The shoes make the well dressed man

The shoes make the well dressed man

Q. How and when should I wear tan shoes? I’m thinking of western style men’s shoes. And what about navy or maroon?

A. The first question I have is “how western?” I’m not sure exactly what you mean when you say western style men’s shoes. If what you mean is cowboy boots, then you have total permission to wear them in a much wider range of colors than most other types of men’s dress shoes. Skins such as ostrich and snake may come naturally or dyed in many colors; and leather may also be significantly patterned. These are appropriate in many informal settings, but not in a super conservative business environment. If you are wondering whether low dress boots are ever dressy enough to be worn with a suit, they can be if they are sleek leather, not too chunky, and if their leather soles are not a different color from the shoe itself. They can be brown or black.

When it comes to acceptable colors for a well-dressed man’s dress shoes, there are very few options: only black, dark brown, and cordovan. These limitations are then added to what clothes these colors should be combined with. The basic rule is to wear black shoes with blue or gray suits, dark brown with tan suits. These are easy and correct. When I’m asked what color shoe goes with a navy blazer and khaki trousers, my answer is cordovan, the third color for a classic man’s shoe wardrobe. This is a dark brown color with a good deal of dark red in it, but not as red as burgundy or maroon.

It may seem surprising that these shoe choices are so limited. Even though a guy who is a traditional dresser might own a closet full of suits, blazers, and sports jackets in various shades of blue from navy to light blue, grays from charcoal to light gray, and browns from dark chocolate to khaki, none of these colors are an appropriate choice for a man’s dress shoe.

For some reason, the world of sophisticated men’s dressing does not permit or include leather dress shoes in any shade of blue, in gray, in light shades of brown/tan, or in such reddish shades as maroon or burgundy.

There are a few exceptions, but only a very few.

Laced shoes in light brown suede, including bucks, and ankle-high suede desert boots in tan are acceptable in many business and business-casual settings. Other examples of where you will find nontraditional leather shoe colors, besides cowboy boots, are in saddle shoes and Fred Astaire type two-color spectators. Another stylish option: some dapper dressers add medium shades of brown shoes with a hint of orange (called British tan or cognac), to their wardrobe mix. These less-expected shoe styles are definitely not for the typical man; they are offbeat enough that the wearer needs a considerable amount of self-confidence to pull off wearing them.

When is a shoe formal enough to be considered a dress shoe? It should be somewhat sleek, not too chunky, have thin laces, and its soles should not be a different color from the rest of the shoe. Lug soles are not appropriate. And the range of colors should conform to my three-colors rule. For business and dressy attire, black, dark brown, and cordovan are again your safest choices. You can wear these for a more relaxed social occasion by pairing then with bright, colorful socks.

Keep in mind that these are not merely my rules; they are what you will see when you are in such elite circles as corporate boardrooms, private clubs, and dining rooms in the best restaurants.

The next steps down in formality?

  • The slip-on loafer, used to be limited to casual wear. Today it is often worn with well-cut, not-too-dressy, medium-dark suits such as a blue or gray glen plaids or khaki poplins.
  • Driving moccasins or driving shoes, made of softer leathers, are less structured, and have soles and heels made for wearer-comfort while pressing pedals. As with boat shoes, they are another category of super-casual shoes that allow for a much wider range of fun colors including bright blue, green, red, and yellow.
  • Besides laced shoes and loafers, the monk strap is regarded by many as a versatile shoe that can be worn with jeans or with suits. I am not one of those who believes this. No matter what color it comes in, I think the style is too dressy for jeans, and too attention-grabbing to wear with a suit. Because it may at times become the focal point of a combination, I find the monk strap not to be in the best taste.

A note of maintenance advice: Buy a pair of fine cedar shoe trees for each pair of quality shoes you own, and hand polish your shoes with a luxury quality leather shoe polish.

Categories: Male Call