Blue Suit, Brown Shoes, Big Style! How to Break Away from Black
The Oliver Wicks team pride themselves on bringing you all the very best styling tips possible. We hope we’ve helped you advance your wardrobe from t-shirts and jeans to something elegant, stylish, and modern. But there comes a time in every man’s life where even knowing how to wear a tuxedo like a boss, identify a grenadine tie at 20 paces, rock business casual like it was made for you, order a made-to-measure suit that will fit like a glove, and even attend a funeral in the most supportive possible way isn’t enough.
Yes, you read the heading right- it’s time to power up your color game and get excited about venturing away from the safety of black leather accessories. Today we’re pulling out all those gorgeous browns, and pairing them with the most classic suit combination there is- a blue suit. A navy blue suit and brown or black shoes are a power pairing every man should wield in his wardrobe, and there’s a lot more fun to explore too. Chic awaits you.
That’s certainly not to say you should banish your black leather accessories. There is no more versatile color to have, especially for shoes. And when in doubt about a color match, you can seldom go wrong reaching for a sleek pair of black loafers and getting on with life.
But if you never venture further than black, you miss out on a ton of opportunities to enjoy fashion and cultivate a sophisticated look for yourself.
But before we specifically look at styling brown dress shoes with a blue suit, let’s drop into color theory a little.
The reason black tends to go with everything is that it doesn’t have much undertone, (temperature). There can be different tones of black- just think about how some black hair has red hints, and another person can have blue-black hair. Or how two black clothing items don’t always match. But when it comes to fabric dyes, the undertones from black don’t overwhelm.
The second you venture into color, however, undertones come into play. The color we perceive in an object is called its ‘mass tone’. The undertone is the faint ‘under shade’, something like a translucent second color that isn’t truly perceivable to the eye, but affects how our eyes interpret the mass tone. People laugh at the idea, but this is why ‘cool white’ and ‘warm white’ are different light colors and paint colors. One has a warm golden undertone, the other has a cool blue.
Our skins also have an undertone. It’s part of color typing- or the reason why certain shades look great on you, and others make you look ruddy, sickly, or just washed out. So you will need to search for the suit that matches your skin tone perfectly!It’s worth looking into, because it’s good to know what spectrum of color will suit you best. Interestingly, this is also why every man looks great in a crisp white shirt and navy suit. Brown shoes optional! The navy shade spectrum just works on all skin tones and undertones. Other blue suits can be trickier.
This is why some brown shoes, blue suit combos fail. It’s not that the idea wasn’t good. But you have to make sure you have the right shade (the perceivable color) and undertone of brown and blue to mesh nicely with each other, then they both have to play well with your skin tone and undertone.
Ironically, this is also why there’s been an age-long debate about whether brown shoes look ‘professional’ enough. A dark, sophisticated brown with a cool undertone would never look out-of-place in the boardroom, but a bright honey with warm undertones can look very bold and out-there. People can perceive it as unprofessional. So it’s not about the color- it’s about how you wear it and the shade you choose for the event. And now you know the deeper secret to snappy dressing for any occasion!
110% yes- you just need to balance the look correctly. We’d go as far as to say that brown shoes are one of the best colors to wear with any color blue for a suit. Why? Because once you leave the chic and sophisticated, but safe, confines of navy, blue can be very tricky to pair with black. Too dark, and it looks like a dye mismatch. Too bright, and it just looks weird. Brown, on the other hand, brings a softer effect for the eye, and the mood matches up better.
There’s a lot of types of men’s shoes, but here’s a brief look. What you likely think of as ‘dress shoes’ are almost always Oxfords. Derbys and Bluchers, other lace-up leather shoes, are a bit more casual. If it uses straps and buckles instead, it’s a monk. Double monk for double straps, and both formal shoes. The ‘Chelsea boot’ mimics elastic-sided riding boots, and is a more fashion-forward formal shoe.
Brogues occupy a class of their own. They’re those ‘dress shoes with holes’ you know, and there are a ton of variants. Technically they are formal dress shoes, but they are very flashy, and probably best kept for showing off on a date or at a wedding then the office. Though some folks will debate us.
Boat shoes and loafers look similar, and are a far more casual shoe that should probably never show their face at the office. Chuka- an odd kind of boot- and desert boots- another boot-like shoe- also fall in the semi-casual arena. Spectator shoes are the two-tone shoes you often see, and generally not appropriate at all for this look.
Why does this matter, again? The reason many more sartorial folks will answer, “Can you wear a blue suit with brown shoes” with “No” is because people make a formality mismatch to the occasion in stand-out shoes and then look gauche. But not you- you will pick a good style for the occasion, right?
Navy blue suits are an incredibly safe suit to choose. It also looks good with almost any brown you can find, and on every skin. So if you’re really not confident picking a pairing but want to try this look, there you go. But there’s a wider world of blue suits to discover, and honestly? It’s one of the most versatile and useful suit colors for men.
Our general advice is to deepen or lighten your brown shade with the suit. So a lighter brown with pastels, and a deep brown with dark blue. Don’t forget to match the undertone (temperature) of the two colors. Lastly, pay a little attention to the saturation (how vivid the color is). A very bold blue can take a bold shoe. If it’s an unsaturated near-gray, choose an unsaturated brown to match.
Still need some inspiration? Let’s take a look at some places where you could wear different blue suit, brown shoes combinations.
This is an adventurous pair. Close enough to the navy to look good on most people, but bolder and vivid. A nice mid-tan, oxblood, or even orange-leaning brown will show it off. Why not try brogues and stand out from the crowd? Perfect for
- Enjoying town
- Hitting a bar
- Romancing your special friend
- Creative industries
- Statement dressing
- Theatrical events and arty functions where you don’t mind attention
There’s so many great light blues to choose from for men. It’s a breezy, cool look that’s ideal for summer, and happens to look fantastic for wedding parties too. Dark skins and hair colors tend to look fabulous, but it will work for everyone. Keep the brown as lighthearted as the suit, such as cognac or tan, and match undertones carefully.
