How to Wear a Brown Shoe

How to Wear a Brown Shoe

Q. I know that with a navy suit or a gray suit, I should wear my black shoes. I own a really nice pair of brown shoes. What can I wear them with?

A. There are a few different ways to approach the answer to your question. One has to do with the shoes’ level of dressiness, that is, which shoe colors are appropriate with which suits? Another relates to seasonal dressing, which color works at which time of year? Still another addresses how a man’s shoes say so much about his style, his dressing taste, and his individuality. And one more is what to match or coordinate with the color of the shoes.  

Brown shoes are always less dressy than black. Variations exist, of course, but the simplest rule is this: With blue suits and gray suits, wear black shoes (as you have been doing correctly!); with tan/khaki suits, wear dark brown shoes.

Assuming that your shoes are good looking (either fine lace-ups or handsome slip-on loafers) and dark brown (not those awful yellow-brown Las Vegas types), then you can pair them with many other clothes in your closet that are less dressy than a suit. This is where seasonal dressing comes in: wear brown shoes in summer with your khaki pants combinations, perhaps with a pastel plaid shirt or a brown-and-white cotton sweater, and in winter with a camel blazer or a brown tweed sport jacket and a blue or yellow Oxford cloth button-down. 

Men often ask, “While I know that the navy-blazer-and-gray-trousers combination clearly calls for black shoes, what color shoes would you wear with a navy blazer and khaki pants?” The third shoe color – cordovan – is perfect. This dark mahogany color, slightly reddish (but not as red as burgundy) is a highly traditional classic. The Ivy League, button-down crowd wears it with almost everything. Cordovan works because it coordinates and connects with the color of the trousers. Here’s another shoe color concept: a man’s belt should be in the same color family as his shoes, although they need not match exactly. With such a choice, your shirt could be a solid, a stripe, a check, or a not-too-large plaid, and if you were wearing a tie, an easy choice would be a solid-color knit. 

Keep in mind that most of what I have written here pertains to rather dressy situations. On the other hand, when a man is dressing for a strictly casual social event, his informal footwear might include boat shoes, sandals, or sneakers in a variety of such wild-departure, fun colors as red, royal blue, yellow, and even purple. These should coordinate or at the very least not clash with other clothing and colors you are wearing, so combine them carefully.  

Anything you wear should be a style, a level, and a degree of individuality that you are both comfortable with and want to project. So, if you look around and everyone at work wears only black shoes, you have to decide how you feel about wearing another color. Do you want to stand apart from the crowd or blend in? And will you be presenting your individuality without coming across as too much of a maverick? Of course, white shoes are never right for work, even if everyone else wears them! Shoes should never be the focal point of a man’s outfit. No matter which color you choose, your shoes should ideally be darker than your trousers. And do not wear gray, navy, or tan shoes. While these colors are exactly right for suit fabrics, in a man’s leather dress shoe, they send all the wrong messages. They do not project “good taste.”    

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