Brown gets a raw deal when it comes to clothing. Brown shoes, fine. A belt, sure. But brown pretty much anything else is roundly shunned as unwelcome and unflattering. Brown is ugly, they say. Brown belongs on librarians. Not today, brown, not today.
This season, though, brown is well and truly making a break for it, casting off its sartorial leper status to become one of menswear’s most in-demand shades.
We love a good underdog story, so we’re enthusiastically backing brown’s new-found credibility. But, if you’re looking to make it your new navy alternative, you’re going to have to use your brown bread and swot up on some hue hacks. Luckily for you, we’ve done the leg work (with the help of some ridiculously and professionally stylish folk) to help make introducing brown to your wardrobe as pain free as possible. It’s time to brown-nose fashion’s most overlooked colour.
A Note On Skin Tone
Those fair skinned men who are constantly fretting about being washed out by their wardrobe can skip this section – you’ll be safe in almost any shade of brown. Everyone else, pay close attention.
Are you guilty of listening with one ear to your paler skinned pals moan about being washed out by white and beige? Well, it’s finally your turn to be cautious about colour. If you’re tanned or darker skinned and pick the wrong shade of brown, from a distance you’ll look semi-naked at best, full birthday suit at worst.
Luckily, it’s simple to avoid faux flasher status. Just check the shade of the item against your skin tone: bring the garment up to your forearm to see if it’s significantly lighter or darker than your skin. If it’s not, stick it back on the hanger and start again.
It’s no coincidence that brown is enjoying a revival at the same time 1970s style is getting a second crack at the whip. And that means that when it comes to brown tailoring, the world (okay, the internet) is your oyster. We’re aware that brown tailoring isn’t many people’s type on paper, but trust us (or Ryan Gosling – a confirmed fan), you might just swipe right for this season’s handsome suits in chocolate, caramel and tan shades.
As always with tailoring, you’ll need to consider cut (take it to a tailor), but shade is just as important. If you want to go full suit, dark brown will get the most wear – and it’s not a flash-in-the-pan fad buy, either. “Brown has always been a classic choice in menswear tailoring,” says Danny Ching, senior designer at Hardy Amies. “With new ways of styling tailoring, it has re-emerged amongst the countless grey and navy suits men continually wear to work, social events and weddings.” Timeless yet not overdone? That’s menswear gold.
Particularly since brown tailoring is hard to mess up. Ching says: “Brown is a rich, versatile colour that helps to enhance and enrich contrasting colours that it’s paired with. Given its neutral underpinnings, it can be styled with virtually any hue, though it tends to work particularly well with shades of blue and green.” So, options = endless. But if you gave us the choice of only one way to wear our brown tailoring, we’d team it with a green printed shirt (worn with the collar open) and some tan penny loafers. Brown, boring? Patently not true.
Remember that advice about minding your skin tone? Get it wrong on your bottom half and you’ll stand to be approached for indecent exposure. Go lighter or darker, guys, lighter or darker. The easiest way to recruit brown to bolster your leg game is with a pair of chinos or tailored trousers, which should be on the slimmer side of things to avoid looking too normcore. Brown jeans are too difficult to get right, so it’s best to write them off completely.
Richard Biedul, a male model and influencer who has worked for the likes of Drake’s, Ted Baker and Edward Sexton says, “From nutmeg to tobacco, brown trousers are the new black trousers. Transitioning into your wardrobe requires an astute eye though: I think brown looks best colour matched. Partner your trousers with a top half item similar in tone, texture or pattern to create a rich, sumptuous look.”
You need to add a few hits of contrast though, to avoid looking like a cosplay Jedi knight. Biedul continues: “Adding an element of off-white, such as a shirt worn under a knit or a pair of white trainers, will help break up the colour block.” If it’s totally tonal, it’s totally easy.
Corduroy is one of the few fabrics that everyone can agree looks better in brown. And, like the colour itself, it can be filed under ‘the 1970s revival we’re unhealthily attached to’. Just as well, says The Cords & Co design director Linnéa Bach Gärde. “Corduroy in a dark coffee brown goes with anything.”
Styling brown corduroy is simple too: it’s all about contrast. Brown cord makes an excellent companion for a white Oxford shirt. Throw on a brown cord jacket over your button down, add black jeans and Chelsea boots and bam – you’re peak autumn style maestro. Want to go low? “Style a pair of coffee brown cords with a simple jersey tee or hoodie in black or navy,” says Gärde.
For a bolder look (it can be done), Gärde recommends doubling up: “Go for the full cord look by combining brown cord trousers with a brown cord jacket, black boots and a crew neck white knit jumper.” So seventies but so good.
Brown knitwear is pretty unloved. We get it. When done badly, it can look like you’ve raided the lost property box or remind you of the oatmeal cardigan you suspect your grandfather never washed. Done well, however, it’s suave and very much on trend this season.
The key to mastering brown knitwear is all in the texture and gauge of your fabric. Fine-gauge brown knits have the unparalleled ability to appear limp and lifeless, with all the appeal of a used teabag. Look for heavy weaves, texture, pattern and long hair designs.
“Brown is the perfect colour for autumn and winter as it nods to what’s going on outside,” says stylist Phill Tarling, who has dressed the likes of Tom Hardy. How to master this criminally underutilised knit colour? “I like to combine russet tones with dark grey or black jeans and some black or brown boots to finish the look,” he says.
Brown knitwear won’t just pair handsomely with your wardrobe staples – it can get a little more lively with the right treatment. Tarling continues: “If you’re looking for a more trend-led way to wear brown knitwear, take a leaf from Mother Nature and team with moss green trousers to nail two of this season’s most important colours in one outfit.” Stick on a pair of white lace-up sneakers and job done.
Too many men have outerwear collections which solely consist of navy, black and grey. Don’t get us wrong, they’re great, but ignoring the wealth of other colours on offer is an unforgivable style offence in our book. We love camel coats as much as the next outerwear fanatic, but if you want to take your top layer next level, brown is where it’s at this season.
“Brown is a very classic masculine colour,” says Delphine Ninous, creative director of Belstaff. “Hand-waxed brown leather ages very well and gives a great patina to the garment. It can look evaluated and edgy at the same time.” Try a flight jacket or field jacket, paired with dark jeans or wool trousers, to channel classic heritage menswear.
When it gets colder, a big brown oversized coat is your sartorial safety blanket. Avoid anything too tailored and look for dropped rounded shoulders – something belted is a good shout, too. Worn over a cream crew neck knit and jeans you’re ready for the weekend; sat on top of a grey suit for work it gives off strong Richard Gere in American Gigolo vibes, which is a life goal as far as we’re concerned.
After NSFW content, we’re quietly confident “how to wear brown shoes” is up there in Google’s most searched terms. While things will change slightly season on season, there are some hard and fast rules, which you’d do well to commit to memory.
“The humble brown shoe can be a tricky piece of footwear to have in your collection, always being the second choice behind the staple black Derby or brogue,” says menswear stylist Paul Higgins, who has worked for Aquascutum, Reiss, Hardy Amies and Kilgour. “Fear not though, dressing your brown shoes is as simple as pairing them with a navy or pinstripe suit, which is a sleek timeless combination.”
If you want to get all #menswear on us though, it’s time for some brown sky thinking. Higgins recommends going double with your brown to give things a more trend-led feel. He says: “Rev up some classic tan shoes by combining them with light brown tailoring. Seen from the likes of high-end designers such as Gucci and Camoshita to high-street giants Zara and Massimo Dutti, tonal brown looks are surprisingly easy to wear – just make sure your brown shoe is a lighter or darker shade than your suit.”