- Summer, beach, outdoor, and daytime weddings
- The wedding party
- The groom
- Man about town in hot weather
- Catching a coffee early in the day, or a lunch
- Daytime celebration
This is a somber combo that can easily become a little drab on darker skins or people with a cool undertone so choose your dark blue carefully. It’s the perfect way to introduce this trend to the office, however, and easily adds the ‘smart’ to smart-casual for evening or more formal events that still allow personality. So think:
- Business casual outside of creative spheres
- Fun formal events like art exhibits and the theater
- Evening summer/outdoor weddings or smart-casual receptions
- Evening dates
You’ve already noticed we’ve mentioned weddings a lot here, we’re sure. Gone are the days when people were satisfied with cookie-cutter weddings and the groom, his groomsmen, and all guests in penguin-themed attire. Blue is a flattering and generally appropriate color, and can work fantastically for guests, grooms, and the wedding party.
It also lets you, should you be the groom, choose a suit for your groomsmen they will be able to use elsewhere. It’s classy, versatile, and adaptable. We’ve already shown how you can easily lift the color for summer and the outdoors, or bring a sense of formality for evening.
We advise darker hues for fall, winter, and the evening, and lighter hues (and fabrics) for spring and summer, the outdoors, and daytime events. We absolutely love a groom in a blue suit, brown shoe combination. A double breasted suit, or playing with suit types, will give you further versatility.
As a guest, attending a wedding in a blue suit and brown shoes will almost always be appropriate provided it’s not black tie.
Now you’ve got the basics of your new look tied down, it’s time to accessorize. When deciding how much, or what type, of accessory to use, consider whether you’re going smart casual for around town or a date, wearing a suit separate like slacks and a blazer, need business casual, dressing for a wedding (and whether you’re guest, groom, or best man) or are heading for a meeting with the Big Boss (or are the Big Boss) and choose your selection accordingly.
This is the sort of look that could work very well for no belt. If you’d rather wear one, though, it’s easy- you need one the same shade and undertone as your shoes. You will look very strange with a clash. This is a nice look to play with pleated pants if you want to avoid a belt. If you like to use bracers, check out our advice for ties and vests.
A leather strap should be brown too. You could get away with a slight mismatch here, but try to get as close as possible. It might be appropriate to wear a metal band instead, depending on the occasion.
This one also needs to be a close brown, guys.
When in doubt, go white. It won’t be wrong. But don’t let that hold you back. Never pair a dark suit with a dark shirt. You can wear a light shirt with a light blue suit, however, and many pastels will look amazing. Just match the color temperature well.
This is the final test after navigating all the hurdles of styling a blue suit and brown shoes- what color tie? Or bow tie, if you’d rather. If you’re not sure, we say go with similar colors. Maybe a slightly darker blue, or something like a blue and white stripe or polka dot. Likewise, a brown can work- but the brown of your shoes, not just any brown. Gray makes a classic, calm, monochromatic addition that’s surprisingly fun.
Blue suit, brown shoes, red tie screams cheesy politician. Some men can rock it, but we’ll rather advise a deep ruby or burgundy for the same effect, but better. Orange can sometimes work if you have a bolder, warmer brown with orange-like undertones, but it can be very loud, so handle with caution.
For a formal 3-piece suit, remember that your vest will always be made from the same material as your suit. If the look needs to be formal but the suit isn’t a 3-piece, stick to that advice and try to at least match fabric weight and color. If you're using a vest as a more casual statement and want a contrasting color, we’d advise the same spectrum we suggested for your tie.
We lied a little. There’s one more battleground- blue suit, brown shoes, what color socks? Old school thought is that your socks and suit should match as closely as possible, to create a lean and uninterrupted leg line. It’s solid advice. Modern trend loves fun, whimsical, bright socks with an attitude, so fashion-forward men can just have fun. If you don’t want to spend all day running around trying to find the exact shade of blue you need, and you don’t fancy loud and bold either? Then make a compromise with a patterned sock that sticks to the same colors, near as possible, as your suit, shirt, shoes, and accessories, especially the tie.
We’re not going to advise you on this one! Just make sure your suit pants fit properly, then the world never needs to know. One small tip, though. While all well-made blue suits should be opaque no matter how summery the material, if you’re going for a light fabric and light blue, check that your neon tighties or bright red boxers don’t show through the fabric. You never know and don’t want to find out in the photos.
So, now you know how to wear a blue suit with brown shoes like a knockout, is there anything you should keep in mind?
- Don’t buy the shoes first. If you see a pair of oxblood brogues you can’t live without, go ahead and break this rule. But it’s going to be exponentially easier to pair you up with a beautiful blue suit, then find the right dark brown shoes, then try to work backward. Remember, a shoe is just an accessory with lofty opinions.
- Don’t mix-and-match leather colors. No black and brown style abominations!
- Don’t be shy to try a color shirt, but also don’t clash colors. Remember tone and undertone!
- Don’t mix casual and formal. If you need a crisp navy blue suit for the office, don’t use casual brown shoes.
- Don’t forget to take care of your shoes. Black is more forgiving on scuffs. Brown is not. Take pride in your shoes.
And there you have it! A whole new fashion world lies before you, so have fun and play with this trendy, more relaxed take on the suit and shoe. Who knows? Maybe we’ll soon have you as a gray suit, brown shoe fan too! But most of all, we hope the Oliver Wicks experts have given you some encouragement to break away from safe combinations and explore the full world of color that will make your suit-wearing experience even richer and give you plenty of confidence in choosing fashionable looks.