If you wear a suit to work every day for important meetings, sometimes, it may seem that all the shoes you see are black or brown oxfords. Office dress codes across the globe actually has enabled men to wear a much broader range of shoes and boots to the office. Switching up your footwear can really create an interesting and fresh take on your regular suit, especially if you also change up a few accessories.
General Tips To Combine Business Suits & Footwear
In general, business attire is a rather formal dress code and as such, you need formal shoes. That means your shoes or boot should be all leather with leather soles. You absolutely dont want to wear any trainers or sneakers with a business suit and also, not these kinds of oxford sneaker combinations with thick rubber soles. Also, chunky thick double or triple leather soles are not appropriate for all business suits and neither are chunky rubber soles. It goes without saying that you should avoid any kind of contrasting materials such as spectators either in leather fabric or maybe even cowhide.
In terms of the last, you want something that is classic and elongated, maybe with a rounded toe or a chisel toe but definitely no chunky square-looking toe boxes. In terms of colors and finishes, a classic box calf in black or other darker colors such as oxblood or maybe chocolate brown are your best bet. Avoid any crocodile or stingray leather or something like elephant because theyre too exotic and maybe you can pull them off if youre the boss. If youre not, its not the best option.
If your office is a bit more relaxed and you want to add a dash of color, maybe consider adding a pair of shoelaces in a different color because that really changes the look of your entire shoe combination.
Generally, a shoe paired with formal business attire should cover the entire foot which means no loafers with a deep cut, for example, and when you wear a double-breasted suit, skip loafers altogether because theyre too informal.
If you live in a cold climate and you have a lot of snow in the winter, avoid wearing your really nice dress shoes directly to the office, maybe have them at the office or cover them up with rubber protectors or maybe you have a pair of lined winter boots that keep your feet toasty warm while heading to the office and just switching into your nice dress shoes there.
What are the footwear options for business suits?
It all starts with the Oxford, of course, and derbys. It doesnt matter if its a cap toe, a semi brogue, quarter brogue, or full brogue, or a whole cut. These days, single and double monk strap shoes are also very office appropriate.
Footwear Styles & Colors
If you can just afford one pair of business dress shoes or boots, it should always be black. Its the center for business attire but when you put together a combination of footwear and a suit, you always want to opt for some element of contrast. If you have a black suit, maybe have a pair of gray striped socks with your black shoes, otherwise, it looks odd. On the other hand, if you have a navy, dark blue, medium gray, or charcoal suit, the black shoe would provide enough of a contrast that you can just get socks that are matching to the pants or something thats a little more contrasty and picks up the color of an accessory that you have, your shirt, your pocket square, or your tie.
If, for some reason, youre not a big fan of black, you can go with a dark chocolate brown, sometimes, in Italian, its called testa di moro or a few shades lighter of a brown which still work and look dark. Nothing too reddish or tannish.
Personally, my favorite shoe and boot color for business suits is oxblood. Why? Because its different than the typical black shoe but its dark enough to be taken seriously yet it provides enough contrast to always be visible and visually interesting.
As a general rule, a pair of dress shoes will always be a little more formal than a pair of boots when combined with a business suit. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, black balmoral boots sometimes come with a suede insert in the same color and formality wise, theyre about as formal as a pair of captoe oxfords. They look really great with a stroller ensemble, which is technically a suit, because its a black jacket with striped pants but it has been a traditional staple in the formal officewear. The other option for a stroller or anyone who loves vintage is a button boot. Oftentimes, they come in contrasting leathers such as black and white and while theyre a little more flashy, theyre traditionally considered to be office appropriate.
A dark brown Chelsea boot with a blue elastic insert will always make your suit more casual and less formal. If thats too flashy for you, consider a chocolate-colored suede Chelsea boot because it has a rougher texture which makes it a bit more casual but in general, in todays office environments, its totally acceptable to wear and it just adds a bit more character and individuality to your outfit.
One way not to pay attention to yourself at the office is to avoid crazy socks.
Pairing Business Suits with Shoes and Boots
Navy Single Breasted Suit
The classic business suit with notched lapels and flat pockets, paired with a classic business tie like a red Prince of Wales check tie, silver cufflinks with a monkey fist knot by Fort Belvedere and black oxfords. In this pair of shoes, I opted for a bit of broguing on the captoe which makes it a quarter brogue and to add a bit of contrast between the dark navy suit and my black shoes, I went with navy blue shadow striped socks from Fort Belvedere. If you want it to be even less formal, switch out the white linen pocket square for something printed in silk, get a bold tie like this green one from Hermes, and maybe switch up the oxfords to a black pair of double monk strap shoes. Of course, a navy two-piece suit with different colored vests can make all the difference even though the rest of the accessories, including the shoes, remain the same.
