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.

Brown

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.

Burgundy

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.

Finally

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.

 

PS — Are you on EG’s exclusive list? Members get access to special content created just for them and not shared anywhere else. They also get access to EG Sundays, a new video series shared only with those on the list.

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PUBLISHED October 5, 2012


Barron is the Founding Editor of Effortless Gent and the Cladright Association. He's from San Francisco but currently living in New York. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tumblr.



  • Jason

    Thank you for this. Very helpful for us color challenged.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=709671556 Chris Powell

    I really want a pair of the Strands in walnut.

    It does seem to be a very bright color, however. While I don’t mind wearing eye-catching stuff ordinarily, I’d love to get a sense of just how vibrant (read: orange-looking) these shoes are in person before committing $300.

    Also, not the right forum I know, but what do you know about sizing for AE. I’ve read in various forums that they fit true to size, but then just as many people say they run long and narrow. What would you recommend for a 12D?

    • David X L

      This picture is pretty spot-on for how I think they look in person (i.e.
      beautiful): http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m7soe2ROKy1r0l6e7o1_1280.jpg

      It’s not too bright, but it will definitely get attention. The color is
      definitely along the spectrum of natural browns–there isn’t much, if
      any, orange or red tint. They’re not too shiny or dull, either. Perfect
      balance there. I also love the edges on them. They’re a striated kind of
      leather, almost like a wood, that distinguishes them nicely.

      If you buy them, know that Allen Edmonds uses leather soles. I HIGHLY
      recommend going to a shoe repair shop and getting rubber outsole pads
      and plastic taps put on them. It’ll really extend the life of the sole.

      As for fit, AE does things way differently than other brands. In
      athletic shoes, I’m just about exactly a 10.5, and I wear 10.5 in
      Rockports, but when I went in, they told me my size was 8 EEE! Whoa!
      Find an Allen Edmonds store near you and they’ll size you up for free.

      http://www.allenedmonds.com/aeonline/AjaxStoreLocatorDisplayView?catalogId=40000000001&langId=-1&storeId=1

    • David X L

      This picture is pretty spot-on for how I think they look in person (i.e.
      beautiful): http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m7soe2ROKy1r0l6e7o1_1280.jpg

      It’s not too bright, but it will definitely get attention. The color is
      definitely along the spectrum of natural browns–there isn’t much, if
      any, orange or red tint. They’re not too shiny or dull, either. Perfect
      balance there. I also love the edges on them. They’re a striated kind of
      leather, almost like a wood, that distinguishes them nicely.

      If you buy them, know that Allen Edmonds uses leather soles. I HIGHLY
      recommend going to a shoe repair shop and getting rubber outsole pads
      and plastic taps put on them. It’ll really extend the life of the sole.

      As for fit, AE does things way differently than other brands. In
      athletic shoes, I’m just about exactly a 10.5, and I wear 10.5 in
      Rockports, but when I went in, they told me my size was 8 EEE! Whoa!
      Find an Allen Edmonds store near you and they’ll size you up for free.

      http://www.allenedmonds.com/aeonline/AjaxStoreLocatorDisplayView?catalogId=40000000001&langId=-1&storeId=1

  • Pao

    Are there any preferred shades (or shades not to be worn with) navy trousers / suiting?

  • http://www.jessydiamond.com/ Jessy

    I bought a pair of burgundy wingtips on eBay recently. They are very nice. You’re right, charcoal and navy would be great choices.

  • David X L

    I own the Strands, and I love wearing them with navy and light gray. What a beautiful shoe!

  • Dan J.

    Love those cognac Strands. Personally, I don’t see that the darker shades have that much more interest than do blacks. But the lighter shades have tremendous character that black and the darker, more uniform shades of brown don’t have.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I think seeing them in person makes a big difference. Looking at the photos (even the larger ones online), you can’t really tell. In any case I totally agree with you; the cognac shade is my favorite.

  • TJ

    I’ve always called burgundy colored shoes cordovan. Of course it is important to distinguish between cordovan the color, and cordovan the leather.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Right, I guess just to avoid confusion I’ve only referred to cordovan when it’s the actual leather. Have you seen shoes that are called cordovan when the manufacturer is just referring to the color, and not the leather?

      • TJ

        Yes I have. I work at a shoe store and we have cordovan color shoe polish for our cordovan colored shoes.

  • JAKE

    I’ve been lusting after the kenilworths for like 6 months now, only issues are that the website had some awkward reviews about some weird ‘bowing’ around the laces, (hope that one gets resolved soon) and also, its on the 5 last, which even though i’m normally a 12D, the pair of strands i bought (also on the 5 ) hurt terribly. so i’m not sure what size i am in that last…. so basically stuck. (no AE store to get measured in near me)…. any hope/help/similar shoes/AHH

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hmm, that’s a good point (Re: lasts) and it’s probably a good idea you haven’t taken the plunge yet if you know it’ll probably be painful. I haven’t gotten fitted myself yet. Best bet may be to order it through Zappos because of their return policy. If you try it out for a day or two and you can tell they won’t be comfortable, then you can send em back (in original condition, of course. Not like you can run through the mud w/ them and then send them back). How far is the closest AE store?

      • JAKE

        maybe an hour. busy work schedule and night schedule +kids… some times you gotta make sacrifices. :)

  • chris.

    i got the walnut strands recently. do i need a walnut belt?

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Definitely! Doesn’t have to match exactly, but you’d want to get as close as possible (since the walnut is such a distinct color, and a dark brown belt w/ those shoes might look a little weird… sometimes).

      • chris.

        Thanks – I wore my strands for my wedding and today is the second time I have them on. They hurt! I think they are a little tight in the toe box for me. You think they’ll stretch?

  • Jack

    I still don’t understand the obsession with walnut. I think they come across as clown shoes that scream “HEY, LOOK AT MY FEET!” As mentioned in the article, this is all very subjective. That being said, I was never one to wear bright white sneakers with jeans either no matter how trendy it was. Anything that attention-grabbing below the ankles is just another form of peacocking in my opinion. Shoes can stand out without being loud.

  • PS

    Hi Barron, great site with lots of useful information!
    Question: I have a pair of Walnut shoes but found the color a little light. Is there a way to apply polish or wax to make the color darker?

  • Dalton

    Being a new reader coming from the branding of high school, AE keeps saying “American Eagle” to me… must remember Allen Edmonds!

  • lab59

    ….brown shoes
    don’t make it…
    – Frank Zappa

  • lab59

    ….brown shoes
    don’t make it…
    – Frank Zappa