Shoes are dangerous, financially speaking. Watches are expensive, sure, but it’s shoes that’ll do real damage to your wallet. Buy the wrong the pair, or the right pair in the wrong colour, and you can wave goodbye to hundreds if not thousands of pounds worth of tailoring. After all, not even the finest Savile Row suit can be saved from a seriously misjudged pairing.
“Your choice of footwear can instantly change the aesthetic of your suit,” says Topman personal shopper Frazer Goater, who suggests before doing anything that you invest in a stalwart of the shoe rack. “A pair of black Derbies will provide you with a footwear choice for any suit colour; from grey, black or navy to heavy checks and impactful floral designs.”
What follows is a shoes for suits guide to which other combinations definitely work, and coincidently, which ones definitely do not. That’s not to say though, that there aren’t exceptions in every case. Colour, like style in general, is largely subjective, so it’s important to experiment. Still, to paraphrase one Señor Pablo Picasso, you need to know the rules before you can break them.
Which Shoes Are Suit Shoes?
Still, for the most part, the classics endure: Oxfords and Derbies are the bona fide godfathers of smart footwear, and no man should be without at least one pair of each in his wardrobe. A pair of black Oxfords (elegant, svelte and the perfect partner to a classic dinner suit) and a pair of brown Derby shoes (a handsome workhorse of the footwear arena, versatile enough to be worn to work or a wedding) will stand you in good stead for whatever your calendar throws at you.
Types of Shoes for Suits
Here’s a quick breakdown of the best types of shoes for suits that every man should own.
The Oxford is the classic dress shoe your mind probably jumps to when you think about shoes for suits. Typically made from polished or matte leather, Oxfords are easily recognizable by the distinct lacing system, exposed stitching, low back and small heel. They’re the ideal choice for a polished look with a suit, dressier occasions, and office wear.
Loafers are a great choice if you’d prefer to go laceless with a suit. Loafers are slip on shoes and come in a huge variety of colors and materials like leather, suede, and even velvet. Loafers work with tons of different looks and have the ability to either dress up or dress down a suit, depending on the style loafer you opt for. For example, penny loafers are a fan favorite, while more dapper gentleman may spring for a pair of tasseled leather loafers.
Every bold and stylish man should have a pair of monk straps in his closet. This unique shoe style consists of a strap over the top of the shoe in place of laces, with either a single or double buckle to secure it. The monk strap looks stunning with suits as it’s an interesting twist on the classic shoe, making it the icing on top of a sharp outfit.
Derby dress shoes are in the same family as the Oxford but are slightly more relaxed, with an open lacing system and simpler design. Derbies work well for a variety of occasions where you may find yourself in a suit, and can be tailored to your individual preference via material and color. Polished leather is a top choice for daily wear, while suede is an alluring option for standing out at special occasions.
While brogues actually refers to the process of embellishing a shoe with patterns or designs, it’s come to be a generic name for men’s dress shoes for adornments. Technically, any style of dress shoe with embellishments are brogues, including Oxfords or Derbies. If you’re hoping to draw attention to your footwear or bring some personality into an otherwise dull outfit, wearing brogues with a suit is an absolute yes.
As the weather gets colder, stomping through snow in dress shoes for men is as unattractive as it is uncomfortable. The last thing you want is to show up to the office with soggy kicks, as this will detract from the rest of your look. For instances such as these, it’s worth having a pair of Chelsea boots to slip into in order to protect your feet and compliment your outfit all in one go. You may be scratching your head and wondering if boots and suits actually work, but we’re here to assure you that these sleek, rounded ankle boots are an All-Star finish to any man’s winter suit.
For instances where you may want to dress down a suit, having a smart sneaker to pull on will work wonders. But let’s be clear, emphasis on the word ‘smart’ if you’re hoping to wear a sneaker with your suit. We’re not saying to pull on a pair of your gym shoes and walk out the door, but rather invest in a pair that you’ll keep nice for dressed-up occasions. Whether they’re designer sneakers, simple black lace-ups or even Converse high-tops, a smart sneaker without any scuffs or marks can complement a suit like no other.
Which Type of Shoe to Wear by Occasion
While most formal or semi-formal occasions call for a suit, that doesn’t mean that you have to wear the same old pair of boring dress shoes.
