When It Comes to Brown Shoes, I Go Dark

Brown shoes are everywhere. When men – particularly younger ones – pick a shoe to wear with a suit or dressier pants, the go-to is all about brown. Black, or even very dark shades of brown or burgundy, is apparently just too serious, as if being perceived as serious is scary. So we see a lot of brown these days.

The big mistake I see men make when jumping on the brown shoe train is with the shade of brown. A lot of men choose a shade of brown that is too light or a shade that completely contrasts the fabric with which it’s worn. For me, the rule is simple: except for sneakers, the shoes should always be darker than (or as dark as) the pants.

But here we are, in a mode where many men don brown shoes that are a whole family of shades lighter than their pants. When I see a guy in light brown shoes, my eye goes right to his feet. Combine that with “fun socks” and we’re experiencing a strange fetish where men seem to crave a lot of attention for their ankles and feet – a curious phenomenon since feet are generally regarded as one of the least attractive features of the body. (Ask around.)

On the opposite hand, the reverse combination of darker shoes with a lighter suit or pants doesn’t apply the same way, as the eye is drawn to light more than dark.

I’m not really big on bold colors because I’m neither confident nor comfortable with them. My suits are varying sober shades of blue or gray, my pants are generally darker shades with the exception of my khakis, and my jeans are darker blue. My shoes? With the exception of my sneakers, they’re all on the darker side.

Black shoes, for some reason, seem to have a waning popularity and have been branded as something to avoid. Maybe they’re perceived as too “severe” or dark, but that never bothered me. My approach to shoes is often like my approach to humor: the darker the better.

This isn’t to say that shoes in a nice rich brown can’t be wonderful. They are. Gorgeous, in fact. I have a pair of loafers in what was called “cigar” brown. They’re fabulous. My all-time favorite pair of shoes is my Alden Chukka Boots in what Alden calls “Color 8,” which is basically burgundy. The color is so rich and beautiful. But, again… they, like all my non-black shoes, are darker than all the pants I wear with them.

Dark and lovely… A few pairs of my brown/”non-black” shoes.

Ultimately, I want attention drawn to my face. In fact, I’m a big subscriber to the philosophy of dress that suggests that what I wear should bring notice to me, not to my clothes. I’m not interested in wearing anything that steals the show. My mug is the star, and the clothes and accessories I wear are complementary backup singers, all designed to support the star. That’s how I play it.



  1. Thanks George – For somber winter wear – mostly in agreement. For lighter summer (and casual or non-business wear) a lot more
    flexibility. Part of this may be a function of scale. You are regular size guy. Taller / bigger men can play around with
    colors, patterns, textures and contrast which helps break up all that vertical mass. So I wear white bucks and grey suede and woven shoes with seersucker suits, orange espadrilles with shorts, floral ‘Hawaiian’ print shirts over white
    linen pants. But ‘when in town, tone it down’ (or wear dark brown)..

  2. Leila Zogby Reply

    Great post. I’ve been noticing the light brown shoe trend and, as you rightly point out, my eye goes directly to the wearer’s feet. Not my idea of good people watching!

  3. The rule in the City of London is “no brown in town”. It’s a good mantra to follow, but working in Manhattan I do wear brown footwear with lighter colored suits. I would never do the same in London. Brown is definitely a little less formal, so I find oxblood or burgundy a good middle ground.

    • Yes Tom, in ‘The City’ of London, brown is frowned on – gray and navy, charcoal- rule. Here in the states, a lot
      more latitude and deshabile!

  4. Tim Joe Comstock Reply

    What are you using to maintain that shine? A couple decades ago I abandoned kiwi polish for straight mink oil…as a side note, a few days back a young co-worker (remember, I am a hardhat guy) saw me buffing up my brown leather Irish Setter moc toe work boots. “What are you doing?” he asked.

    “Putting a shine on my boots,” I said.

    “That’s weird.”

    “Well, boy,” says I, “If you plan to die with yer boots on, they might as well look good while yer doin’ it.”

    So there ya go.

  5. Great re-statement and justification of the rules, George.

    Like my prime minister, I’m fond of the walnut/cognac shoe, even with a navy suit. Come to think of it, Canada’s head of government is famous for “fun socks,” too. I guess—like RuPaul—we’re allergic to blending in.

  6. Tim Joe Comstock Reply

    BTW, Geo. I checked the price on those Alden Chukkas…good lord brother! I too love the feel and aura of the best of things…would that I could afford them. In my case it usually comes down to tools. As a door and trim carpenter, I maintain a mobile wood shop. The quality of my equipment doesn’t necessarily dictate the quality of my work, but life is easier with good gear.

    I suppose being well-dressed and comfortable in one’s outer skin is equally as important. Those chukkas look like a favorite thing.

    Thanks for the Saphir tip. Going there now.


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