Shoes connect you to the earth. They are your base, your ground. You can make or break your suit with the men’s dress shoes you choose to pair with the sharp look. There are rules and guidelines for every man to follow when pairing shoes with a suit, and those can get a little overwhelming if you’re just now getting started with wearing suits.
But like everything menswear, we at The Manual will break it down simply so you have a great starting point when you start choosing your suits and shoes. Remember that this is a baseline, a starting point for you to look great while, if you excuse the pun, get your footing. As you start to find your style, you can branch out to other colors, styles, and even break a few of these guidelines.
There are three primary colors of dress shoes that you should familiarize yourself with and three secondaries. The primary colors should be the first that you pick up as they will be the most versatile. These colors will complete all your essential looks and let most outfits speak for themselves while acting more as complementing elements. You should invest in the secondary colors once you have perfected the others. The secondary colors will often be the centerpiece of an outfit, acting as the statement of an otherwise subtle outfit.
- Black – These are the most formal, and you should stay away from anything flashy. Basic and simple wins the day for your black dress shoes.
- Brown – These dress shoes should be your most comfortable. They will never go out of style, and if you invest in any of the more expensive brands, these are the ones you should choose.
- Tan – Tan dress shoes are similar to brown dress shoes in what you wear with them. They give a little more life to most outfits you wear than the other two options.
- Oxblood – Many times, these shoes are mistaken for brown. When you look closely at the color, there’s a slight tinge of red. These are also called burgundy or cordovan.
- Gray – Gray dress shoes are an excellent way to dress down any outfit you would wear your black shoes with. While you can wear them with suits, they work exceptionally well with denim, too, elevating your casual to more of a smart casual.
- Blue – Guys love blue. You can bet if there is a way to work blue into any outfit, we will do it. Blue dress shoes complete many outfits that would otherwise seem boring. If you’re looking for a way to stand out, these are the ones for you.
Now, let’s get into the suits to wear with these men’s dress shoes.
Your black suit is your most formal. Because of that, you want to stick to black shoes almost all of the time. When you wear the black suit, you’re looking to put as much focus on yourself and what you can do, not on what you are wearing. Think about formal events like banquets and speaking engagements; the focus is on your talent. Your outfit shouldn’t take the attention away. Less is more. Therefore, pairing your black suit with your black shoes is a timeless classic that never goes out of style.
Flash It Up: Swap your black shoes for gray dress shoes when you want to make more of a statement. If you decide to do this, try to keep the shirt and tie on the lighter side (a white dress shirt with a gray tie would complement this spectacularly). If you really want to make a statement, swap out your black suit jacket with your tan one and create space for your tan dress shoes. This breaks the rule that you shouldn’t wear black and brown together. But if you do it right, you’ll be the talk of the event.
Your charcoal suit serves as the cornerstone of your four-legged stool and is a less formal stand-in for your black suit. It also provides you with a lot more versatility. There is one rule you should follow regarding the shoes you wear with this particular suit. Before 6 p.m., wear tan shoes and after 6 p.m., wear black shoes. The idea behind this rule is that any event before 6 p.m. is less formal; therefore, your tan dress shoes keep your look more appropriate for the office or lunch date. Anything after 6 p.m. is a more formal occasion and calls for you to dress up the charcoal suit with your formal black shoes.
Flash It Up: Your blue dress shoes will shine if you pair them with the charcoal suit, a blue shirt, and a tie ensemble. This is an upgraded version of the typical office look. Your oxblood shoes will look great with red, pink, and lavender shirt and tie combinations.
Blue is typically your business professional suit. If you’re like most men, this is the suit you’ll wear the most often out of all the rest. This is appropriate for the office, weddings, or interviews. Because of the versatility and the wide variety of events, the shoes will make or break this suit. If you’re in the office, in an interview, or in any situation where the focus needs to be on your face, your brown shoes are the way to go. The tan shoes are king if you are wearing this suit to a wedding, an evening function, or something more fun. The contrast between your blue and tan is about as sharp as you can get in your suit wardrobe.
