What shoes should I wear with brown trousers?

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This might seem like a fairly simple question, but it comes up so often in comments that I think it’s worth answering in full here, and then directing anyone in the future to this post. 

The reason people ask about shoes with brown trousers, of course, is that brown is probably the most common colour of (smart) shoe and that is presumed to be ruled out, being too similar to the trousers. 

The classic alternative would be black, and a black shoe looks great with brown - whether chinos, cords or flannels. 

The only problem is that black is also the smartest colour, and for a lot of people it’s a shoe they’d only wear to work, or to a similarly smart event. 

Personally I think they should give black another chance. As we’ve discussed before, it’s great if you like to wear a lot of tonal, cold colours, as I do. And taken out of a work context, it can look very chic. 

Go for a loafer or a boot, rather than a cap-toe oxford, consider different materials like suede, cordovan or grain. 

Next, let’s talk about brown - wearing brown shoes with brown trousers. 

First off, if the suit is a mid- or light brown, dark-brown shoes are fine. With my Dalcuore brown tweed suit above, the shoes are clearly darker than the suit, creating the distinction between the two that’s normally the aim with smarter dressing.

It’s nice too that the two are differentiated by texture, being shiny calf against matte wool. 

However, if you don’t have the same requirement to be smart (and you may not, given black has already been ruled out) then it can be fine if the shoes are a touch lighter than the trousers. 

Above, I’m wearing the ‘dark oak’ colour of leather from Edward Green as a loafer, with the darker brown of Fox ‘charbrown’ flannel above. 

It helps here that the shoes and trousers are, as above, different textures. One is a reflective calf and the other a light-sucking flannel. 

It also helps that the loafers contain more than one colour of brown. Burnishing by the manufacturer, and wear and polishing by the owner, mean that the shoe is now almost as dark as the trouser on its heel and toe. This fits in much more easily than a simple, flat mid-brown.

Then having understood the rules, we start breaking them for effect. 

As Anglo-Italian demonstrate with their combination above, a brown shoe that is almost exactly the same as the trousers isn’t necessarily bad. 

It’s just a look, in much the same way as the navy shirt with the navy jacket. This is no longer professional, office dressing, and many of the rules don’t apply as a result. It’s just a pleasing, tonal style.

The other option for shoes is a dark colour that isn’t brown or black. Horween’s Color 8 cordovan is, for me, king in this regard. 

Color 8 varies a little naturally, and Alden famously redyes theirs when they buy it from Horween. But you want it to be as dark as possible, and that can be achieved with (tentative) use of black cream or polish if you want. 

This colour is so dark that for many people, they don’t notice it’s not black. And yet it’s clearly richer and deeper than black, and doesn’t have that office-shoe look.

The colour is also quite purple, with some blue in there, which might be why it looks - for me - so much better than most colours referred to as ‘burgundy’. Redder tones can be OK with navy, but I like them less with charcoal or brown trousers. 

I’ve never particularly liked burgundy or dark green in shoes. They stray too far into the dandy category a friend likes to call ‘coloured shoes’. By which I believe he means everything apart from black, brown and white. 

Speaking of white, an ecru canvas shoe can be nice with a casual brown trouser, such as cotton or linen. 

And speaking of canvas, black canvas can be great with brown chinos too. Something like the black Doek oxford, but with the black laces they come with rather than white. 

I think that’s about it. I have seen tan leather shoes look OK with brown trousers, but it’s not something I would wear myself. 

If black loafers feel a little dull with your brown trousers, maybe try some colourful (but dark) socks, rather than striving for brighter shoes. 

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jmehpg

St Crispins CRU609 I find helps strike a balance, similar strategy to Color 8. Essentially looks black, without the work connotations.

Robin

Black shoes with brown trousers !
I had to check it wasn’t an April Fools .
I’d rather go out in in underwear then brown trousers with black shoes !

If brown shoes can’t go with a black trousers then the reverse must also hold true ! It must !

Brown trousers call for a darker brown or preferably a burgundy .
Maybe even a dark purple .

P.S. bizarrely the brown trouser , purple socks combo seems to soften the black shoe …. Something about brown and purple …hmmmm.
“Purple in mens clothing” …. Now there’s an article.

Ben

I remember “no brown with black” being a “rule” when I first started reading about classic menswear, and almost immediately after I started seeing the pairing everywhere. It’s a rule perpetuated by its counterexamples.

I myself find the pairing sometimes problematic, but no where near as much as brown and purple. I’m allergic to purple in general.

