Re: What's in a belt?
Where I trained originally: white until shodan, hakama at shodan.
When I went to Japan: white until shodan, hakama at ikkyu but only at the home dojo and not when training elsewhere.
Where I'm training now: White until sankyu, brown until shodan, hakama as soon as you can afford it.
As a personal feeling, I believe mudansha (if training elsewhere) should follow the general guidelines of the dojo they visit. If only their yudansha wear hakama, it's probably best that you don't etc.