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Guys Style Guide: How to Wear Brown Shoes With Black Pants

Today, we tackle the myth that you shouldn’t wear black pants with brown shoes. Spoiler: you absolutely can, but you need to know the ground rules first. Our style guide below is here to help.

Black Pants Brown Shoes

Yes, it’s totally possible to wear black pants along with a good pair of brown shoes and totally rock the look, but there are some ground rules to avoid looking like a fool.

We sort you out in our style guide below.

Understand the Rules of the Black Pants Brown Shoes Combination

The common notion is that black goes with everything, but that isn’t entirely true.

It’s fair to say that black can go with nearly any color, but as with any other hue in the spectrum, there are a few items that will not mix with classic black. Brown shoes put against a pair of black pants are the biggest offender. However, that’s typically because the people trying to pull it off aren’t following a few basic rules.

As a result, they end up making the whole style look like the clothing equivalent of a mullet – professional and business-like at first glance, but closer consideration shows an awkward inclusion of casualness that ruins the entire look.

A Brief History of Brown Shoes and Black Pants

Dark Brown shoes

Dark brown shoes with slacks or black jeans are a classic look that harkens back to a time when shoe leather was commonly brown. Only those with status and money to burn were wealthy enough to spring for the rarer black leather choices.

It also helps that brown shoes hide the dirt, managing to look good despite being worn all day. Brown is a decent color when it comes to pairing with others too, matching with nearly as many colors as black. This allowed brown shoes to serve dual purposes as work boots and dress shoes for more formal occasions, such as going to church.

This is important because you need to know the style you’re trying to attain.

The black trousers with black (rather than brown) shoes look is more recent, and far more formal. It follows the more modern trend of sleekness and slickness, which hasn’t always been in style. A few hundred years ago, a man wearing black from chin to toe was either lazy, a priest, or an undertaker. (Sometimes all three.) Before that plague doctors were one of the few who would dress entirely in black, which wasn’t a look that anyone would want.

Therefore, you should recognize that when putting brown shoes with black, you should be thinking in terms of James Dean, English businessmen, and icons from the early 20th century.

Nail Down Your Look Before Matching Black and Brown

It Takes Confidence to Wear Brown Shoes

Before you don any brown shoes, it is imperative that you know the look you are aiming for. Is it a business affair, a casual affair, or a modern-day combination of the two?

The general rule of thumb with brown shoes is that the lighter the safe, the more casual the final look will be. So, keep this in mind before you plan your next black pants brown shoes outfit. 

The reason for this is that a natty black over a beige or a tan shoe makes the appearance top-heavy. It also creates a lot of contrast between your dress shoes and your pants, which is always a sign of casualness. Consider how quickly an Armani suit will look like a mistake when paired with a set of sterling white tennis shoes. It’s impossible to take a person in that attire seriously, and the same is true – to a lesser degree – if you opt for a sandy brown set of loafers or boat shoes with a nice pair of tuxedo pants.

So in order to make your next adventure wearing brown shoes a success consider the message you want your look to send. If you’re heading to a corporate affair, opt for a pair of dark brown shoes to pair with your black suit trousers. This will reduce the top-heaviness of the outfit and give you a degree of deliberate sophistication. Save your lighter shades for those business casual days in the office, or your weekend city breaks. 

The Importance of Style and Shape for Dress Shoes

Pairing Brown Shoes

Alongside getting the right shade for your brown shoes, it is important that you get the right style of footwear for the occasion also. Just because they are dark brown, wearing a pair of brown boots or dark chocolate slippers to a wedding is going to garner just as much negative attention.

The next time you are invited to an event make sure to think about the style of footwear you should be wearing. It might mean expanding the contents of your shoe rack, but that’s not always a bad thing. 

Shoe Shape Should Not Be Overlooked

From Tan Shoes to Brown Boots Shape is Important

The shape of your shoes should be your paramount concern since that is going to go a long way towards setting the tone for your outfit.

More formal shoes are generally more pointed, tapering at the end. They also bear less tread than motorcycle or work boots, since they’re intended to be worn only in offices and on paved streets. In addition, formal shoes are generally cut lower, since they don’t need to support your ankle during rigorous activity, like hiking or days on the job site.

