All In The Details: Choose your shade of brown wisely (Leather Shoes, part IV)

October 5, 2012 · 23 comments

in All In The Details

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Hey Gents,

We discuss brown leather lace-ups extensively on this site. I always recommend brown shoes over black in pretty much every situation.

A question I always get (but haven’t really addressed) is which shade of brown is best.

I’ll tell you right now, it’s all a matter of preference. It also can depend on the rest of your outfit. For now, let’s discuss the most common variations of brown you may see out there.

By the way, for illustrative purposes, all shoes are from Allen Edmonds (images via Zappos). Click the photos for a slightly larger version.

What’s your shade?

Keep in mind that, like everything in life, there isn’t an absolute, exact color for everything. Basically, one company’s shade of brown could be slightly darker than another company’s shade, even if they’re called the same thing.

As long as they’re similar, just know they’re in the same shade group.

Tan, Cognac, Walnut

This is The Strand in Walnut Calf (aff link), one of my personal favorites.

The light shades of brown are usually referred to as tan, cognac, or walnut-colored, and can vary slightly, but they all look similar to this.

This is my preferred shade of brown; it looks great with everything from dark denim, to charcoal suiting trousers, to olive chinos. In my eyes, it’s hard to go wrong with such an eye-catching shade.


Dial it down a bit and you’re at your basic brown leather. This is the Kenilworth in Brown Burnished Calf (aff link), a more formal blucher.

Editor’s note: By the way, are you still unsure about the levels of formality when it comes to leather shoes? I covered it in this article.

I haven’t seen it called anything else but “brown”, but if you have, let us know below in the comments. I’d consider this a medium brown.

Oh, by the way, did you notice how there’s a little dark brown or black in this pair, especially noticeable at the toe? AE refers to the color as “brown burnished”.

Burnished leather gives the shoes an antiqued, buffed, worn-in look with darker shades of brown at the heel and toe. The darker tones add a bit of dimension to the overall shoe color.

It’s a subtle thing, but at EG we’re all about the little details, and I like this one.

Dark Brown, Brown-Black

Going further, there’s an even darker shade of brown, which can sometimes be a bit hard to distinguish from black unless you’re in the sunlight.

These shoes are the Lasalle in Dark Brown Burnished Calf (aff link).

I don’t see this very often, but often enough that I should probably mention it. Considering that shades can vary from brand to brand, one company’s brown could be another’s dark brown.

I’m not sure there’s a clear-cut distinction here, but just know there’s your medium brown leather, and then there’s a dark brown (sometimes referred to as brown-black) leather color.


There is also a burgundy-colored leather among the most common shades of brown leather shoes. It looks like a dark brown with hints of red tones, depending on how the light hits it.

This model is the Walden in Burgundy Polished Calf (aff link).

Burgundy is a nice alternative to your standard brown leather. Depending on how picky you are, it may be challenging trying to choose a pair of pants that work.

I think charcoal trousers, dark navy trousers, or a muted khaki chino (not too light) can look great.

In reality, all these shades are flexible so you can pull off any look, especially when utilizing the rest of your outfit.


Keep in mind I used these Allen Edmonds models for illustrative purposes, and these variations in brown aren’t restricted to AE only. You’ll see similarities in shades across all brands when you go shopping.

Familiarize yourself with the different shades of brown so you’re a more educated shopper the next time you’re in the market for shoes.

Does that help? Still have questions? Leave em in the comments below.


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Barron is the founder and editor of Effortless Gent, a site dedicated to helping guys figure out what looks best on them. He's based in San Francisco. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

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