If shoes can make the man, they can also make or break a good outfit. Every man has, at some point in his life, experienced some variation on this scenario: You pick out the perfect suit for an occasion and find the perfect shirt and tie to match. You’re almost ready to go—but you have no idea what shoes you should wear.
Matching shoes to a suit can be a difficult prospect. Even men with a good eye for pairing the perfect shirt with the perfect tie sometimes get stumped when it comes to footwear, where the options somehow manage to be both limiting and confusing. Can you pair a grey suit with brown shoes? Can you wear anything but black shoes with a black suit? Are sneakers with a suit considered fashion-forward, or simply a mistake?
For the most part, as with all style matters, your footwear selection will boil down to your personal preferences. Some men opt for conservative shoe choices that keep the focus on the suit, while others view their footwear as a chance to express a little sartorial personality. While there are few firm rules governing appropriate suit-and-shoe combinations, there’s nonetheless a general consensus about what tends to work best. Approach the pairings below as suggestions rather than fashion commandments, and always remember to trust your own judgment and wear whatever feels—and looks—right to you.
Shoe Pairings with Grey or Brown Suits
Light grey suits are a clean, neutral base that pair well with a variety of footwear colors, light and dark. Light brown and burgundy or oxblood shoes are great go-to choices with light grey suits, as browns and reds provide a strong contrast to grey without clashing. Stitching and details stand out strongly on light-colored shoes, so use this to your advantage and consider detail-heavy shoes like brogues, also known as wingtips, to add a dash of extra interest. You can also run in the other direction and pair black shoes with your light grey suit; while both looks are well suited for professional settings, black shoes will give your outfit a more formal and clinical feel, whereas brown and burgundy shoes will seem warmer and more relaxed.
Dark grey or charcoal suits are enduring classics that always look sharp, but optimal shoe pairing options are limited. Your best choice is also the most obvious: Black shoes always match well with dark grey, creating a polished and formal aesthetic. While light brown shoes are a poor match for charcoal—the color contrast is too jarring—oxblood is a solid choice. Opt for a rich, saturated burgundy tone to create a warm contrast to the cool grey. The wide, unbroken sweep of color provided by a dress boot or a monk strap shoe would work well here.
For pairing with a suit in any shade of brown, including pale shades of beige, tan, and camel, brown or black shoes will serve you well. Brown suits have, perhaps unfairly, a reputation for drabness, which means your footwear selection will be key for adding visual interest. Look for contrast: If your suit is dark brown, reach for a lighter brown shoe; if your suit is tan or khaki, reach for shoes in a gorgeous chestnut brown—or even in blinding white. If you’re concerned that brown makes you look dull, shoes with visible stitching or tooled leather uppers give you a chance to show a flash of personality.
Shoe Pairings with Navy Suits
The navy suit is your all-purpose superstar. It can be dressed up to retain the formal edge of a black suit, but also pairs well with colors up and down the spectrum. The same goes for your navy suit and shoe options: Pretty much any color of dress shoe will be an excellent match for a navy blue suit, and that very much includes navy blue shoes.
The brown shoe-navy suit pairing is one of the most common and versatile ensembles you’ll see across dozens of professions: The navy suit says formal, the brown shoes say style and personality. It might seem straightforward, but a navy suit with polished brown oxfords is a sharp look you can take from the office to any number of after-work activities. Light brown suede loafers will lower the formality level of the suit while looking fresh and current; the lighter shade will draw the eye and attract favorable attention.
Burgundy shoes add a warm, rich note of contrast when paired with navy. Because of the versatility of navy, you can also opt for nontraditional footwear colors. Olive and grey oxfords or dress boots might clash with a black suit, but the softer navy pants are easier to match with these tones.
Shoe Pairings with Black Suits
As noted above, there are very few firm rules guiding suit and shoe pairings. Here’s one of those firm rules: If you’re wearing a black suit, your safest bet is to pair it with black shoes. Because black suits often seem a tad old-fashioned, opt for black shoes with a modern cut. A great pair of Chelsea or chukka boots will stand out against dark trousers in ways that loafers and derby shoes can’t match.
A black suit serves as a sweeping canvas, which means the eye will instinctively seek out anomalies, and any color other than black on your feet will be heavily scrutinized. If this is the effect you’re going for, great. We’re fans of the suit-with-sneakers combination, and pairing a pair of stylish white sneakers with a formal black suit will create a striking and style-forward contrast. If you attempt this look, however, bear in mind that everyone’s attention will go straight to your feet, and if your shoes look awkward, unsightly, or dirty, you’ll be judged harshly. Choose a clean white sneaker, skip the socks, make sure your hems or cuffs hit at just the right spot, and be prepared to bask in the attention.
The Perfect Shoe Pairing Begins with the Perfect Suit
Choosing footwear to match your outfit shouldn’t be a daily ritual of frustration. The guidelines above are just that: guidelines. When you open your closet and begin to assemble your ensemble, keep them in mind as you select options, but remember rules can be bent and broken depending on the circumstances. Trust in a healthy medium between the general consensus on what matches and what your eyes tell you when you look in the mirror. Shoes are the bow on any outfit—the thing that can perfectly tie the entire package together.
However, the best pair of shoes in the world can only elevate a subpar suit so far. Great shoes are nice to have; a great suit is essential to have. For a suit that looks better, feels better, and fits you better than anything you currently have in your closet, explore the world of custom-made menswear from Knot Standard. Visit one of our showrooms, and an experienced stylist can take you through all your options for fabric, color, cut, and customization to help you create a custom suit that brings out the best in you.