I am surprised how frequently the questions I am asked centre around one object of clothing: brown shoes. This is because men’s certainty about the alternative (black shoes) creates a spectrum of worries as to how, when and where they should be worn.

It’s really not that difficult.

brown-shoes-gray

First, forget all that ‘never brown in town’ rubbish. Do you wear a dark suit to work everyday (usually a three-piece), keep the jacket on throughout and always pair it with a sober tie? Then you’re breaking far more recent rules than the brown/town one – which was established when brown was a sure sign that a man was loping off to his country estate after work.

Modern business attire is far more flexible. Understand the spirit of archaic rules, rather than blindly following the letter.

Second, black shoes are an English thing. Yes they mean business everywhere, but other countries (Italy, US) accepted the benefits of brown leather years ago. You wear an Armani suit and a Ralph Lauren shirt. Why stick obstinately to an English tradition?

So, what to wear them with? Navy and mid-grey are my favourites. Avoid lighter blues and darker greys (charcoal). There is no particular rationale for this, but those tones benefit in particular from having a colour in the shoe they are worn with. Black is not a colour; it may serve to enrich the colour it is worn with, but it is not a colour itself.

Those are some basic cloth suggestions. The important thing to remember is that the same guidelines on shoes elsewhere also apply to brown – indeed if anything they are more important there.

One is that your shoes should always be darker than your suit trousers. If tan shoes are being worn more casually, there is some leeway there. But don’t wear tan shoes with a navy suit. Try a chocolate brown instead and you’ll realise what the Italians are going on about – why they embolden each other.

(I have seen several men in recent days actually wearing black suits with tan shoes. I only hope that has happened through a lack of thought. How someone could think those two would complement each other is beyond me.)

A second guideline to bear in mind is that brown shoes are still not as smart as black. Yes, they are accepted; but no, they are not a replacement. If you’re in doubt about what to wear to a meeting, wear black. If you’re in doubt what to wear with odd trousers, wear brown. Use your judgement and aesthetic nouse for everything in between.

Some people still dislike brown shoes for being inelegant. Part of the reason I like them so much is probably the greater possibilities for patina and polish. Whatever your reason, think through their use logically using these guidelines and you can’t go wrong.

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
74 Comments
Oldest
Newest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
neil

Another great nugget of style wisdom.

Quick Q: do you have info on the trousers and shoes in the image? They’re both gorgeous

keep up the good work!

Horatio

Great advice and encouragement, as always.

Let us not forget burgundy shoes! The red tones of burgundy, merlot, oxblood, and “cordovan” [sic] go nicely with navy, most blues, and cool grays, as well as rose-tinted browns. Such shoes also pair fabulously with clothes that have a red overcheck in them.

(Strictly speaking, cordovan is a kind of leather; it is traditionally dyed maroon, and the name of the leather has transferred to the color it is most often found in.)

rnssnc

totally agree, brown/tan and black can never go, EXCEPT you see these horse riding black boots with brown at the top that just looks amazing in my humble opinion… bit off topic… haha

Horatio

rnssnc,

Of course black and brown/tan don’t go together–unless you’re an Airedale, a Welsh Terrier, or a Guinness and a Bass ;-).

But you wouldn’t wear black pants except as part of your tuxedo, and who ever heard of brown or tan patent leather opera pumps?

Sinatra's Shadow

Sorry Simon, your picture just demonstrates WHY brown doesn’t go with grey! However, with blue is a different matter, but it will always look less formal.

Brian

Nice. Its like an SEO Bicol, Full of fun and excitement.

byron

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Hazel Johnson

nice information thanks for sharing this wonderful information. I will follow your tips.

________________
Seo Bicol

Davidikus

In some places (Paris, for example; in Rome too), it is often considered very inelegant to wear black shoes with navy. The reason is: one should never two colours that are very similar but not identical (the ban also applies to wearing two different shades of dark grey, or two “blacks” which are not exactly identical). For similar reasons; I think the brown shoes should definitely contrast slightly with the trousers (hence why brown shoes very seldom, if ever, work with black or charcoal).

http://davidikus.blogspot.com/

Michael Gill

Simple rule here folks:
Blue suit » brown shoes
Non-dark grey » brown shoes
Dark grey » black shoes
Black suit » black shoes

If it isn’t dark grey or black, then go brown.

Anonymous

Brown shoes go with black trousers, as long as your wearing a brown belt to match

Anonymous

But what color belt? Black or brown?

OwenB

Simon,

I do also like to pair my mid-grey suit with tan.

Do you think Oxblood is acceptable in a work environment? If so, what colour suits could you pair them with?

Thanks

Anonymous

Hi Simon, I need to choose a leather colour for my next pair of Australian RM Williams elastic sided boots to go with dark blue jeans. They can make any boot in any of ‘their’ leathers and with more or less any sole. I have a pair of their black boots but they are too dark for jeans, especially in an Australian climate. I’d like something that doesn’t need to look too cared for but looks better with age. I’d appreciate you spending four or five hours of your time looking through their website to match leather with sole colour/type.
I fancied their Sandstone Craftsman boot but a little darker, but the Sandstone colour is lighter than the dark blue jeans. Over to you and thanks.