Dan James

I used to feel the same about purple and still find it hard to use more than sparingly. Inspired by Simon, I bought some grey and ‘eggplant’ striped socks from Mes Chausettes Rouge and wore them with black oxfords and a grey suit and they looked fantastic. The quality of the socks was important but breaking up the grey and the black with a similar dark tone looked great.

Chris Jones

I’m with you on that one. Black is the only colour that doesn’t go with brown (proper brown and not fawn or beige which black can go with). It looks like you only own one pair of shoes.

Steve B

Yeah, I’m not taken with black shoes & brown trousers, maybe if a charcoal brown hue, but otherwise there are too many browns, leathers & styles. As for black trousers with brown shoes, I find it works well with corduroy & makes it more casual & toned down.

Steve B

Actually Simon, taking a second look I think those ‘ black ‘ shoes do work with the brown trousers probably because it tones well with the knitwear.

Stuart

Fully agree Robin

David Carter

Yes black shoes with brown trousers just looks so obviously wrong.

Nathan

Thank you so much for this comment, Robin. Black shoes with brown trousers was the worst advice I have come across on PS. I was sure this was a joke, but Simon seems to be quite serious really?? Maybe we will see a different opinion here in a couple of years…

m

I personally find burgundy/bordeaux/plum/oxblood to be the most universal shoe colour if the shade is dark enough, it really can work with anything and appear both formal and semi-casual at the same time, depending on rest of the outfit.
As you feel about museum calf some would feel about burnished shoes. For the record I enjoy burnished shoes, museum calf can be ok on others.
The ecru canvas shoe on the other hand can work like a t-shirt can work under a blazer but it just isn’t quite right for me.

Martins

curious about colour 8 cordovan. when it’s dark, I completely agree about versatility. however some crockett examples I’ve seen was so light it put me off the colour. also on style forum Carmina thread people are wondering that colour looks more red than what’s on pictures.

Aaron

Just got a pair of vintage Alden’s, hoping for the darker #8 you’ve written of. Sadly they’ve been polished so much over the years that they’re quite light now.
Your tip regarding black polish has given me hope!

Andreas C.

As Simon mentioned, at least Alden redyes their Color 8 cordovan darker than the factory finish, and it’s to me also more purple in tint, kind of a ”dark plum” instead of the usual reddish brown.

Once the factory finish wears off, it gets lighter unless treated with a pigmented cordovan cream (Saphir has a perfect fit in dark burgundy) and really old Color 8 can lighten to an almost orange-ish red, particularly if exposed to sunlight.

Andreas C.

…sorry for the potential confusion, the first ”factory finish” was naturally meant to refer to Horween’s finishing and the second to Alden’s.

PeterHall

In my military days ,we used to use brown polish (very sparingly) onto black shoes. It deepens the shine and adds a little depth.

Hugh

I use a navy wax polish for the same reason

Dario

The YouTube channel “The Elegant Oxford”, which has a lot of videos about shoe care and shine, recommends using navy blue polish for mirror shining black shoes. Never tried it myself but the results on his videos look great.

george rau

I use brown polish on black cap toes and black longwings. It doesn’t change the color, it softens it.

Gary Mitchell

For that perfect deep mahogany finish …

CJ

Interesting. I’d never really thought about intentionally going against the obvious colour profile.

Karol

Pale socks work great too. White, cream or pale brown can easily break up dark brown trousers and shoes. And then you can wear pale brown suede shoes. Loafers or chukkas probably. Chase Winfrey does that a lot, even with suits. It’s a nice, underrated color for shoes. Massimo Dutti has a cheap moc toe chukka in this color right now, so if anybody wants to try, it’s nice.

Karol

Not with the smart trouser, I’m afraid. I don’t have any in dark brown. That being said, if I had one, that’s the first thing I’d try. It worked fine with chinos though

Aaron

I definitely agree with a textured leather versus smooth calf looks better, and in boots or tassel loafers (I strongly dislike black pennys – I don’t really have a good reason, they just look wrong to me). I’m not sold on the brown tassels, but I think you make it work well in the others even if I’d be unsure of doing it myself.

An article on what footwear to wear with black jeans, cords and other black trousers would be good, I think. My personal ones for that is black, white trainers or tan boots so I’m curious what else you’d suggest.

Nisha

with black jeans, I think black or white trainers with a slightly retro look would be ideal – something like the Puma Suede in black.
That or loafers with a little heft to the sole, they are the ultimate ‘casual’ smart shoe for places (though that list has drastically shrunk these days!) where trainers or a ‘sport shoe’ would be considered inappropriate.

Dan

With black jeans, I like boots – nothing too shiny or pointy – I have a pair of pebble-grained, matte finish black calf wingtip boots from Rancourt that avoid looking too flashy, and then an interesting side-zip style from Soloviere (the Pierrot in black calf) that evokes a toned-down Chelsea. Second Nisha’s suggestion of chunky loafers or black suede.

