It’s fair to say that people are a little more relaxed about their choice of shoes to wear with a given suit nowadays. You only have to look at the average Hollywood red carpet or even certain corporate shindigs to see that. You’ll see beautifully tailored suits paired with tennis shoes, biker boots, sandals, Crocs … you name it, there will be documented evidence of it.
Let’s be honest, though – those are people trying to break the rules to stand out. If the look became normalised, they’d wear something else. But there’s an undercurrent of timeless shoe and suit pairings that will always deliver. And by the way, that doesn’t mean you can’t think outside the shoe box when it comes to formal or social footwear. You can still make a statement with a modern interpretation of a classic look.
In this piece, we’ll be looking at classic pairings with various types and colours of suit, plus a few examples of how you can stand out while retaining your inherent style and formality.
The classic look
When wearing a black suit, it’s very difficult to not wear black shoes. It’s instinctive, but it’s also just right. We’re not going to argue with that instinct. Black shoes simply work with a black suit.
The style of shoe is also quite loose, as blackness can make the details blur into insignificance unless you’re inspecting the stitching, construction and shadows. We’d generally opt for a good pair of Oxfords or Derbys, however. They’re light and shapely enough to complement today’s narrower suits.
If you want to ignore the black-on-black tradition, there’s another fashion rule you can refer to: black goes with anything. While that’s true, it opens the door to literally any style or colour of shoe, and that can’t work as a blanket statement, can it? If we can suggest a rule of thumb, try looking for coloured shoes that have some black detail in them, be it the stitching, the soles, the pattern or selected panels. If it looks good on its own, it’ll probably work with a black trouser.
The formal look
Black shoes can work with a blue suit, but it’s a good opportunity to continue the thread of colour all the way to the floor. For this, we’d almost always suggest some kind of brown for the shoe. Under that umbrella are quite a lot of colours that complement the suit. As simple dark brown will almost always work, but consider an oxblood or burgundy, too. They up the redness a little to give a warm contrast to the cool blue.
Pushing the boat out
Maintain the colour pick rule if you like, and you can open up some startlingly good matches for a navy suit. How about a splash of Paisley, for example? You’re already head to ankle in colour, so let’s go all the way.
With a grey suit, we think you should go back to black. Grey is a statement in itself, so doesn’t need much in the way of augmentation to make its point. Black shoes just ground the ensemble with balance and poise. If you’re averse to black, then brown is your friend. In either colour, try a pair of monks – they’re light enough to balance the lack of density in the suit, but keep formal undertones that work well.
Silver lining looks
Grey can provide a good canvas for a light, exciting colour of shoe. We’d say go the opposite to the darkness of the suit – a dark grey works with a light pastel color, while lighter grey sets off a more muted shoe in colour. Like black, grey works with pretty much any colour, but if you’re going there, you may as well go all the way with a vivid blue pattern or something with yellow in it.
Like grey, the shade of brown should influence the colour of the shoe, but perhaps this time, go for similarity rather than contrast. So for a dark brown suit, go with dark brown or black shoes. A lighter brown suit, for example in tan or fawn, gives you a little more scope, but try not to get a shoe that’s lighter than the suit. A mid-brown or burgundy shoe will set off the look beautifully.
Brown is a relaxed, friendly colour, so the shoes can match the mood. Loafers are the ultimate in relaxed formality, and there are oodles of subtle differences within the style to help you land on your perfect pair. Why not go for a polished, shiny pair of brown loafers to bring a touch of contrast to the look?
Walking on sunshine
The earthiness of brown lends itself to a range of blues for those times when you’re suited to celebrate. These beautiful blue loafers are easy to imagine hitting the dance floor beneath your stylish brown suit. They’ll work with any shade of brown and leave no room for misinterpretation – you’re here to have fun.
The classic look
Tweed isn’t so much a colour as a state of mind. It’s a symbol of quality, refinement and style that echoes down the ages. Picking shoes to wear with a tweed suit can be tricky, though. There’s contrast in every stitch, so how do you choose a colour of shoe?
The easy way is to have a close look at the pattern and pick out individual colours in the fabric. Then, match the shoes with any of the colours you see. That can really open up some exciting opportunities, and they’re guaranteed to work as the matching work has already been done by the weaver. If there’s one dominant shade, use the guide above to match a colour.
Tweed is one style of suit that will always go with boots, too – perhaps it’s the faintly countrified vibes they give off. You’ll never go wrong in a pair of Chelsea boots, but most ankle boots will work.
Faux vs real leather
While suits of all types undeniably work with leather shoes, we have to talk about faux leather. The technology to imitate the natural product has now reached the point where the two are barely indistinguishable until you look at the price tag. A pair of real leather shoes might indeed last for decades but unfortunately, fashion doesn’t.
There’s no reason not to choose faux for occasional wear, to match with a specific suit or just to buy on a whim. We’re talking fractions of the price, with no observable drop in quality. There are also environmental and ethical considerations of the livestock and leather industries, and if they matter to you, this won’t be a difficult decision.In conclusion, we’d say that leather and faux leather are more or less equal in terms of appearance. For most casual and formal situations, the amount of wear will be minimal, so durability is moot. We stock both genuine and faux leather in our shoe collection, as it’s really down to personal choice. But if you’ve not worn faux for more than about 15 years, you might be surprised at what giant leaps they’ve made in the meantime.