All In The Details

With an ever expanding number of men taking an interest in the way they look – successfully or otherwise – it has become increasingly important for those of us with that particular sartorial incline, to maintain ourselves as paragons of all things stylish and immaculate. The trends and items that have for so long kept us a step ahead of the crowd are slowly becoming more and more mainstream – while not being any reason to panic, it does mean that the an outfit’s success weighs ever more on the finer details we choose to add.

In my last article I considered the role of belts and their ability to add something to a stylish look. This week I want to focus on an issue that I’m sure we have all been faced with, and probably still troubles the best of us from time to time. What shoes to wear with a pair of trousers or what trousers to wear with a pair of shoes is a topic that often crops up on the fashion forums and is also a very important part of any outfit.

An incorrectly chosen colour combination will spell immediate outfit disaster, regardless of the quality of everything else. This has been proven time and time again by a shocking number of men, who continue to make basic mistakes and subsequently ruin the majority of their looks.

Whilst the aim of this article is to establish a few rules and offer reasonable advice, I am aware that this dilemma is an aspect of style creation that can be highly contentious; we all have our own opinions on what does or does not work and how close we stick to traditional rules. With this in mind, I will try to consider the many viewpoints previously expressed, and I shall proceed to stick my neck out somewhat in order to proffer up some tips regarding those key shoe colour combinations.

Shoe Colour Combinations

I think the most important thing for us to do, in respect of this most crucial and sensitive topic, is to establish some general rules. The bread and butter so to speak, from which you can make informed choices over what to wear. These will be a representation of the guidelines set down by stylish men through the ages – but as the old adage goes, ‘rules are meant to be broken,’ so you could of course choose to ignore them. Fashion is all about the individual after all.

You will also notice that I am going to focus nearly all my attention on leather shoes. This is because trainers of practically any brand should either not be worn or go with every colour under the sun (especially if you’ve been following our advice and have gone for a clean, unfussy, white pair). They are worn solely on the basis of personal preference, therefore colour has little impact on their suitability overall and it is just a case of deciding whether they match your outfit as a whole.

Brown Shoes

I shall start by tackling the most hotly debated combination head on; black trousers and brown shoes. As the oft repeated rhyme goes, ‘black and brown makes a frown’ and in the most traditional sense, these two colours are entirely incompatible. However, fashion does not stand still – and views will always change – so while I would say that black and brown should NEVER be mixed in a formal setting, black and brown in the casual sense is, depending on your personal preference, perhaps more acceptable. Argue as you will, just remember that not everyone will have the same opinion.

Aside from black, brown will go with every colour under the sun. From navy to grey and green to burgundy, the deeper, richer, tones of brown and tan shoes will much better compliment a wider variety of colours than black shoes – making them much more versatile. All colours of chinos, jeans, tailored trousers and shorts will work with brown or tan shoes.

If in doubt go brown.

Brown Shoes Lookbook

Mens Brown Shoes Lookbook

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Black Shoes

Black on the other hand is a tad more restrictive. You can of course wear black and black until the cows come home and die of old age; it will always be a winning combination, but after that your options are sadly limited.

Grey and black is certainly a sartorially appropriate option but I find that a brown and grey combination is a more eye pleasing (although I would suggest a darker, deeper brown). Either way, personal preference will have a great deal of influence over whether you decide to sport it. Black and navy is another combination you might want to try. In recent weeks I have heard more and more people extolling the virtues of black and blue, but there is still a big division between those for and those against. The general consensus is that black works very well with blue in formal settings; casually, not so much.

In terms of alternative colour mixes – I’m thinking chinos in any of the more regularly worn colours – you might find that the contrast created between black shoes and a pair of burgundy or mustard/tan chinos a bit too stark. Unless you opted for a washed pair similar to the picture shown in the lookbook below [bottom right].However, I have seen black shoes pulled off well with lighter stone chinos. Just remember to try and keep the upper half darker, as this will help to keep the outfit at least tonally similar.

Quick tip: Black shoes can work with most colours of chinos because they are a neutral anchor. In order to reduce the stark contrast between black shoes and a bright colour such as yellow, light blue or red try cuffing your chinos to expose your ankle this spring/summer. This gives a break in the natural line down your leg and means that the colours don’t contrast as much as when they are touching. See lookbook below for an example [top left].

In everyday terms, there are no hard and fast rules for what you should wear with your casual outfits; the rules apply more stringently to formal wear and it will ultimately come down to what your eye sees as best.

Personally, I am not a fan of black shoes worn with blue or indigo jeans. I find the contrast between the colours much too severe and seeing a large number of poorly dressed men wearing them has put me off for good. Black shoes are overwhelmingly formal in nature and the clash between items at opposite ends of the spectrum is really a bit too much.