Here’s a rundown of some of the main dress codes and what kind of shoes are suitable for each:
A black tie typically calls for the most traditional outfit a man owns: a tux. As the dress code here is pretty rigid, it’s best to play it safe with a pair of polished black Oxfords, free from any scuffs.
For formal events that aren’t as strict as black tie, shoes like the Oxford, monk strap, Derby, or brogue are all acceptable. You can even get away with a pair of loafers or smart sneakers, so long as they’re a darker shade.
A cocktail dress is especially a time to let your personality shine, and while you may be stuck in a suit, that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with unique footwear styles.
If you wind up wearing a suit, or even a blazer and pants for a semi-formal dress code, feel free to keep things casual with the footwear choice. Try out a suede loafer in a shade or blue, or a smart pair of patterned sneakers to make a simple look more intricate.
When it comes to business occasions, it pays to play it safe with a classic style, like an Oxford, monk strap, Derby or brogue. That said, feel free to experiment with color and material to set yourself apart from the other men in the room.
For daily office wear, a timeless pair of Derbies will serve you well.
If you frequently find yourself in smart-casual business situations, try matching a more parred back grey suit with a pair of dark brown Derbies.
The Shoes To Wear With Every Suit Colour
Matching shoes to a suit can be tricky, so we’re here to walk you through the most common suit colors in men’s closets and what color shoes to wear with each.
What Colour Shoes To Wear With A Navy Suit
As one of the most versatile colours in the wheel, it’s hard to go wrong with a navy suit. Not only does this particular shade of blue complement pretty much every skin tone , but it’s the perfect balance of smart and casual that’ll serve you just as well in the office as at dressier affairs.
A chameleon though it may be, there is still a clear favourite when it comes to footwear pairings. Brown leather or suede styles are your best bet here. No need to fuss about the exact shade: hues from tan to dark chocolate will sit comfo
rtably with navy, their richness offering a pleasing counterpoint to navy’s steely neutrality. The exact style is entirely negotiable too, so choose from Oxfords, Derbies, loafers or Chelsea boots depending on what works best for the occasion at hand.
Not a fan of brown? Try deep burgundy leather, light grey suede, or – for a more contemporary take – minimalist white sneakers or off-white canvas kicks. Black shoes work too, but remember you’ll need to wear them with the confidence of someone who’s cool with bending the rules.
What Colour Shoes To Wear With A Grey Suit
Grey is a solid all-rounder when it comes to shoe suitability. As a neutral colour, it’ll pair well with pretty much any hue the colour bods at Pantone cook up, from oxblood leather to dusty pink suede. That said, there are some classic combinations worth having in your repertoire.
Being cool, grey tends to team-best with warmer, richer shades that pop when paired with either a light or dark grey. Dark shades of brown, burgundy, oxblood and navy all inject enough colour for a clear point of difference, but pastel shades work just as well, particularly in summer.
What Colour Shoes To Wear With A Black Suit
Our advice? Black Oxfords as the first port of call (especially for formal events), followed by Derbies, monk straps, Chelsea boots and brogue boots. If that all sounds a little too snooze-inducing, try incorporating colour by opting for an Oxford or brogue with contrast sole detailing or panel; white, off-white and oxblood work well in this regard.
What Colour Shoes To Wear With A Neutral Suit
The trick to accessorising a neutral suit is finding shoes in a colour that is both different enough to contrast with it, yet similar enough to complement its earthiness.
What Colour Shoes To Wear With A Blue Suit
f blue is also marginally less versatile, so you’ll need to tread a little more carefully when it comes to shoe choice.
As with navy, brown suit shoes work well with lighter shades of blue, but while dark browns complement navy’s depth, you’re better off sticking to lighter brown hues with blue tailoring. Tan Derbies, brogues and monk straps work well, as do slightly richer shades of brown – think milk rather than dark chocolate.
Pairing a blue suit with black shoes isn’t a sackable offence either, but black’s inherent dressiness can jar slightly with blue tailoring’s lack thereof, so take any blue-suit-black-shoes combination for a good test drive in front a full-length mirror before leaving the house.
What Colour Shoes To Wear With A Charcoal Suit
Like a light, slate or mid-grey number, a charcoal suit looks sharp with shoes in black, burgundy and oxblood. Unlike suits in lighter shades of grey, however, a charcoal one won’t play well with navy or light brown footwear.
