The Men’s Guide to Wearing Black vs. Brown Shoes (Watch Video)

when to wear black vs brown shoes
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Do you have trouble deciding which color dress shoes to wear and when? Is there a better-colored shoe to wear and is it more appropriate for a certain occasion?

The most popular color of dress shoes is your black and brown options. Most of us have both options in our closet but have a hard time deciding which color shirt or pant goes with black or brown shoes. And if you didn’t know, there happens to be a lot of shades of brown when it comes to shoes! There is tan, cognac, chestnut, chocolate. When it comes to black, there is only black. So, if I’m stuck, I’m typically going to choose the easier option and wear black. It’s easy to make black your default. However, is that the correct option? The more we research and think about it, probably not!

One Black Shoe and One Brown Shoe

Rules for Wearing Black Shoes

Black Shoes

Rule # 1 – If You Need to Be Formal:  Black is the most formal of all the shoe colors out there. A shoe in black is always going to be more formal than the same style shoe in brown.

Rule #2 – Pair Your Black Shoes with Dark Suits:  Black shoes should be paired with your darker suits such as your black, charcoal grey, and midnight navy. Certain dress codes, such as a black-tie, require black shoes.

Rule #3 – If You Need to Be Taken Seriously:  Black dress shoes are to be worn when you want to be taken seriously. They’re to be worn when the stakes are high! Weddings, funerals, job interviews, or any type of business situation are some times when it’s appropriate to wear that black dress shoe.

Rule #4 – Never Do Black Shoes When…  There are times when black dress shoes are not appropriate. If you are wearing a lighter color or brighter color, then black is not going to be your choice because the contrast difference will be too extreme causing strain on the eyes. You might get some looks, and not the good kind! Since black is known for being more elegant and those lighter colors are more commonly used for casual looks, it can be a bit confusing to those you come in contact with. Pairing a pair of black shoes with a blue seersucker suit is just not going to look right! And then there are jeans! Jeans are casual which means black shoes are not the more fitting option. Never wear black shoes with jeans. We’ve seen some guys pull off black shoes with jeans, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Man wearing a black suit

Rules for Wearing Brown Shoes

Brown Shoes

Rule #1 – Brown Shoes Aren’t As Formal:  Brown shoes are never going to be as formal as black shoes which give brown the advantage of having more options when it comes to the casual side of dressing.

Rule #2 – Are black or brown shoes more versatile?  You can mix brown shoes with countless pants and shirt fabrics ultimately making brown shoes more versatile.

Rule #3 – What color do you wear brown shoes with?  It’s best to wear brown shoes with blue jeans and any standard chinos such as your tans, olives, greens, and navy! Brown shoes go great with navy, light grey, greens, browns, anything neutral, or anything with earthy tones.

Rule #4 – Shade Matters:  Dark brown will be your most formal shade of brown which would be your choice for a wedding or formal event that doesn’t require a black tie. Medium shades of brown shoes can allow you to be dressed up for work or dressed down for the weekend. Tan is going to be your most casual shade of brown.

Rule #5 – The Most Important Rule for Brown Shoes:  Can you wear brown shoes with black? Brown shoes are never to be worn with black. This means no tuxedos or black suits. This is really the only rule for the brown shoe.

brown shoes and accessories with blue jeans

Brown shoes are never going to be as formal as black shoes which gives brown the advantage of having more options when it comes to the casual side of dressing. You can mix it with countless trouser and shirt fabrics making it more versatile. Brown shoes go great with navy, light grey, greens, browns or anything neutral or an earth tone. Dark brown will be your most formal shade of brown which would be your choice for a wedding or formal event that doesn’t require black tie. Medium brown can be dressed up for work or down for the weekend. Tan is going to be your most casual brown.

Brown Shoes with brown accessories

How to Know Which Shoes You Need

What Clothes Do You Own?

Ask yourself this: When you look into your closet, do you see a bunch of dark clothes, a ton of lighter color clothes, or an easy mixture? If it’s hard to tell, categorize your closet by darks and lights and see which section is bigger. This will help you become more aware of what your style is – ultimately helping you understand the right shoes. You can use this guide to choose a good shoe color. For example, if you wear a lot of run pastels, a light brown should work great. If you mostly wear dark grays, you’ll probably want to invest in another couple of pairs of black dress shoes.

Black VS Brown Shoes Graphic

We hope you found these tips on whether to wear black or brown dress shoes helpful! At last, we decide what we want to wear and when. You choose what you think looks best and you never know… maybe you’ll start a new trend!

Man wearing denim with brown shoes

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Erin @ Wardrobe Hackers

Erin @ Wardrobe Hackers

Content Creator for Wardrobe Hackers

Erin is a fashion enthusiast, all-around craftsy girl, marketer, and devoted mom. She’s been with Wardrobe Hackers since day 1, as the author and “star” of our very first blog post and Youtube video. Before joining Wardrobe Hackers, Erin had her own custom wreath-making business (Front Door Décor) and prior to that, she managed key accounts with Enterprise. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband, two young girls and a beagle that sheds (a lot!).

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1 Comment

  1. Toby Ryan

    Thanks for explaining how brown shoes tend to be more casual and allow you to wear a variety of different kinds of clothes with them. My brother is thinking about getting some shoes so that he can make a good impression at his new job, but he needs to find some that will allow him to jog home comfortably. He should consider getting some brown shoes for their versatility.


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