Should your belt match your shoes? (Or bag)

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This question might seem like an easy one, but I do get a lot of comments and emails about it, so I thought I’d lay it out in a post.

No, in short, a leather belt and leather shoes do not have to match. But they should be closely related.

So a mid-brown belt with dark-brown shoes is fine. So is a brown leather belt with suede shoes, even in slightly different shades.

In the images here, I’m wearing a dark-brown woven-leather belt with mid-brown suede loafers. They play perfectly nicely together.

Black shoes and belts, however, are more restrictive.

As there aren’t really shades of black, a brown belt is always going to look odd with black shoes. The brown would have to be extremely dark for that not to be the case.

Always safest to wear black shoes with a black belt, therefore. (Or indeed, given how formal black shoes are, no belt or belt loops at all.)

The only other leathers that black can sometimes work with are shades of grey, or other colours like green and yellow.

I have a gold watch with a pale-tan ostrich strap, for instance, where the light, strong colour of the strap makes it a good accompaniment to suits and black shoes.

When it comes to watch straps generally, the same guidance applies.

So browns in the same family are all fine - in the image below, a brown alligator strap on my IWC Portuguese.

With both watch straps and belts, if the material isn’t leather, there’s no need to worry at all. So belts in a canvas webbing, for example, or Nato straps on watches.

With bags, there is rather more freedom.

If you wear a suit with black shoes and black belt most days, then a black briefcase would perhaps be most elegant. But, if you want something you can also wear with more casual clothes, then go for a dark brown.

Perhaps more important than the colour is to think whether the bag is generally smart enough elsewhere: an attache, briefcase or tote are descending orders of casual, for example.

I have a matte-brown Sac a Depeches briefcase that I happily carry with smarter outfits.

By the way, although I generally dislike belts with suits, I do find I’m wearing them a little more these days - as I move towards more separate suits and trousers.

Although trousers without belt loops will always be smartest, it is nice to use a belt to add a little more interest to an open-necked, jacket/trouser combination. Especially if you feel a pocket handkerchief would be too showy.

The only problem, of course, is then you need two pairs of trousers in every material and colour. So I’ll generally be sticking to beltless for a while.

Items pictured:

Photography: James Holborow, shot at the Billy Tannery