how to wear tan shoes

Dear Simon,

As with your other readers who write, let me say how much I enjoy your posts, columns, etc. They are fun to read and informative. All your posts on shoes, and brown shoes in particular, have been very useful, and I am slowly building a shoe collection. I am now thinking of getting a pair of tan shoes, such as the Grensons pictured above.

However, one line from your 29 July 2009 post “How to wear brown shoes” haunts me a bit. After making the observation that shoes should be darker than the trousers, you write: ‘If tan shoes are being worn more casually, there is some leeway there.’

But what exactly does that mean – what is the “leeway”? 

I dress casually for work (blazers, sweaters, etc) and am not in danger of wearing tan shoes with a suit or with charcoal, and I thought a pair of tan shoes might add some nice colour and diversity to my collection. But I want to make sure they can still be worn with a range of clothes and colours – where is the limit, would you say? 


how to wear tan shoes2

Hi Joel,

It’s a great question, and one I don’t think I’ve ever really addressed before. As you say, the rule-of-thumb with formal wear is that your shoes should be darker than your trousers – hence black usually with charcoal, brown with mid-grey, and tan shoes only with very pale grey or cream. (They are particularly popular with white trousers, as above.)

The reason we pay attention to such tone-matching in formal clothing (suits, business attire etc) is that the overall effect should be one of clean, simple elegance – an easy harmony that reflects the importance of the occasion. We don’t deal that much in strong colours or deliberate clashes. 

It sounds like you know all this, but it bears repeating. For that that ‘leeway’ you refer to is a question of assessing this formality in the rest of the outfit. If you’re wearing a grey-cashmere crewneck sweater, for example, and nice denim, then there’s nothing wrong with tan shoes. Indeed, tan goes particularly well with denim, which is one reason for its popularity. The contrast between indigo denim and tan leather, however, would not be suited to a smart outfit. The strength and clash of colour could not be considered formal enough. 

Denim is obviously a casual cloth, given its roughness and body, but when it comes to assessing other trousers you might own – chinos, moleskins, corduroys – you have to use your own judgement. Things to consider include the smoothness of the cloth, the finish or ‘wash’, and the addition of extraneous details such as patch pockets. For example, my Albam chinos are definitely less formal than those from Incotex. The former are rougher, washed to be faded in places, and use contrast details such as white rubber buttons. 

The blazers you mention are more likely to be on the formal end of the spectrum, but then if they are cotton, washed and loose, like Boglioli, they move down a few notches. Anything workwear-inspired (including many at Albam) similarly.

I hope that helps. It is impossible to give an exhaustive guide to formality, but I think you have enough tools to make a good stab at it. And if the outfit is informal enough, tan shoes certainly go with a range of clothes and colours – so no fear there.


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An interesting post, that to my mind further raises a question of trousers. Like Joel, I’m dressed quite casually at work. I like to look nice – but not out of place. That usually means I’m wearing cotton trousers (all sorts of them – chinos, courdroys etc.). I also find that cotton trousers often are more durable and even comfortable. So my question for Simon is this: What are the “best” and most good-looking cotton trousers out there?


For fear of being seen as over dressed or trying too hard I think Simon.
unfortunately, we aren’t all seen as menswear aficionados to be able to get away with dressing like that regularly. It’s the sad sorry truth.


Thanks so much Simon–that is very helpful. One quick question: at what point would another shade of brown become to dark? For example, based on your answer I could see wearing a darker green, more casual blazer or sweater, but perhaps not either in dark Brown.


Yes, that is what I meant. Thanks again.



@Anonymous, I think it’s a question of balance. I too work in a casual office (ties a rarity, suits even more so) but find “real” trousers can look great (and not too fussy / stodgy) when offset with more casual pieces, like a chunky sweater or a shawl collar cardigan.

Lawrence Spivey

Great post with some very informative details!!


Hello Simon,
First things first, the above and many other articles have been so helpful, and I enjoy your wisdom in your writing and tips.

I have the classic Black Cap Toes, and plan on purchasing some Brown Leather Dress shoes as well as some Brown Suede Leather shoes. The vast majority of wear for each of these will be the (engineering) office, church, and, hopefully, dates. My casual wear is boat shoes or cowboy boots, depending on shorts vs pants.

My question to you is which shades of brown and amount of broguing would be the ideal balance for maximum versatility? I.e. Darker Brown Leather with Half Brogue and Brown (Walnut-ish or Darker) Suede with Lots or Little Brogue.

Maybe a different shade brown shoe (calfskin, suede, who knows) purchase not too too far down the road.

Eric Kirwan


I have a pair of pale tan M&S brogues. I bought them as just fell in love with them at the store, but I have nothing to wear with them.
Any suggestions as to what colour trousers/shirts to wear with them? I was thinking of black trousers/jeans, but I may be way off the mark.


Hey guys. Sorry to necro thread, but I’m sooooo glad I found this site and page. I need some advice pretty desperately. I’ve just got a new job and before the interview was finished I was being invited to the xmas party 😀 I’m going in a pair of tan slips-ons with a pairly of really pale grey trousers. But what shirt colour/pattern should I go with. And yes or no to a belt? I’m 6’2 with greying shaved hair and green eyes (in case it matters). Hope someone can help 🙂


Hi , i’m also looking for advice on what to wear with tan leather shoes , i’m going on a friends stag do and wondering what type of jean would look ok ( as in straight cut ect ) and what colour shirt would i go for ?


Sorry to dig up such an old post but I just saw the new Crockett and Jones Fairford in Antique Tan with a burnished toe and whilst I’d have preferred a dark brown I do really like the looks of them. The problem though…. what can you wear them with?

They look too formal to go with jeans to me and so would they really be limited to very pale grey or cream? I have a light grey suit that I do wear occasionally in summer but my shoe collection isnt big enough to justify such an occasional wear item


does tan brown shoe go with charcoal grey trousers?


Hi. What about tan country boots? Are they for winter?



Interesting question. I think navy chinos give an inteesting contrast to tan brogues especially if they have some texture or burnkshing.


Hi Simon. Hope all is well. What about light shades of beige, sand or khaki colors for trousers? Would this go well with tan shoes?


Hi Simon,

I was hoping you could elaborate on wearing brown shoes with dark brown trousers. Recently I have been considering a pair of chocolate trousers from Stoffa. The problem I foresee, is that most of my tops and outwear are navy with some greys and creams. I think brown suede loafers could go well with the trousers, but this essentially demarcates the outfit into two sections: a brown section (trousers and shoes) and a non-brown section (let’s say navy and indigo). My question is, can you achieve a harmonious outfit wearing dark brown shoes with dark brown trousers? If so, do you think the shoes need to have some relevance to the top half of the outfit?


You have suggested that when wearing a darker sports jacket it is better to wear darker shoes so if i have a darker shirt on top with lighter chinos then would tan suede loafers look good for casual look?


Just to be clear on the subject so that means that you would want a lighter top (even polos should be lighter) when wearing tan shoes? It actually makes tan suede not so versatile then.

Just like a tie would shirt with darker stripes as seen in the link (I have the same shirt) also have the same effect and therefore not wearable with dark jeans and tan shoes?


Does tan shoes not look good with dark denim?