Hey gents,

This is part one of a three part series called Back to Basics. I wanted to cover some typical questions I get on a regular basis, and hopefully cover it extensively enough so you will stop asking me questions. (Just kidding. I actually really love email, so keep it coming.)

Let’s assume we’re trying to pick out a pair of pants, and we have only two pairs of shoes in our closet: 1.) brown leather shoes (in this case, brown brogued wingtips from Allen Edmonds) and 2.) black leather shoes (black captoes, also from AE.)

Side note: If you can only own two pairs of shoes, let it be these, or some similar variation, they will go with practically everything.

If you ask me, I wear some type of brown leather shoe with everything. I feel that brown is richer and more interesting than black lace-ups. That’s just my opinion, and I know black is appropriate in most of these situations. I just like brown better.

That being said…

Brown or Black? A visual guide

Looking for the full version? Download the full-sized graphic here (click to view, or right click and Save as…)

A.) Black suiting - Black, naturally. This is probably the only time I will say no to brown being an option. Good thing I never wear black pants.

B.) Grey Suiting or Twill - Brown warms up the palette, but black works if you must.

C.) Dark, inky denim - The safest, most appropriate variation of denim for all situations. Brown looks best. Yes! Exception? If you’re wearing a black sport coat, or a black button-up. (Brown shoes can work with a black button-up, but you have to accent it with large amounts of swagger.)

D.) Navy suiting - Brown ideally. Black will work, but brown is more interesting (especially with a suit)

E.) Dark Khaki / Olive Twill - Brown (this seems like an obvious choice)

F.) Medium Khaki - Brown (also an obvious choice?)

G.) Cream cords - Brown, because it plays nicely with the off-white hue

H.) White Denim - Brown, exceptions: Black upstairs

This is by no means a hard-and-fast reference or guide. Just because I endorse one color, DOESN’T mean the opposite can’t work. In theory, either shoe can go with any of these pant colors, but it also depends on what you have going on upstairs in the shirt department (also: what kind of shoe, what kind of pants, how cool you are, etc.)

Try this: If you typically play it safe (i.e. black lace-ups with dark denim and a black button-up), try out your pair of brown wingtips with a lavender shirt. Or maybe you could pick up a dark red / white bengal stripe shirt, or an olive gingham. Lots of options pair nicely with brown, and you owe it to yourself to try them out.

The Takeaway

Be experimental with your colors, and don’t be afraid to clash a little once you’ve mastered the basics. I mash up colors all the time, and I like to wear patterns, colors, and textures that you wouldn’t normally think to put together. Need inspiration? My man Kenyatte does a great job with this. It’s a shame he doesn’t update his site more frequently, but you can check him out at Tweed and Velvet. If the name Kenyatte sounds familiar, he was also Esquire’s Best Dressed Real Man in 2008.

Try it!

If you’re unsure, snap a photo or two of your outfit and send it to gent@effortlessgent.com. Crop your head out if you’re shy. I think it’d be cool to post these images up in a future follow-up post. That way we can have a more in-depth discussion of what works and what doesn’t.

Check back soon for part two of Back to Basics. For now, how about you follow me on Twitter? Till next time.

PUBLISHED February 28, 2011


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.



  • Jay

    I like that the take-away is basically that brown is best. Nice to see brown shoes making a comeback!

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I’m a bit biased (I only have one pair of black lace-ups, and I’m probably gonna get rid of them soon) but yes, I think brown really works best with everything!

  • http://twitter.com/RMRStyle Real Men Real Style

    Solid Post – as you know I love these charts and the visuals help to drive home the points. The only thing I would add is that this is a guide – a man who understands style can take some of these suggestions and go the opposite way and make it look good.

    I know you point this out – just wanted to say it again!

    Great job Barron!

    Antonio

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Thanks Antonio, and yes! Definitely a statement worth saying one more time. It was difficult making a guide full of absolutes because of this very reason, but hopefully this can steer guys in the right direction and eventually help them to be comfortable with their choices no matter the combo.

  • Plefebvre3

    Great article and chart. I’ll print this as a quick reference guide.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Awesome! Please do. Glad it’s useful.

  • Plefebvre3

    Great article and chart. I’ll print this as a quick reference guide.

  • Plefebvre3

    Great article and chart. I’ll print this as a quick reference guide.

  • Anonymous

    Brown leather is superior, I think. It’s just got a richness that black can’t bring to the table. I wouldn’t mind grabbing a pair of black lace-ups for when the occasion calls for it, though.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I’m right there with you, I wear brown leather with practically everything. Black just doesn’t do it for me. Personal preference though, of course.

  • KB

    Good Post, Do you have any recommendations for a more casual look when pairing dark denim with a primarily black button up (im thinking a loafer or a lace up)?

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I’m assuming you’re asking strictly about shoes. You can do a brogue lace-up for a casual look, kinda like the one I featured in the graphic above. A black loafer would work too, or a pair of driving shoes. If you were doing dark denim / black button up, feel free to go a little wild with the shoe choice (i.e. http://bit.ly/ibwqjG). Hope that helps!

