Men's Style Guide to Wearing Brown Vs Black Formal Dress Shoes

September 21, 2021

Ahh, the age-old debate of brown  versus black formal dress shoes. Even in the 21st century, it seems like we still all struggle to decide which colour to wear, and when, and even why? Is one shoe more suited than the other for specific occasions? Or perhaps they look better with different shirt or pant options? But what if I own many different shades of brown shoes, in sandy brown, hazelnut, dark chocolate, or whisky? The questions just keep piling on it seems!


In this article, we’ll dive into some prevalent thoughts on this topic, providing you with expert opinions, research, and recommendations to try and definitively answer this age-old debate, making sure you’re leaving the house looking as schmick as possible! We’ll kick off by first looking at black shoes, then brown ones, before we weigh the two together to provide you with a final verdict. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll understand the use cases for both, and have a well-trained eye for which shoe to wear for which occasion.


Black Shoes - Powerful But Precise

The most eye-catching of the two, black shoes make a very serious and professional statement when you wear them. Generally speaking, the rule of thumb is to only wear these out to formal occasions, where black shoes trump brown easily in terms of their formality. Likewise, you’ll be wearing black shoes whenever you want to be taken seriously, get noticed, or where the occasion is highly formal – take a wedding or funeral, for example. Other good examples of formal situations could be a job interview, fancy restaurant date, or events like university graduation. 




Primarily, you’ll want to be pairing your black shoes with darker suit colours, like black, royal navy blue, or gunmetal grey, trying to stay consistent with the choice of blazer and pants. If you’ve got dark black shoes, paired with a lighter or brighter colour up top, the contrast can appear to be a bit harsh and off-putting. There is a definite sentiment that says how black shoes are often seen as more elegant and sharp, but lighter coloured garments are seen as a bit more playful and casual. Pairing these two elements together can often lead to a confused look, which is not what you want for yourself and all the others you’re trying to captivate with your looks! Formal goes with formal, and casual goes with casual. When you’ve achieved this, your look will look unified, brilliant, and stun those around you!

It’s also important to consider that certain dress codes will often recommend that, as well as a black-tie, you have black shoes. Making sure you understand dress codes and expectations can be another important factor when it comes to shoe selection. As we’ve also just found out, your shoe and suit selection is linked, so when one is chosen, it very often informs the other!


Brown Shoes - Black Shoes’ Softer Brother

As we’ve just looked at, black formal dress shoes make a very strong statement about the occasion and your look. They are as formal as formal can be, and usually pair with darker outfits up top. Brown shoes, on the other hand, are not generally considered to be as official as black shoes, unless of course, you’re talking about a super dark brown like hickory, cafe noir, or taupe. From the perspective of an onlooker, these could be taken as black shoes, so would be passable in a formal situation.

With that being said, brown dress shoes have a significant advantage in their versatility, because they are not explicitly for formal occasions. They will pair well with any number of shirts, suit tops, pants, even socks, as long as they are also of a lighter tone than garments that would work better with black dress shoes. Whether it’s a fresh pair of Levis, chinos in sepia, oat, or buttermilk, suit pants in basque green, bronze, or even beige, all the way from sky blue to midnight blue, brown shoes will work well with lighter colours, neutral palettes, or earthy tones. 


JENNEN Shoes Gounod Brown

Within the brown tones themselves, there is a wide range from deep chocolates down to tan. In fact, this scale often helps to define which situation to use each shoe-in. If the shoe is very dark, clearly you’d be thinking of a more formal situation with which to wear these shoes. If the shoes are tan, you’ll be dressing down for the weekend, for an occasion without too much expectation or formality.

In terms of the occasion, you could happily wear brown dress shoes in the workplace day to day, when going out for a casual meal with friends or family on the weekend, in places that require covered shoes or where an informal dress code is expected, or in any situation where you do want to dress up, but not look too over-the-top professional. 

The only important thing to consider is that brown formal dress shoes shouldn’t be worn with black suits or garments, like tuxedos or charcoal black suits. Like we looked at in the black shoe section, doing this can often lead to a confusing or non-uniform look; exactly what you don’t want!


Knowing Which Pair To Choose and When

There are a few different ways to choose between black and brown formal dress shoes, and often it’ll come down to the individual situation, occasion, or feeling. If you know you’re going to a very formal event like a wedding, black shoes (or dark brown shoes) will normally be the go. However, if you’re headed to something more casual, a range of brown and light brown shoes could fit the mood.

As we’ve talked about, shoes will often inform your top, and your top could inform your shoes. Black goes with other black or dark-toned outfits, while brown is more catered to lighter or earthier tones for your other garments. If you’re super organised, maybe consider re-arranging your wardrobe from light to dark, pairing all your different black and brown shoes with the various gradients in colour. Maybe you feel a little more bubbly and lighthearted on a day, and choose some tan shoes together with a cream blazer. 

It might also be that you’ll need to invest in some more pairs, and luckily you’re in great company here at JENNEN Shoes. We’ve got an enormous range of black and brown formal and informal dress shoes, suiting all sizes and colour preferences. We hope you found this article helpful in unpacking the age-old debate of brown versus black dress shoes, and whatever your needs, we’re here to help you slip into the perfect pair – whatever the occasion!