Lighter Navy Blue Suit
If a dark navy suit is too formal for you, the next notch up would be a slightly lighter blue suit which could be a dark blue or a very light shade of navy. A nice dark blue suit from Vitale Barberis Canonico fabric, thats double-breasted with peak lapels is great with a Winchester shirt. Its a nice white tab collar and an orange red tie paired with a pocket square in a silk linen blend with a nice paisley pattern printed on it. Its orange and purple but it works quite well with the tie and the cufflinks are malachite and silver and so is my pinky ring. My small boutonniere lightens things up but you can always skip it in a business context. My light gray and blue socks break up the monotony between the shoes and my pants.
If you want to wear the same suit in the summer, and you want to dress it a little more casually, you can do so without a problem. Just combine it with a shirt with a white or off white brown yellow and blue stripe, as well as a light blue tie. I added a yellow linen pocket square with a cross stitch which is also from Fort Belvedere paired with gold Monkey Fist cufflinks and a more tannish light full brogue Derby shoe. This entire ensemble looks very different especially if you top it off with a Panama hat with a brown hatband.
Instead of going lighter with your suit shade, you can also add a subtle pattern, theres a faint windowpane and a dark navy, it also relaxes the suit and the overall look. To make this navy suit with a faint windowpane more visually interesting, I paired it with a white club collar, a red and blue two-tone knit tie, a white pocket square with blue cross stitching, and red and silver carnelian cufflinks from Fort Belvedere. For this outfit, I chose a brownish-red full brogue monk strap from Crockett & Jones as a combination but I could have also worn something in a more oxblood which would have worked maybe even better than this pair. Regardless of what shoes you choose, the red and blue shadow striped socks work well because they pick up the color of the knit tie, as well as the overall theme of a red and blue in the outfit.
Solid & Patterned Gray Suits
This suit has a subtle undertone of brown with a very faint reddish orangey stripe. Because of that, it is a little less formal than a solid gray suit but its still considered a business suit, especially since it is a three-piece suit with a double-breasted vest. When combined with a white shirt, white linen pocket square and a small dotted red tie, it is a quintessential business outfit. Of course, I chose red carnelian cufflinks to go with it because of all the red and I went with a half brogue black oxford. You can only see the burgundy and off-white shadow striped socks that pick up the color of the tie if you lift up the pant leg, otherwise, its just a very harmonious business combination without any pop of color.
With the same suit, you can also try adding a blue tie with reddish tones and a pair of reddish brown monk strap shoes from Crockett & Jones, it really changes the look and makes it a little more casual. Instead of the blue tie, you could always choose a bolder red tie that would also be a bit more casual. Or you can come out in a suit with chocolate brown long wing Derbys from Allen Edmonds. Note the aftermarket shoelaces, theyre a little wider and burgundy and pick up these brown-reddish tones from the suit. In combination with a bolder tie, the Winchester shirt with a white collar and gold cufflinks, its much more vibrant combination even though you tone down the shoe color.
Charcoal Brown Business Suit
The charcoal brown, in my opinion, a very underrated business color. Its fantastic, in my opinion, because its dark, just like a dark gray, yet the brown adds a certain element of warmth to it that is perfectly suited for todays business environments. Here, Im wearing it as a true three-piece suit with a double-breasted waistcoat, white shirt, and a gray and blue bow tie. The monk strap shoes Im pairing it with have a beautiful brown patina that is gradually lighter and darker and they just provide enough contrast to the suit so theyre noticeable as shoes.
Taking the same suit and switching up the accessories creates a very different look. If we switch the white shirt for a light blue shirt, the bow tie for a shantung silk tie in green, white, and purple, and add a purple and green madder silk pocket square, the look is a lot more casual and relaxed. Add an even more contrasting pair of tan monk strap shoes to the mix and it almost looks like an entirely different suit. If thats too much for you, maybe you can get a light blue and white checked shirt with a tie in burgundy, yellow, and blue, and since the tan monk strap were really contrasting, you can go with more of a medium tan which is still contrasting but less in-your-face.
