Must the Belt Match the Shoes?

Must the Belt Match the Shoes?

Q. When wearing a traditional navy blue blazer, gray flannel slacks, and cordovan shoes, what is the proper belt color, brown or black? Must the belt match the shoes? 

A. I understand why you are having a problem deciding which color to choose. It’s because the most classic and expected shoe color to wear with a navy-blazer-and-gray-trousers combination is black. But, by choosing cordovan shoes rather than black, you have changed a basic part of the usual mix.

I’m not suggesting that cordovan shoes are wrong with your mix, only that they are a less common and less classic choice. The truth is that these days, younger, sharper dressers often think of black shoes as old-fashioned and too-staid. They consider them too serious. That is a large part of the current appeal of cordovan-colored shoes. Men who enjoy not always wearing the expected appreciate their note of individuality, which probably explains your choice . . . and your question.  

As to which belt to choose, “Must the belt match the shoes?”, no, it is not an absolute “must”, but, yes, the usual rule is: whether black or brown, the belt should be in the same general color family as the shoes (though they need not match exactly). I believe that if you were to wear a black belt with your combination, it would make the shoes look like a mistake, rather than a choice. So, when selecting a belt to wear with your cordovans, you want to get a belt in some handsome shade of dark brown that blends well with the shoe color. Also, keep in mind that, with belts, less is more. A fine strip of supple, well-finished leather and a plain, understated buckle are all that a quality belt should be. 

Getting back to the cordovan shoes, let me explain further for those of my readers who may wonder what those shoes even are and when they are most appropriate to wear. Cordovan, by definition, has two different meanings; it is both a type of leather and a color. Essentially, it is a somewhat rugged type of horse leather, and/or it is a unique dark reddish-brown color. The term is most often used as a color.

Other color names for similar shades of this deep brown with a good deal of dark red tones include oxblood, burgundy, cognac, and mahogany. The red should not be too strong or too noticeable. The third color for a basic shoe wardrobe, cordovan, is one of the classics; it is less dressy and less formal than black, slightly less formal than rich chocolate brown, and more formal than lighter shades of brown. Its slightly rugged connotation makes it fit the dress code for a range of combinations and settings; it is most widely-thought of as the perfect go-to choice with a navy blazer and khaki pants. Other notes on cordovan shoes: they are ideal for casual ankle boots, appropriate for dress-casual loafers, not quite polished enough for a job interview, and not at all right with a dressy navy pinstripe suit. Often times this can become a confusing distinction for a man who likes to be well-dressed.

With increasing sophistication in one’s dressing skills, a man can even wear cordovans with gray suits. Doing so is part of the wonderful subtle world of dressing in “neutrals,” but it is not something that every man is quite ready for. Oddball departures in clothing choices require a healthy dose of self-assurance.

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