TOS

Thought-provoking article again, Simon.
You’ve previously referenced black suede shoes and I think a black suede chukka boot (eg George Cleverley’s Nathan) would work well in most of the outfits photographed above. It would definitely be ‘a look’ – stylish and sharp, but without being over the top.
All the best.

Stephen

Hi Simon,
Useful article which answers some questions and for me provided some inspiration. On a sort of related point: in the Anglo Italian picture and your words, we see navy shirt with navy jacket. Something I like but don’t often see. I think you may have written about this once? I tried to search it and couldn’t find. Any views on this look and also please post link to article / advise if you have written on this subject.
Have a good week.
Ps last picture looks a very good.

Stephen

Thanks Simon much appreciated. Sorry I wasn’t searching the polo. Looks good
BTW those pictures look like the Fitzrovia area of London. I’m sure I used to walk through that street from Goodge Street station to Charlotte St. Thanks again.

Craig

Simon I couldn’t agree more. Black and brown are a very harmonious color combination, as any owner of a Bernese mountain dog or beer drinker can attest to. And brown shoes go fine with brown trousers because while the color is similar, the difference in materials between trousers and shoes is enough to visually differentiate the two (unless someone is wearing leather pants, but I’ll assume that excludes most Permanent Style readers.)

Nisha

I would personally favour an oxblood (close to Horween colour 8) or navy pair, also I think most suedes would work in any colour for a more casual look, with black suede registering ‘less formal’ than black calf etc. but still ‘smart’ though more of the ‘going to a nice restaurant for a big anniversary’ smart than the ‘headed to the City for a business meeting’ smart.

Fernando

I still have prejudice against this combination. Still find in most cases wrong to wear black and brown. Similar to dark blue and black. I know worn casually you have more leeway but still i find other alternatives better. Maybe some milkshake or tan suede appatt from the browns?

Fernando

yeah definitely. I’m trying to understand this combination and for some reason black cordovan it does look good

Scott

Simon, the color eight is an interesting idea. What color belt would you wear?

RT

This is an issue with which I have wrestled a little. So few shoemakers offer a genuinely dark brown. So often what they call dark brown is more of a darker medium shade. Whilst I struggle to find the right shoes to wear with brown rouses some ties, I’m afraid that black shoes don’t work as a solution for me. I’ve never seen a photo in which they look right, including those in this post and elsewhere on PS – sorry, Simon! Each to his own, though, as you say. The jury is out on Colour 8 cordovan too. I was looking at some Aldens just last week, but I’m just not taken with them. For me, the solution has been suede shoes. I have some really quite dark ones from Crockett & Jones and an older pair from pre-Prada Church and they seem to work well enough. Both are dark, cold browns as opposed to the dark, but slightly warmer, perhaps reddish, browns that one often finds in suede. I think that Edward Green offer and espresso suede that would work quite well too, and C&J have occasionally offered an espresso calf, if memory serves me correctly. In fact, I may give that a try as a custom order.

FAK

Simon – what are your thoughts on ribbed vs un-ribbed socks? In particular, would one variety suits certain outfits more than the other?

Hugh

This color combination initially strikes me as “off”, but then I think about that great Italian combination of brown suit, white shirt, and black (not navy) knit tie. It’s causing me to reconsider

Andrew

I have a DB linen suit from the W Bill Irish linen bunch in one shade of brown lighter than Simon’s DB shown in the first picture and often wear it on very bright and sunny days exactly as Hugh said with black tassel loafers, and think it looks really nice. I find that it needs the strong sunshine to work well though with black tie and shoes. On days when it isn’t so bright, I usually wear dark brown calf or suede shoes (along with a light blue shirt + dark blue knit tie) which also work because my linen suit isn’t quite so dark as Simon’s.

Zeke

Interesting discussion Simon. Have you ever done anything in depth on socks? We know the views on with and without. But which colours work with what would be interesting.

zeke

I’m interested in unusual sock colours and matching those. I know there are strong feelings about being the “comedy socks” guy but it seems that there’s a nice balance to be struck between just enough and going over the edge. The shots of Daniel Day Lewis in his maroon socks in the Phantom Thread come to mind.

I really should be back at school

i rarely disagree with Simon (he’s wrong in chinos and a sports coat but apart from that…). But I do think subtle horizontally striped socks can provide a nice little pop to a suit or formal trouser without screaming “look at me”. But I can’t stomach polka dots or vertical stripes though. So maybe this all falls within the category of matching (or not) the trouser?