While there may be exceptions for the suit colours mentioned thus far, there aren’t any when it comes to charcoal. So, veer away from this advice at your peril.
The Best Suit And Shoe Combinations For Men
If all else fails, these are the best suit and shoe combinations for men.
1. Navy Suit With Black Shoes
A smart partnership indeed, a single-breasted navy suit and black shoes is an office-ready outfit no man’s work wardrobe should be without. Stick with a plain, pattern-free suit and style with black Derbies or monk straps for a look that’ll boss the boardroom.
2. Grey Suit With Brown Shoes
This combination is a tried and trusted failsafe for formal events. Traditional and more than a little inspired by the British countryside, it’s executed best with a grey or checked grey suit and brown Derbies, brogues, Chelsea or brogue boots.
3. Charcoal Suit With Brown Shoes
Another wedding favourite, this combination offers a more traditional, vintage-inspired alternative to a light grey suit and brown shoes. Remember: charcoal is a rich and intense shade of grey, which means the brown shoes you team it with need to offer a similar depth. Styles-wise, brogues, brogue boots and monk straps strike the smart-casual balance you’re looking for here.
4. Navy Suit With Burgundy Shoes
Black and brown shoes too dull? Try bookending navy tailoring with an eye-catching injection of colour. Burgundy shoes – especially Derbies and monk straps – make for a characterful counterpoint to a navy suit’s cool tones. It’s a winner for pretty much anything that isn’t black tie, but use in the office at your discretion if you don’t want a disciplinary.
5. Neutral Suit With Brown Shoes
Need a suited look for summer? Say no more. This Riviera-inspired combination plays a blinder in the brighter months. Opt for a suit in cotton, linen or a blend of the two for optimal breathability and match with a pair of leather or suede Derbies, brogues, monk straps or – to nail that upscale Italo vibe – loafers.
6. Navy Suit With Brown Shoes
If there’s one formula to note down, it’s this. A handsome twosome whatever the occasion, a navy suit and brown shoes is a classic combination you can rely on now and forever. One thing worth keeping in mind is that these colours have a tendency to look casual; to ensure you stay sharp opt for a shoe from the smarter end of the spectrum such as an Oxford, Derby or monk strap.
7. Blue Suit With Brown Shoes
A punchier, more youthful alternative to wearing a navy suit and brown shoes, this sartorial set-up works well for work and smart events with a relatively relaxed dress code. Don’t skimp on the suit (cheap fabrics look exactly that in brighter shades of blue) and choose shoes in shades of brown from tan to chocolate. Anything lighter will contrast too starkly, while anything darker won’t contrast quite enough.
Marks & Spencer
8. Black Suit With Brown Shoes
Before you run for the hills, allow us to explain. While footing a black suit with brown shoes may
sound like something cooked up to cause a stir at Fashion Week, it is in fact proof of how sometimes breaking the rules can prompt some exceptional results. Much like marrying black and navy, with enough difference between the two to make it look purposeful it can look damn good. Plus, David Beckham has been seen doing this on multiple occasions, and if it’s good enough for him.
9. Blue Suit With Black Shoes
Different, but not dramatically so, these two colours paired makes a safe bet for guys that want to stand out without going full Pitti peacock. As for the suit, a punchy, vibrant shade such as cobalt works best, while the shoes should be in a saturated black leather that looks almost patent but, you know, isn’t.
10. Charcoal Suit With Black Shoes
A cold-weather classic, this duo has globetrotting spy written all over it, especially if teamed with a black fine-gauge roll neck. To ensure you come off more James Bond than dock worker, opt for a fine wool suit rather than anything weighty and pair with jet black shoes; Oxfords, Derbies and monk straps give a particularly slick finish, but brogues and brogue boots will work too.
11. Neutral Suit With Blue Shoes
Whether you’re jetting off to a summer wedding abroad or looking for something the right side of dandy for parties at home, this peak summer tie-up promises to set you apart from the more predictable choices made once the mercury rises. As with any suit you intend to wear for sweating season, look for linen, cotton or a linen-cotton blend; as for the shoes, stick to suede styles in lighter shades of blue.