a Nato Strap

Second, NATO watches allowed soldiers to escape the weather-related pitfalls of other watches.

As Fortune magazine explains, “It’s great on hot days because the nylon wicks moisture away from the skin.”

The straps were originally issued in nylon, making NATO watches lighter weight (and thus perfect for those aforementioned hot days), and a lot more affordable.

Today you can find them in almost any material, including nylon straps and leather straps, and at almost any price point.

The bottom line? NATO straps provide a great, lightweight, and usually more casual watch option that still looks great and evokes a classically masculine, military-inspired sense of style.

But, what’s the deal with the name??

How to Wear a Nato Strap

If you’re wondering what one of the most classic men’s watch styles has to do with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, you might be surprised to learn that the answer is “surprisingly little.”

Most guys (myself very much included) assume that the strap must have been issued to NATO troops, and took its name from the organization.

But while NATO straps definitely have military roots, they actually have nothing to do with the North Atlantic (or any other part of it, for that matter).

Gear Patrol provides an excellent explanation of the NATO strap’s origin, including how they developed their (actually somewhat misleading) moniker:

Interestingly enough, the term “NATO strap” came into use as a shortened version of NATO Stocking Number (NSN), and otherwise has very little to do with the strap carrying its namesake. The more appropriate name for the “NATO” strap is actually the “G10”… In 1973, “Strap, Wrist Watch” made its debut in the British Ministry of Defence Standard (DefStan) 66-15. For soldiers to get their hands on one, they had to fill out a form known as the G1098, or G10 for short. Subsequently, they could retrieve the strap at their unit’s supply store of the same name.

Why the name “NATO strap” became more prevalent than “G10” in the popular consciousness is a bit of a mystery, especially because NATO had so little to do with it.

Maybe other NATO countries just wanted to ape the stylish watches worn by the British Military (and who could blame them)?

Wait, didn’t you say something about James Bond?

How to Wear a Nato Strap

Oh yeah! Thanks for reminding me.

As with so many other menswear staples, we have 007 to thank for propelling the NATO strap into the pantheon.

In 1964’s Goldfinger, Sean Connery rocked a Rolex on what appeared to be a navy blue NATO strap decked out with red and green stripes, which has come to be known as the James Bond NATO strap.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t love everything Connery wore as Bond (cough, onesie, cough cough).

But a Rolex case on an otherwise casual strap with a pop of color? That I can get behind.

How to Wear a Nato Strap

More recently, Daniel Craig’s Bond has revived an updated Bond’s NATO strap look, as he has with many of Connery’s most classic styles.

In Spectre, Craig’s Bond can be seen sporting an Omega with a super sleek black and grey NATO strap.

And here’s the great thing about NATO straps:

While the actual Omega Seamaster 300 Craig sports in the movie will cost you more than three grand just for a used model, a black and grey nylon NATO strap that looks nearly identical to Craig’s will cost less than 20 bucks.

So if you don’t have the full support of the Queen’s treasury at your disposal, fear not: you can still look like Bond on a budget—and for literally one one-thousandth of the price!

More Men’s Watch Advice and OtherRecos from Irreverent Gent:

About Dave Bowden

Dave Bowden

Founder, Irreverent Gent
Author, Man in Command and Stop Doubting, Start Dating
Writer, Really Wordy Author Bios

Dave Bowden is a style blogger, menswear expert and best-selling author (in Canada—but still!) whose advice on how to look good and live well has been featured in New York Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Men's Health and more.

When not obsessing over style and self-improvement, he can usually be found spending time with his wonderful wife and two amazing sons, indulging in a hoppy craft beer, or sobbing over the woeful state of Toronto's sports teams.

Check out Dave's Style Story to find out how a chance encounter with his friend's step-dad taught him the value of looking good and living well (don't worry—it's less creepy than it sounds!), or email him at [email protected] if you want to get in touch.

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