This was a question posed to me by one of my brother who is the CEO of a company in Texas:

There was a WSJ article late last week that said you shouldn’t wear black shoes unless you are wearing a full suit and tie.  They recommended brown shoes and a brown belt with everything not a suit.  Any thoughts on that?  I’m heading to Washington, DC tomorrow and plan on wearing gray pants, a striped shirt, and navy blazer.  Brown loafers and woven brown belt OK? 

My response to him:

Everyone has an opinion and eventually everyone’s opinion will show up in some major publication. Since I couldn’t find the article online, I can’t comment on what their justification is. It could be that the WSJ would only recommend you wear a suit to a business meeting in DC because Washington DC is probably the most conservative place in the country, second to the northeast part of the country as a whole. If you were going to LA, it might recommend something different.

My thoughts based on my training:

  • As with anything, what you wear is based on what you are trying to say. Considering the fact that almost everyone in our family carries a bit of extra weight (I’m working here so I gotta be honest!), I would assume you want to look a few pounds lighter. Thus, I hope you mean dark grey pants rather than a lighter grey. The darker pants are more formal and would be more slenderizing with a navy sports coat.
  • Anytime you add a visible horizontal line, it adds weight because the eye stops its vertical movement. That means that if you wear grey pants you want a belt that will blend in as much as possible. When I see the word brown, I think lighter than black. If it is a “Cordova” brown, then it might blend as easily as black.
  • Shoes are another area I have seen conflicting ideas about. Based on my first bullet point, you want your leg line to be extended as far as possible. Consequently, dark pants should be worn with dark shoes. Although you didn’t ask, your socks should match your shoes. Again, I am sure you can find disagreement in this area. My justification is that your foot/shoe is the chunkiest thing and connecting it to your socks extends the overall piece. Anything extended tends to look less chunky.
  • Woven vs smooth belts: woven is three dimensional and adds bulk. Smooth add less bulk. Again, not sure if you want to add bulk to your waistline.

If you are wearing dark grey pants, striped shirt (hopefully not wide stripes) and a navy jacket, I would go with a black belt, black shoes and black socks. If you have something a bit less formal than wingtips in black that would be great. If you have Cordova brown (or whatever you want to call that dark, almost maroon brown) shoes, that would work.

Brooks Brothers home page ad shows dark shoes with dark pants. Their selection of pants shows a variety of shoe colors, so again, you can find someone to back up any position you want to take. 

Whether you are a man or a woman, the basic rules of clothing don’t change!