Anonymous

I think of it the same way I do pocket squares or ties. Needs to avoid being jarring or distracting but doesn’t need to be the same colour. So not matching as in identical (apart from e.g., black tie) but matching as in complementary.

Paul

I agree wholeheartedly with you here, Simon.
I have a brown linen suit in an identical shade to the one you are wearing in the main image (Edward Sexton I think?). It never looks better than when I pair it with a white shirt and black shoes. And as the only black shoes I own are toe cap oxfords, I had to chuckle at the comments about formality because, in my humble opinion, they do not look too smart together. With a knitted black tie it’s a killer combination, as someone else has commented, but I very rarely want to wear a tie with a linen suit. I do, however, always wear black socks and do not think the combination suffers as a consequence.
Now I appreciate there are many naysayers here and some deeply held opinions, but I think the reason this combination works so well is due not only to the coldness but also the incredibly powerful contrast in all directions – the white and brown in your top half, the white and the black from top to bottom and the brown and black in your bottom half. I do not wear a belt or pocket square, which probably helps with the icy minimalism of the look, which again contrasts with the (usually) bright, sunny weather when I wear it.
Also to the comment about black jeans – I have no idea, but the ‘standard’ black and white converse shoes are probably the best I have managed!

Leo Oettingen

Who makes the black loafers you’re wearing with green socks in the third to last photo?

Rowan Morrison

What are tan leather shoes for? Cream/olive? Light grey?

Eric Michel

Not a big fan of brown trousers with black shoes. Intuitively I never do it and I would always go to a different kind of brown. As I do not buy the darker shoe concept, especially in summer, I do not mind lighter brown loafers with darker brown trousers. Patinated green or even navy shoes can work for me but are much more complicated to wear,

Thomas

Great article Simon. Slightly off topic but with the blue jacket blue shirt / Friday polo combination. If you have dark buttons on.the jacket do you have a strong opinion on the colour of the shirt buttons. I see in the photo you choose a light colour. Appreciate your thoughts.

Matt S

Thank you for showing that black shoes can go with brown suits and brown trousers. I particularly like the first example you show. In most cases I prefer dark brown shoes with brown trousers, but I like black shoes with a more formal brown look, like a brown suit, particularly when the brown is very dark. Black shoes work well with cooler, muted browns than rich browns. But I don’t say that as a rule. There’s a military tradition of a tan uniform with black shoes that is also particularly striking. Black shoes have been shunned from fashion over the past decade so much that people have forgotten their versatility and the statement they can make.

P.A.

Black suede is trending quite a lot these days ; it just might be the bridge between brown trousers and black shoes, as the smoothness of black box calf may be infering too much formality for some people.

Petronio

Simon, I had the same dilemma for a long while. I initially opted for black shoes. What do you think about brown shoes but breaking the colour continuity with red socks which fit perfectly with brown ?

Joseph

Another question that’s more baffling than it would initially seem. Fantastic advice!
“…it’s clearly richer and deeper and black” – did you mean “than” rather than “and”, Simon?

Prince Florizel of Bohemia

Dear Simon, such a useful article. May I ask you about whether you would also match all your leathers, especially belt, with black shoes while wearing brown trousers? For some reason I feel odd about putting belt on a brown pair of trousers, but it might as well be just custom and there’s not reason behind it. I think it would be interesting if you wrote an article about combining a nacthuing leathers as it is another subject with lot of preconceived ideas (eg. all leather should match). I saw several photos of you where your shoes and leather bags didn’t match at all and it clearly worked very well.

CK

Great article Simon,
I have a pair of char/brown odd flannels like yours firmly on my list, along with a dark brown linen suit one day (much further down the list for lifestyle reasons).
Black would be my first choice of footwear, despite some people’s opinions. I think there is no equal against a pair of muted (dark) brown trousers. Colour/color 8 is a great option, but as you say it needs to be as dark as yours, pretty much verging on black for me. Do you actually use a little black polish yourself? I saw someone else mention a little navy polish on their black oxfords somewhere for that extra punch, think I’ll pinch that idea.
I recall seeing an image on Mr Zottolo’s instagram a while back wearing a brown linen suit, casual shirt and a pair of Alden cordovan loafers in black, looked amazing. Granted he’s a bit of a handsome devil so that always help’s the overall image, none the less I like the combination. Supported further here by your slightly more formal, but no less cool brown linen suit and black cordovan combination

Andy Parker

I’ve never worn dark brown, and don’t think I ever will.
I do, however, have three linen suits all of which are on the “tobacco” spectrum and, because they are essentially for warmer weather, I tend to wear them with unlined suede loafers, either in snuff or espresso shades. A white, pale blue or pale pink shirt works well with this, and, if necessary, a navy, pale blue or lime green knit tie to complement the choice of shirt colour.
On the sock front, I am slightly ashamed to say my default colour is cardinal red, no matter what I am wearing!!