Anonymous

Hi Simon, RM Williams hand make made to measure boots and claim thalf for over four million combinations, hence the possible time sink. Luckily, I’m toying with only three variables – 1. Elastic sided boot in Tambo (wide fitting), 2. Brown ( casual, but not too dark or too flat), 3. Sole type: leather in natural (light in colour) or dark brown. I like the idea of a boot that looks and feels well made but is not too precious. Kangaroo in tan looks good in print but is a little too grainy and slightly Thin and saggy. The thicker, oilier leathers don’t take to being polished and are unlined.
Our recent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd wears RMs in black, they are quite the thing here in Australia. Steven

Anonymous

Walnut shoes with a navy suit is not only acceptable, but a classic look.

Also, the term “black” for suits is used too liberally. I assume charcoal grey was what was meant. Black suits are worn only in the evening or to funerals, mob hits or Dickensian period reenactments.

Shoes

I really would not recommend that you do this! Brown and Black clash, in my opinion. There are some that would disagree with me, and you can even find garments that combine black and brown patterns on the fabric. However, I really think it is in bad taste. Especially when combining black shoes with brown pants. That’s a no-no.

There are great brown dress shoes that you can pair with brown pants, and they should be a staple in your wardrobe!

Andrew Z

simon, thank you for advice! What about “smart casual” cocktail receptions in clubs or hotel bars after 6pm? Does the old rule: no brown shoes after dark still works? Particular options: Brown monks with a buckle. Tan semi derbies?

Phyls

I disagree, the key is contrast and setting, in a formal setting black shoes is a must, however in a more relaxed setting, wine bar, casual dinner then a dark / black suit goes quite well with a light brown shoe, look online and you will see that it is becoming increasingly common to see this combination (Ryan Gosling in crazy stupid love) , David Beckham and a few others have rocked this look successfully . I have personally worn a black slim fitting boss suit with tan brown loake shoes and got many complements. To make this combination work ALWAYS match your leathers, so wear a belt of the same colour as your shoes, perhaps brown club-masters or watch band, no tie and a couple of buttons undone. It looks great.
Men are increasingly trying new thing sartorially we must embrace change and not stick to convention.

REMEMBER FIT IS KING. Get that right and almost everything is permissable………..almost 🙂

Nico

Simon, no challenge on light shoes with dark suits or whatever black, but what about tan / biscuit odd jacket + dark navy trousers + walnut / cognac shoes? Contrast up and down. Behind the question is the fact that I own these items and would like to see more use for them. Also I get a bit weary of dark brown shoes through AW and have a penchant for lights in summer.
Thanks!

Anonymous

So with this suit, I shouldn’t wear a dark brown shoe or boot? http://bananarepublic.gap.com/browse/product.do?cid=85424&vid=1&pid=905587002

Edward Roberts

I have just brought a light gray suit and light brown shoes but not keen but the suit is for a wedding I’m going to any help I would love it.

Edward Roberts

They are a tan colour

Edward Roberts

And the suit is a light gray

Edward Roberts

Thanks

CJ

Hi Simon,

Long time reader, first-time commenter – many thanks for your blog, it’s a great resource!

What colour shoes would you pair with this suit: http://eu.suitsupply.com/en_GB/suits/washington-light-grey-plain/P3690.html?vpid=P369015

I’m looking to invest in my first pair of proper English shoes (Church’s Hong Kong or London) and am torn between black or brown. My other suit is dark blue. While the brown would definitely work with the blue, I’m not sure how well it would pair with the grey? By way of background, I’m a lawyer but would also like to wear the shoes in social settings.

I’d eventually like to have a pair in black and brown, but which should I buy first?

Many thanks!

CJ

Great, thanks Simon!

JA

Hi Simon. I really like Carmina’s Shell Cordovan in Navy and also Green. Do these colours ever work with formal or semi formal outfits (suits and odd trousers)?

Thanks!

JA

Many thanks Simon. A shame as midnight blue and bottle green looks so good on the shelf but good advice, I’ll give the dark red a try.

Ben Johnson

Hi Simon,

If you were going to get one pair of leather shoes, and didn’t need formal black ones, would it be ebony brogues? e.g.
http://www.church-footwear.com/uk/en/collection/men/A13999XMF0AEV

How about walnut?
http://www.church-footwear.com/uk/en/collection/men/A13999XMF0AAR
Would that go with a navy suit, navy chinos and mid-grey flannels/chinos?

Steven

Hi Simon,

Occasional reader and first-time commenter!

I own a pair of black calf leather tassel loafers from Santoni, which would seem like the safe choice, given your advice, for pairing with a dark charcoal suit. Yet, i fear being ‘safe’ . I am in the midst of purchasing http://www.crockettandjones.com/product/cavendish-darkbrown-suede
and i am aware of the faux pax of pairing brown with black or charcoal, yet i am curious as towards your thoughts on pairing the above C&J loafers with a dark charcoal suit.
Keep up the outstanding work!