You might however want to try a light blue chino with black shoes and a white shirt for an interesting colour combination. Casual black trainers or boots on the other hand are a different matter. Whilst they don’t really work with lighter washes of jeans or trousers, darker colours should mix just fine.

Black Shoes Lookbook

Men's Black Shoes Lookbook

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Oxblood Shoes

Oxblood shoes aren’t everyone’s first choice of shoe colour by any stretch of the imagination but they are in fact one of the more versatile colours you can wear. They are compatible with all shades of grey, most navy hues and are perhaps a little bit more suitable when worn with black. Not dissimilar to brown/tan shoes, they work with pretty much every colour you could think of.

In fact, should you wish to make an easy, simple statement, Oxblood is the way to go. They can be utilised in a near identical fashion as brown but the colour is bolder, more interesting and definitely more individual. The only issue you might have is that they are an unquestionable step in a new direction for most of the population, so you will have to wear them with a great deal of confidence to pull them off convincingly.

Wear them with jeans, chinos or tailored trousers in place of the usual brown and don’t be afraid to break them out with your work wear – you might even get a few compliments. However, bear in mind the situation, as you might find oxblood becomes just that little bit too much of a departure from footwear norms. Try using a much deeper tone to make them most adaptable to formal occasions. The outfit suggestion I made earlier would also work very well with oxblood shoes (light blue chinos, white shirt etc), so don’t be afraid to play around.

Oxblood Shoes Lookbook

Mens Red/Oxblood Shoes Lookbook

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Alternative Leather Colours

For the more individual leather colours – say green or perhaps blue – your combination choices are going to be a lot more restricted. Certainly formal wear is a no go, but casual wear offers a little more freedom. Pairing alternative colours with your standard jeans or chinos however might be a struggle. You definitely need to be aware of your colour chart, and how certain colours compliment or contrast against each other.

Here are some key suggestions to consider:

  • White will anchor any outfit: White shoes work extremely well with coloured chinos as they are a neutral colour and also infinitely more casual than black shoes. You can literaly sub these in for your trainers in order to take your current casual looks up a notch.
  • White jeans: Likewise, white jeans or chinos are the perfect trousers to wear with a bold colour shoe. Not only are they chic and perfect for the spring/summer months, they will go with any colour under the sun and allow the shoe to remain the focal point.
  • Tie your top and bottom half together: Although some men like to make a real statement with their bold colour shoes, the outfits that always look best tie the top and bottom half together. Try picking out a colour in your shirt [below right], your blazer [below centre] or even with your accessories. It shows attention to detail and gives your whole look coherence.
  • Make a statement: Those that want to make a statement – after all, you bought coloured shoes – the easiest way to do it is to keep the rest of your outfit simple, neutral and minimalistic. Your shoes are going to be enough to grab attention on their own, and they will do this if they are not having to compete at the same time with your patterned shirt, bold coloured chinos and bright statement blazer.
  • Clashing colours: On the subject of making a statement, you could potentially clash two bold colours on your bottom half. How about yellow chinos and green shoes? Or red chinos and cobalt shoes? This is only for the advanced, but bearing in mind the principle I mentioned earlier, cuffing your trousers can actually make this work. You must however keep your top half stripped back and neutral.
  • If in doubt, go tonal: Finally, the easiest way to make coloured shoes work is also the biggest trend in menswear this season. Tonal outfits have been discussed on FashionBeans in recent weeks, and what could be easier than matching your bold blue shoes with a pair of indigo jeans or navy chinos [below right]. This can work with most colours, with the beige shoes below going well with brown/cream, and green shoes going with bottled green chinos.

In the end, how you choose to mix your colours and create a statement will all come down to what you think looks good. If you’re in doubt just make a post on the forum and I’m sure someone in the community will be able to help you.

Alternative Coloured Shoes Lookbook

Mens Alternative Colour Shoes Lookbook

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Suede shoes are a rule unto themselves; they are far more variable in colour than leather and eminently more casual. Whilst you might be able to pull them off with a formal outfit (possibly even a suit), you are much better off sticking to casual looks. Here the rules regarding combinations are much more relaxed (although black and brown might still make a frown) so you have room to manoeuvre and experiment.

Final Word

Colour combinations will be the bane of many a fashion conscious man for their entire lives; we just never know what to put with what. If you spend hours staring into your wardrobe, completely unsure of what you could wear then I hope this guide has given you some help. If you are ever stuck, revert back to the basics and you will never go wrong.

As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Ask any colour combination queries you might have and don’t get too angry about the black and brown debate, there are literally hundreds of different threads that have descended into this argument on the forum.

Until next time,