Striped Navy Suit
This is the quintessential power suit and has remained a staple in business or office wardrobes. For a formal outfit, of course, you want to wear it with a white pocket square and a white dress shirt with French cuffs. If you pair it with a contrasting tie such as this yellow one with a herringbone pattern from Hermes and maybe a pair of navy socks with yellow stripes that pick up the yellow of the tie and black oxford shoes with a bit of broguing, you have a very classic business outfit.
For a touch of a personal note, you can add a little boutonniere but that may not be appropriate for all workplaces. For a perfect Gordon Gekko type look, maybe go with a Winchester shirt with a white collar and maybe a light blue and white stripes, add a bold tie such as an orange one with printed motifs in blue and white and then add black oxfords to the mix. Whether they are captoes, half brogues, or full brogues, doesnt really matter as long as the color is black. If you want to take the same suit and make it a notch quieter, maybe skip the Winchester shirt and get a regular white shirt with a pocket square, a reddish tie, red cufflinks, and maybe oxblood shoes. That way, you pick up the red tones in the tie, the cufflinks, and your navy and red shadow striped socks. Of course, instead of a white pocket square, you can also go with a burgundy silk blend pocket square in this outfit.
If you want to dress down the suit even more, try it with a chartreuse colored knit tie and a purple boutonniere. Also for the shirt, I chose a rounded white club collar and olive green shoes so the addition of unusual colors into an outfit definitely makes it more casual. Of course, with such bold colors in the outfit, your cufflinks can also be a little bolder so I chose a malachite pinky ring and cufflinks. Or alternatively, you could wear that same suit with a brownish printed tie, a burgundy polka-dotted pocket square, and reddish-brown monk strap shoes.
Dark Charcoal Flannel Suit
Whether its single breasted or double breasted, the dark charcoal flannel suit is a staple business wear. Paired with a red madder silk tie from Fort Belvedere, cufflinks, and black oxfords, it is a very formal business outfit, particularly in the winter months, because the flannel texture is a bit more casual than a worsted. If you want to add a dash of color to an otherwise very conservative outfit, always consider your socks. Here, I went with a turquoise and charcoal stripe pair of shadow striped socks from Fort Belvedere.
If you wanted to take that same suit and make it a bit more casual, keep the white shirt and the white pocket square but add a two-tone white and brown knit tie, as well as brown chocolate-colored suede chelsea boots that are not as high. Just like flannel, suede is a more casual texture and because of that, those two work really well together. So if you have a flannel suit in a dark gray or a medium gray, always consider pairing it with either lighter medium or darker brown suede shoes or boots. It will always look the part.
Brown Herringbone Suit
Its paired with a lavender shirt and a madder Macclesfield knit tie in blue red and buff tones. Its paired with a burgundy-colored doeskin vest with gold buttons and a silk wool pocket square. It has a mohair color and burgundy tones which works well with the rest of the outfit. Im adding a pair of brown jodhpur boots that provide enough contrast and just fit in with that slightly more casual character of this suit.
You can take that same suit and choose a blue tweed vest and pair it with double soled tan boots from Trickers and maybe this navy blue rabbit pocket square, you have a very unique outfit in blue and brown.
Medium Gray Windowpane Suit
Another cool suit for casual offices would be this medium gray flannel suit with a bold white or off-white windowpane. Because its such a bold suit pattern, you have to tone down the rest of your outfits and boots. Here, that means white shirt, white pocket square, blue madder silk tie by Fort Belvedere and paired with a pair of black balmoral boots with a black suede insert and I exchanged the laces with Fort Belvedere shoelaces in gray that pick up the color of the suit to provide some contrast and tie everything together. Lastly, the red and silver carnelian cufflinks pick up the little red tones off the tie, therefore, they tie everything together.
Gray Donegal Suit
I am wearing it with a light blue shirt, the same blue tweed vest and a mottled pinkish silk knit tie from Fort Belvedere. Together with a burgundy and blue silk wool pocket square and blue suede boots, its just a very unusual outfit that stands out from the rest of the crowd. If you are just starting out, I think blue suede boots are over the top but if youre like me and you already have all the basics covered, experimenting with different colors and textures can be a lot of fun.
Brown Houndstooth Suit
Last but not least, one of my favorite casual suit looks, for example, for casual Fridays in the winter, is this suit which is a houndstooth of brown and off-white but Im pairing it with a turtleneck sweater in a medium brown that provides enough contrast. In combination with those mid-brown suede chukka boots, you get a nice blend of earthy tones that is casual and relaxed yet more formal than a regular dress shirt with Chino slacks.