Every great suit is made up of a thousand little details, from the jacket vent to the break of the pants. However, there’s one thing that, despite not even technically being part of your suit, can make or break the whole look: your shoes. Choosing the right shoe color and style is an essential element of nailing the look you’re going for, and it can even make a difference in whether your outfit is appropriate for an event.
While there’s no shortage of topics on men’s formal footwear that will send shoe purists into hours-long arguments, let’s keep it simple and practical! Up ahead, we’ll cover the basic rules of thumb that will help any guy find a pair of men’s dress shoes that looks awesome with their favorite suit.
What Color Shoes Should I Wear with My Suit?
Color is the most basic element of matching shoes to a suit. If there’s one rule to know here, it’s that darker shoes are generally considered more formal. In practice, this can play out in a few different ways, so here’s the quick-and-dirty summary of the conventional rules of shoe matching based on your suit color:
- Black Suit: A black suit pretty much always calls for black shoes. If you’re wearing a tux, you’ll usually need black patent leather shoes, a brilliant shiny type of shoe that’s reserved only for tuxedo wear.
- Navy Suit: Navy works with a wide variety of shoe colors, but black or brown are the most common choices. Black is a more formal look, while brown gives you a lot of options — anything from a dark chocolate brown on the formal side to a lighter “cognac” shade for more casual affairs. Burgundy and its more brownish cousin, oxblood, are also strong choices for adding an eye-catching splash of red.
- Charcoal Suit: Charcoal is about halfway between gray and black, so you want something dark to go with it. Usually, that means black, dark brown or burgundy. Avoid lighter brown shades. They’ll often look out of place against the relatively formal charcoal.
- Gray Suit: The neutral nature of lighter gray suits makes them cooperative with lots of different shoe colors. Black, a variety of browns or burgundy/oxblood can all be good choices, depending on the specific shade of the suit.
- Tan Suit: Dark brown is usually the way to go with a tan suit, although lighter colors like cream can work, too. The two main colors to avoid are black and anything that’s too similar to the suit itself.
- Green/Light Blue/White/Red/Other Suit Colors: For more unusual suit colors, a medium brown is almost always the safest choice. This also applies if you’re rocking different-colored suit separates. The neutrality of brown will typically give you the best results.
What Styles of Shoes Should I Wear with My Suit?
Whereas shoe color is all about matching the color of the suit, shoe style is primarily concerned with the suit’s formality and the event’s dress code. The individual styles can get a little nuanced, so here’s the TL;DR: When in doubt, choose a pair of cap toe or plain toe leather Oxfords in colors we discussed above. If you’re wearing a full suit, this will almost never be overdressed or underdressed.
The only real exception to this rule is with summer suits, such as the linen and seersucker suits you’ll see a lot of guys rocking at warm-weather weddings. Wearing Oxfords with these styles isn’t grounds for arrest by the fashion police, but a more casual style like loafers will be easier to pull off.
One more thing: You’ll notice we haven’t covered the actual materials your shoes should be made of yet. That’s because, in 95 percent of cases, leather dress shoes (or a leather alternative) are the best choice. Suede can also look great on less formal suits, but even that is a type of leather! Other materials like textiles tend to be less formal and not a good choice for wearing with a full suit (again, unless it’s a summer suit).
Choosing a Shoe Style
With that said, here’s a little more detail on the major styles of dress shoes and which suiting looks they work best with:
- Oxfords: The lace-up dress shoes commonly known as Oxfords are among the most popular styles of men’s dress shoes (along with their close cousin, the derby shoe). They come in a huge range of styles that vary from highly formal to almost casual, but as we mentioned above, plain toe or cap toe Oxfords are a good workhorse shoe that goes well with lots of suit styles and colors.
- Loafers: Like Oxfords, the slip-on loafer style runs the full gamut of formal and casual looks. For formal settings, like business professional offices and formal weddings, stick with upscale styles such as bridle-bit loafers. In a more relaxed context, anything from the classic penny loafer to the minimal Venetian loafer can be a stylish choice.
- Monk Straps: These formal shoes have a style that recalls Oxfords, but with one major difference: a single- or double-strap closure instead of laces. They’re a popular choice with guys who want a little more pop to go with their statement suit while staying relatively formal. Dark colored monk straps are appropriate for most formal styles, while lighter colors work well with more casual suited looks.
- Boots: Various styles of formal boots can look sharp with a suit. Oxford-style boots and the popular slip-on design known as Chelsea boots are both strong choices for any occasion when you want to dress down your suit slightly. Use caution here if you’re working with a true formal dress code, as boots can be a little too casual — depending on context.
- Sneakers: Yes, it can be done! While this isn’t what you want for a job interview or a formal wedding, wearing sneakers with a suit is a well-established fashion move in more casual settings. Like any offbeat fashion choice, it can be done very right or very wrong. Study the guys who pull it off well, and choose some tasteful and minimal leather sneakers that work with your suit color.