CJ

Hi Simon,
Without labouring over something needlessly… “ tentative use of black cream or polish if you want.” I have some Colour 8 Alden loafers and hadn’t come across this before. I assume it’s as simple as it sounds and there isn’t any advice/tips such as allowing the leather to break in naturally before applying?
Problem with being obsessive over details is one wants to get it right….. 😉

colin macdonald

I find that black trousers/jeans/chinos go beautifully with brown shoes ?

Ant

Nice article, Simon.

I’m a fan of black shoes with brown trousers, but as you say, the tone (of trouser) and material/style of shoe matters greatly.

That said, I do often wear my very dark brown Aubercy Lupin loafers with a pair of brown crispaire trousers; either with a white shirt or light blue if I do fancy some contrast.

I do think that most men who haven’t branched-away from black shoes, are typically still wearing black oxfords, and maybe that’s the problem when paired with a brown trouser.

Change that for a suede, or loafer, or pigskin (or whatever) and the contrasting style goes a long way in adding visual separation.

Mark

Hi Simon
Has your recent focus on colder colours changed your views on the versatility of black suede for informal footwear, like loafers? For example – pairing black suede with brown cords and chinos or even denim

J. Vantaa

This needs a warning: “For intermediate dressers and above”.
I immediately felt that statement like black shoes with brown trousers could get the conformist “old guard” on their toes, and even I would categorise that as some manifestation of sprezzatura. But I have to admit I do dabble with the combination myself, but maybe in kind of post-ironic way.

Kind of similarly to this, I guess, is why I personally don’t find seal brown leather jackets as appealing as some leather jacket enthusiasts do, as it’s little bit too close to black and not black at all at the same time, so combining it becomes a tad too restrictive.

J. Vantaa

Yeah, and I’d add maybe deeper reds in the mix also, like burgundies or rubies, if one can pull off the lord of the manor connotations. Eggplant maybe, but that’s bit too daring for my taste.

Sean Breezie

Or you could just crank out some milkshake suede (Alden) or nut suede (C&J) or mushroom suede (EG). These light shades do a great job with all shades of brown.

EP

Hi Simon, can I ask you something else about shoes? Like some other people I have to wear orthopedic soles whenever I wear shoes. It works fine in shoes from companies like Ecco or Clarks, with removable insoles, but those don’t really look nice. Sneakers usually have removable insoles too, and some are really nice, but are hard to wear at the office. I have not tried to get handmade and specially fitted shoes from a shoemaker, the cost is simply too high.
Do you have any advice for someone in this situation? Thanks! /E

EP

What I do today is to wear shoes from Ecco or similar when a formal shoe is needed. They will pass, others do it.

And I try to extend the use of minimalistic sneakers as much as I can. The sneakers can be a joy to wear, great leather, great shoemaking. (With Ecco etc I just hope others will not notice my shoes, which takes away some joy from the experience.)

Lot’s of black sneakers, which I know you have recommended against, Simon. But I find they will work for me when a white sneaker would look too informal.

EP

Hi, sorry for replying late. No dress shoe that I have tried. Even if I size up, there is not enough room in the shoe to fit 1 or 1.5 cm on the height, which my orthopedic sole needs. If anyone knows of a proper dress shoes with a removable insole, I would be most grateful.

Michael Powell

Black shoes with brown pants? Simon… no. NO..
The only time I wear black shoes is when I’m wearing black or gray trousers or a gray suit.

Michael Powell

With my navy suit, I wear oxblood Chelsea boots, That Horween Color (American) 8 looks delicious. The Horween Tannery is right here in Chicago. I’ve driven past it dozens of times and I never knew what it was.

Angus

Hi Simon,

who ist the manufacturer of those shoes (assuming they’re RTW) in the last photo?
C&J? Shipton?

Thanks in advance

Uncle Sam

Deep burgundy shades are an American staple and certainly not viewed as colored shoe (or coloured if you prefer) dandy fare here. A common sight is medium to dark grey, navy, khaki, or green trousers worn with the iconic American shoe – the burgundy penny loafer.
A more pressing question in my mind – should you be wearing rich browns in the first place? For many complexions, including.my “soft summer” tone, the answer is a resounding.no.

Ian A

Wouldn’t you favour a white/ecru toe capped but otherwise black canvas sneaker to an all black affair just to make the distinction clear from dress shoes. I honestly think that sneaker along with all white/ecru would be the only ones I’d favour.