  • Pingback: Brown Dress Shoes in Every Price Range

  • MrNK7

     Gents,

    Came across this post, has some great advise, all of which I agree with. However I have a riddle that I’m hoping you can help me solve. My wife is a bridesmaid in a wedding this July. She’ll be wearing a black dress. I would like to wear my khaki suit as it’s an outdoor wedding and a black suit would probably be too formal (it will be knowing the couple getting married). I’d like to wear the suit with black loafers and a black and white gingham tie. But the bottoms are mostly brown with a little taupe and black mixed in. What do we think? Can I wear the black shoes and tie with the khaki and brownish buttons or no?

    • MrNK7

      Sorry, buttons, not bottoms… 

      • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

        Short answer: don’t worry about it. You’ll be just fine with black leather shoes / black and white gingham tie, despite your buttons being a brownish hue.

        More importantly, have a great time at the wedding!

  • larry ramirez

    I agree with most, with the exception that, in my opinion, brown shoes look with good black pants and can be (somewhat) innovative. Granted, I wear driving shoes and not shiny wingtips, but I feel like softer leather, unpolished leather or somewhat worn leather, can look great with black pants and give them a softer edge.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      They sure can in certain situations, but guys who have this question generally won’t be comfortable wearing brown shoes with black pants. The series is called Back to Basics and pulling that off isn’t exactly a basic idea.

  • Mydukesup

    Im 24, and I am just beginning my journey into manhood (as far as wardrobe is concerned). That being said, do you REALLY wanna hear all my gripes about how unsure I am in my outfitting choices? Im just making sure before I take you up on your offer to send my pics when im unsure… O_o

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I think once you get the basic idea, it becomes easier. And sure, you can send me whatever you’re unsure of. I’ll do my best to get back to you w/ feedback asap.

  • Gerald

    Hi Barron, 

    Dropped by AE at the mall today for the first time ever and tried on some Park Avenues.  I don’t know if it’s placebo from reading your site and other fashion blogs but they made me feel like a million bucks!  I’m now dead set on investing in a good pair of AE shoes… but I was trying to decide between the dark brown and the walnut color.  Would the walnut work in most of the situations above or should I stick with the more conservative dark color?

    Thanks!

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hey Gerald,

      I guess it depends on where you imagine you’d wear them. If you work in a conservative office setting, you might get more use out of the dark brown leather. If you have more leeway with what you wear in your everyday life, and you like the walnut, I’d go with that :)

      I personally love the walnut color. Hope that helps!

      • SH

        Barron,

        I’m a bit of a newbie when it comes to dressing well, but I really like the walnut color. Do walnut shoes work with navy, light grey, charcoal suits? I’ve been reading a lot about how shoes should be darker than the pants and shouldn’t “pop”. Doesn’t seem like that leaves much for walnut besides a khaki or tan pant color. As I’m trying to decide how I could use a pair, I would love to get your thoughts on what works well with a walnut shoe.

        A side note, your site is great and has been tremendously helpful as I learn.

        Thanks

  • Ryan

    What about black shoes with a light khaki or cream?  I think it looks good, obviously you will be wearing a black belt to match your shoes.

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I’d go with a dark brown leather. I dunno, I’m just not a fan of that stark contrast. It depends on how it’s done and if your fit is on-point. Like, out of the two images, can you tell which one I’d be more okay with?

  • Chris A.

    Good day Barron,

    I am wondering what your colour recommendations would be for pants that work well with Walnut coloured shoes.

    Thanks

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Hi Chris,

      You could start off with a pair of dark denim, navy / charcoal trousers, or navy / charcoal chinos.

  • Jake Larsen

    Hi Barron,

    I know that this is a bit of an older article but I was perusing your site after finding it a short time ago and came across this article. What do you think would go best with a brown suit/trousers. The color I’m thinking of is a fairly rich brown fabric (but not super dark brown)

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      I’d say a dark brown leather, or tan, mostly because I personally don’t like the extreme matching if you found a shade of brown leather shoes super close to the brown trousers you’re thinking of. I prefer contrast.

  • Mhelms

    From a color matching stanpoint, do you consider burgandy shell cordovans to be brown?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Gkris.rulez GopiKrishnan Nair

    Thank you for the article. :) Good read.

  • Danil Ovechkin

    Hi! I recently bought a grey/blue glen plaid suit. I am thinking to buy brown shoes. Should I go for shoes with wingtips or something else?

    • http://effortlessgent.com Barron

      Sounds fancy. Have an image of the suit? If it were me personally, I’d go with a semi brogue, quarter brogue, or a plain cap toe. See here: effortlessgent.com/all-in-the-details-leather-shoes-part-3/

  • Greg Weiss

    Hi there. i was really impressed by this article and referred to it here http://tinyurl.com/d7639j6

  • sanvin1

    Thanks!

  • http://www.lucidlingo.com.au/ Gazman

    Good article, but wish you’d have expanded the chart to include different shades of brown. Tan is very different from chocolate. When you say brown do you include tan?

    • RicLeeSmith

      If the tan is more of a camel, then you are safe wearing that with everything. Camel is as versatile as black.

  • RicLeeSmith

    Go with the wingtip it os a timeless style that adds just “a little” . It can also dress up or down.