Flash It Up: Speaking of contrast, this is an opportunity to break a rule. It used to be said that you wear black shoes with anything. That went out in the 90s, and brown were the shoes to wear. Now, you can do either, as long as you have contrast. If you have a bright blue suit, black shoes can look amazing with the blue suit after 6 p.m. It’s best to stick to your browns if you have a navy suit. If your navy is too dark with your black shoes, it looks like you thought you were wearing black pants and made a mistake.
The light gray suit is what I call the blank slate. Its light and neutral color allows for virtually any color combinations your imagination can come up with. The darker colors make the suit more appropriate for events with a more formal dress code (although it will be out of place at a black-tie event), while the lighter color combinations lend themselves to your daytime and wedding events. The shoes follow similar rules — the black shoes dress it up for nighttime events and date nights, while the brown shoes are perfect for daytime weddings and the office.
Flash It Up: This suit is perfect for color-coordinating your shoes. Your burgundy shoes complement reds, purples, and pinks exceptionally well, while your blue and gray dress shoes complement your neutral colors.
The brown suit is perfect for the fall and winter seasons. While others typically stick to their charcoal and navy suits for the colder months, you can stand out and elevate your wardrobe with a seasonal staple. Your shoes also fit the season well. Your brown shoes will keep the traditional outfits perfect for the office and more formal events, sticking with the luxurious looks. Tan shoes are a modern update to the same looks, giving a contrast that lets the shoes stand out and speak for the outfit.
Flash It Up: Jewel-toned shirt and tie combinations shine in the fall, and your burgundy and blue shoes complement those combinations and add a layer of detail that completes your outfit.
In contrast to the brown suit working in the fall and winter, the tan suit is one easily swapped out for the spring and summer. Typically working better with your white and pastel-colored shirt and tie combinations, this is the best Easter suit you’ll have in your closet. In the spirit of similarity with its brown counterpart, the tan suit works exceptionally well with your brown and tan shoes. Your blue and burgundy shoes will complement the pastels, similar to how they do the jewel-toned shirts.
Flash It Up: If you think back to flashing the black suit with the tan shoes, a similar approach can work here. Swap out the tan jacket with your blue jacket and pair it with your blue shoes to create a stellar (and somewhat nautical) look.
Olive suits are a bit old-fashioned but recently have been upgraded to richer greens. Everything from a brown suit with a hint of green all the way to a forest green is labeled olive suits nowadays. The easiest thing to remember with these suits is to treat them similarly to your brown suit. Your brown and tan shoes will shine here, along with your burgundy.
Flash It Up: One thing this suit has over the brown is the black shoes can bring a level of formality. While brown and black is a bit of a fashion faux pas, the olive suit looks fantastic if done well. Beware of one danger — an olive suit with black shoes could drift pretty close to looking like an Army dress uniform, so be mindful of your shirt and tie combinations.
The white suit will be similar to the light gray suit as it is a blank slate. Black shoes give the ensemble a level of formality for your evening events when a black suit isn’t required. If you go with the tan/brown/cordovan, the suit will have a more casual feel and will be much more at home during your summertime events.
Flash It Up: There are a lot of summer shoes that will look great with a white suit, something in the canvas material, or a nice hybrid dress shoe that works well in the casual arena. If you can, have fun with your off-colored shoes, in this case, something that can complement the shirt and tie in a way it wouldn’t usually be able to; for example, choose blue mesh hybrid dress shoes to pair with a blue knit tie for the ultimate casual pairing with the white suit.
There you have it. Now that you know what shoes you can wear with each suit in your closet, you can start experimenting with combinations that will push your boundaries. Remember to get comfortable with your primaries first and then begin expanding to the secondaries. The most important thing to remember … have fun!
- How to tie your shoes and make any pair in your closet slip-on shoes
- Do you need to wear a suit daily? This is how many you should own
- 7 neo-retro running shoes you can sport forever
- Business casual shoes for men: 5 styles every man should own
- A summer footwear guide: 6 incredible men’s shoes for every occasion