Right Foot Forward: Fail-Safe Trouser & Shoe Colour Combinations

Choosing the right shoe colours to wear with your trousers may not seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but we all know the finer details are what make a man truly well-dressed. After all, you could be dripping head to toe in luxurious, high-end labels, but if you don’t first take time to master the basics, you’re never going to look stylish.

This is why it’s so important to have a clear-cut idea of which colour combinations work, and which ones just flat-out don’t. To take the guesswork out of it, and save you precious time each morning, we’ve detailed the most common shoe colours and the trousers you should be matching them with. You’re welcome.

General Guidelines

First, some more general guidelines and advice to remember throughout:

  • Shoes in darker colours and shades tend to look smarter than lighter alternatives. For example, black brogues are more formal than chocolate brogues, which in turn look smarter than tan brogues.
  • The type of shoe you’re sporting can influence formality further. For example, wholecut chocolate Oxfords can appear smarter than black brogues.
  • Solid coloured footwear will always err smarter than anything two-tone or multicoloured.
  • White sneakers are a law unto themselves: they work with everything in your wardrobe. But see how far you get with a pair of white loafers or Derbies.
  • The bolder and brasher your choice of footwear, the more pared-back your legwear should be to help anchor them (and let them shine).
  • Got a shoe colour that’s not mentioned in our guide? Bear in mind basic colour matching principles and you will not go far wrong.

What To Wear With Black Shoes

There are precious few items of dress which can lay claim to having been a wardrobe staple for centuries. Black shoes are one of them. And for good reason – black shoes boast an unrivalled versatility. This is a colour that goes with anything and everything, making it a fail-safe option when it comes to selecting trousers that match. Consider black Oxfords and Derbies your go-to for the 9-5; they look great with all the traditional suiting shades, including navy, charcoal, grey and black.

While no colour of legwear is strictly off limits with black footwear, lighter hues are often better teamed with something less stark. Stonewash denim or beige chinos, for example, can create too much of a contrast between leg and footwear. Stick to darker shades for a foolproof approach: navy, grey, charcoal, black and dark green are all solid options.

The other thing to take into consideration is the style of the shoe and the type of trouser. While black, patent-leather Oxfords will always work nicely with dress pants, black trainers will not. Likewise, the same patent-leather Oxfords would stick out like a soar thumb next to your chinos, but sneakers would not. That said, some traditionally “smart” black shoes can still look good with casual trousers; chunky-sole Derby shoes or Chelsea boots with a pair of slim-fitting, grey wash jeans, for example.

What To Wear With Brown & Tan Shoes

A pair of black shoes has your back for a multitude of occasions. For everything else, there’s brown. Yes, shades of brown work with almost every colour in the spectrum, and there is a tone for every occasion you can think of.

You only have to remember one golden rule when it comes to matching brown shoes with your trousers: the darker the pants, the darker your shoes should be. Think mahogany or chocolate-brown footwear with a navy suit or raw selvedge jeans, and lighter shades such as caramel or tan with beige tailoring or khaki chinos.

There’s one situation in which brown footwear is a no-no. If you’re wearing a black suit, brown should be nowhere to be seen. No matter whether they’re light or dark, brown shoes should always be substituted for black when worn with black tailored trousers.

Overall, ensure the tone of the shoes and the trousers aren’t too similar (it’s always wise to go a couple of shades deeper with your footwear) and you won’t go far wrong with brown.

What To Wear With Oxblood Shoes

Fancy something a bit different? For a left-field option, oxblood (or burgundy) is about as good as it gets. It would be an understatement to say that this isn’t the easiest colour of footwear to pull off. However, if you get it right, you’ll be rewarded with extra style kudos.

Burgundy is a fairly versatile colour, but the general rule of combining like with like still holds true. Forget your beige chinos and light linen summer suit; if you want to wear this shade of footwear you’ll need to surround it with darker hues.

Navy is an excellent, go-to option here. Dark blue complements the red shade nicely, making it appear even richer and warmer. Grey is another safe choice, but again, if your suit is black, the contrast can be too severe. In general, you’re best off wearing shoes that match (i.e. black), rather than trying to make dark red fit.

Work on the principle that any trousers in the same shade or darker is safe. For example: a light grey suit and oxblood shoes = bad idea; indigo jeans and oxblood penny loafers, on the other hand, is a match made in preppy style heaven.

What To Wear With Blue Shoes

Blue shoes are another unconventional choice which are slowly becoming more popular with modern men wanting to individualise their look. Looking to get on board? Before you purchase, bear in mind that blue shoes don’t tend to work quite as well in formal silhouettes, and although leather is often a signifier of quality, anything other than navy cowhide can look a little shiny and tacky.

Where blue shoes really come into their own is within your casual wardrobe, particularly in matte, textured materials such as suede and nubuck. A pair of navy suede loafers, sneakers or desert boots are able to anchor everything from beige chinos to grey tailored trousers to stonewashed jeans.

That doesn’t mean tailoring is out of bounds altogether, though. For business casual offices and smart casual events, suede brogues or monk-straps can work well with relaxed suiting and separates (think unstructured shapes in fabrics such as linen and cotton) in every shade bar black.

As with brown, it’s important to ensure there is significant difference between the tone of your legwear and your shoes. Therefore, seeing as the rest of your wardrobe is likely to already consist predominantly of navy, consider adding a royal, azure or light blue pair of shoes to your rotation in order to get the most use out of them.

What To Wear With White Sneakers

Gone are the days of sneakers being solely for sport. In recent years, athletic styles have strutted off the playing field and directly into our everyday wardrobes. To such an extent that it’s now perfectly acceptable to wear a pair of crisp white trainers with anything from tailoring to shorts and a T-shirt. They are the new do-it-all shoe.

Whether your legwear is blue, black, brown, green or beige, a pair of white trainers will always anchor them. The only exception we can think of is if you happen to find yourself wearing a pair of white/off-white trousers or jeans. Too much white can leave even the most stylish of men looking a little Richard Branson, but if you must do it, just make sure the legs are cuffed or pinrolled – a bit of ankle on show will help to break things up.

What To Wear With Multicoloured Sneakers

The collision of high fashion and streetwear has brought vibrant sneakers back into the spotlight. Nineties styles are en vogue once again, but to pull them off requires some colour-matching knowledge.

Dad shoes, chunky trainers, ugly sneakers… whatever you want to call them, these throwback kicks are the new footwear fashion paradigm. Styling them isn’t easy, but with a little know-how, it can be done.

The main thing to remember is that the louder the trainers are, the more subdued the rest of your outfit should be. A good rule of thumb when it comes to style is that only one element of an outfit should be a statement piece, while the rest serves as a backdrop.

If you’re going to experiment with brightly-coloured kicks, make sure your trousers are clean, uncomplicated and classic. That means no camo, corduroy or crazy prints – unless you’re trying to stake a claim as the next big streetwear influencer. Stick to relaxed denim, straight-fit chinos, athleisure joggers or even cargo pants in neutral hues. As long as the colour doesn’t outshine the shoes, you’re good to go.

Paddy Maddison

Paddy Maddison is Ape's Style Editor. His work has been published in Esquire, Men’s Health, ShortList, The Independent and more. An outerwear and sneaker fanatic, his finger is firmly on the pulse for the latest trends, while always maintaining an interest in classic style.