Harry

Hi Simon,

Today I purchased a pair of C&J Sydney loafers, in dark brown/chestnut calf leather. The intention is to use this pair as a middle man between some black oxfords (for the office during the week) and some brown chukkas (mainly weekends). I’m a bit torn however, as matching them with different trouser options upon coming home, they were more complementary with the worsted suit trousers I have (obviously being calf leather) but they didn’t quite match as well as I’d thought with my navy or tan (Incotex) chinos that I might wear on the weekend or for more casual days in office. To cut a long story short, the alternative pair was going to still be the Sydney’s but in snuff suede or the Hallam’s in espresso suede (which is the same last as my oxfords). I guess it depends on what side of the scale you wish to be on in terms of formal to casual, and my preference is to almost be bang in the middle! I’m thinking that the Hallam’s could be a better option as you can have the casualness of the suede but with the more formal appearance of an Oxford, as opposed to a loafer. Sorry for the long winded background but I thought that trying to achieve this middle ground area with the effect of ‘killing as many birds with one stone as possible’, was worth exploring a bit more and I’d be very interested (as always) to get your thoughts.

Many thanks,
Harry

Peter S

Hey there, very interesting article. I found it as I was tying to find out how to combine my navy blue suit for my wedding. It is a three piece, at first I was considering black as I thought it is more formal but now I am more inclined towards a brown/tan color. What is your opinion, will it be too informal as I will be the groom or you think it is acceptable?

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

Your reluctance to combine brown shoes with “lighter blues” gave me some pause. When I wear very light blue (almost white) trousers, particularly casually, brown and tan shoes seem very appropriate, and black shoes out of place. Non-navy blue or lighter-navy suits (e.g., mid-blue suits like the Whitcomb & Shaftesbury suit you recently featured) seem to do quite nicely with brown, as well as black, shoes. Are my eyes completely awry here?

Anonymous

What about chocolate browns with lighter navy and mid-blues?

D TAYLOR

Hi Simon

Some sound advice on here – my question (which has got a few in the studio rattled):
What are your thoughts on pairing a pair of burgundy (Grenson) brogues with a dark navy suit for a wedding?

DAN

D TAYLOR

Numbers wise it’s a small wedding affair at a private manor however, I am one of three Best Men. The suit colour has been decided by the bride & Groom with shoe options open to the wearer.

I’ve got what some would call a unique style so I wanted to avoid the old Oxford dark brown shoe and navy suit combo – but I guess classics are classic for good reason.

Hmmmm…

Eshika Roy

Thank you for sharing this helpful post about the best way to wear brown shoes. I got a lot of useful info about the latest trends in men’s fashion. Please keep on sharing more helpful tips and suggestions in the upcoming posts.

Anonymous

Simon,

I’m trying to decide between a pair of desert boots in either dark brown suede or snuff suede. I have trousers in navy, grey, brown (taupe) and white and I’d like to have the freedom to wear the shoes with all the trousers. Do you think a dark brown suede would be too strong of a contrast with a white trouser?

Zach

Hi Simon,

I seem to recall in one of your other posts you wearing chocolate brown shoes with charcoal pants. I’m guessing that it is okay to match brown shoes with charcoal, as long as it isn’t a charcoal suit, yes?

Anonymous

Hi Simon, I have a few questions in regards of the article.
– I currently own three pair of odd trousers. Light grey, mid grey and charcoal grey. I normally would
pick one of them to pair with my navy / mid blue jacket. Should I go for black / brown adeleaine oxford?
– Does the rule still applies on jeans? For instance, would dark brown adelaine / double monk work with black jeans?
– What are your thoughts on midnight navy calf leather shoes like this? Given its dark color nature, would it be as vesatile as dark brown? https://www.instagram.com/p/Bg1PEVZBw7Y/

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

Would you recommend dark brown shoes over black shoes for odd jacket trouser, even if the trouser is in charcoal?

Cheers

Alex N.

Dear Simon,
I would like to echo the insecurity about wearing brown shoes. I just recently got my first pair of darkish brown shoes and was so apprehensive about how to wear them with suits. With navy suit they are absolutely stunning. I couldn’t believe I had any worries about it. I am typically quite conservative, but think they are appropriate companions to serious suits. Mine are a plain cap toe Oxford which I was also apprehensive about as I thought that perhaps because they are brown they should be at least half-adelaides. I find that they work quite well especially with a suit but are still good companions to odd trousers. Don’t regret buying them at all and am looking forward to adding more brown to my Shoe wardrobe.
Best
Alex N.

NICO

Hi Simon,
Could I expect ordinary polishing (no specific patinating techniques) of cognac / walnut shoes with a darker cream eg walnut to result in a permanent mid brown hue of the leather? Not a lot, just enough to increase the range of “not darker than shoes” trousers colours. The reason to ask is that there is a shoe style I really like but only available in cognac, which could be pretty limitating.