The more formal the event you’re going to, the more the cut of your shoe should reflect a formal style. Even if this means wearing a pair of brown shoes that is a shade or two lighter than the ideal. The more casual or relaxed, the more you can wear both whatever color shoe you wish, in any cut you like.

The Right Amount of Shine Makes the Outfit

Don't Pair Brown Sneakers With Formal Attire

The watchword here is Shine. Shiny shoes look like they’re more dressed up because they have extra sparkle.

The more matte a shoes appearance, the more casual they appear. Any old set of dark brown boots can look fairly dressy if they’re paired with the right pants and clearly shined to the nines. Conversely, the nicest monk straps will make you a laughingstock if that have been left to flounder in disrepair.

This facet applies both ways, as shiny, dressed-up shoes with worn black jeans can throw your entire look off. Typically if you’re going to be in a formal or business environment, choose shoes that you can shine. If you have a set of suede shoes or boots that don’t need to have grease applied, they’re better on either casual or business casual days. The softer the lines of a shoe, the more relaxed it appears, while the harder the exterior look, the more it belongs at a jacket-and-tie excursion.

Getting the Right Polish and Color Combinations

Master Black Pants Outfits

Something to consider when picking an outfit is what kind of polish you put on your shoes, since a different sheen can completely change how your brown shoes look. If you’re trying to tone down a set of a tawny shoes, or trying to give spunk to a set of deep brown, going with a reddish polish can make a world of difference. The red will more effectively set off the black of your pants, and help make other reds in your outfit pop.

There’s no hard and fast way to make a determination of what polish will work, but it’s best to think of the polish as you would a pocket square. It’s there to set off other parts of the outfit. We suggest looking at what shirt, jacket, or tie you intend on wearing with the shoes and trying to incorporate a color or colors from that. That way your shoes look like they’re in league with other aspects of your outfit.

You Can Pull Off the Black Trouser Brown Shoe Look

Dark Brown Footwear is More Formal

If you’re not just wearing a pair of black pants, but a whole black suit, focus much more on the cut of the shoe and trying to match it to your other accessories.

That is, assuming you’re going somewhere that requires a suit. If you like to relax your suit to show you don’t take yourself too seriously, anything can work, but be careful. A set of brown slip-ons that you think make you look relaxed could actually make you seem sloppy.

Recommended Brown Shoes: Crown Northampton Harlestone Hand Stitch Derby

Crown Northampton Harlestone Hand Stitch DerbyShop Now

Originally formed as Earnest Woodford & Sons in 1908, the shoe brand continues to create the highest quality footwear that is forever etched with the centuries-old Northampton craftsmanship. Their design is timeless, made for every progressive man with a firm mantra: “Every Order, Made to Order.”

Their latest Hand Stitched collection, which is two years in the making, is arguably the pinnacle of luxury, handmade sneakers. Featuring a high-end, stylish, low-profile silhouette, the Harlestone Derby is made from the finest Shell Cordovan leather, the jewel in high-end shoemaking. This fine leather is well-known for its superior strength and extreme longevity, guaranteed to wear beautifully over time. 

The inner workings are equally impressive – cork-filled by hand that provides enough movement for stability and locking in comfort, traditional oak bark leather for the stiffener and counter, and natural leather lining. The collection has a core range of colors, and the Horween Bourbon Shell Cordovan is a perfect hybrid of high-end casual sneakers and traditional dress shoes to pair with your black pants. 

Final Thoughts on Black Pants and Brown Shoes

Hopefully, this article has helped dispel the myth about black pants and brown shoes. Contrary to many opinions, the two pair very well together. Just so long as you understand the rules and don’t get too creative with them. 

Are you a fan of this combination? Do you own any brown shoes? Do you wear them or do they just sit in the back of the closet gathering dust? If so, hopefully, this article will help breathe a new lease of life into your long-forgotten footwear. 

Let us know in the comments if you’ve pulled this combination off before, or perhaps, you’ve tried and failed but came out of it with a funny story. We love hearing from you. 

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