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OPINION | MALE CALL: Tan shoes with dark suits a (purposeful) fashion departure

by Lois Fenton | June 6, 2021 at 2:17 p.m.

Q I've lived long enough to see the pink-and-black era of the '50s, to the Nehru jackets, then denim suits, the trim-cut men's clothing of today, and all the crazy things in between! But my note to you today is regarding guys wearing tan shoes with dark suits. I was at a wedding last weekend and the groomsmen and ushers all wore tan shoes with navy suits. I guess my black shoes with a navy suit made me feel somewhat dated. Is this a new trend?

A What you described is not exactly a new trend, but rather a variation on a fashion departure that some stylish dressers have been embracing in recent years.

I'm not sure there is a term for a departure from a departure! This specific departure (which I wrote about recently) is the newish style of wearing medium-to-dark brown shoes with navy and with gray suits; both of those are usually worn with black shoes. The lighter the shade of brown in the shoes, the trendier the look is considered. Brown shoes that are most often worn with blue or gray range from a deep chocolate brown to more mellow colors often referred to as "cognac," "chili" or "copper." All of these shades are included in the list of shoes well-dressed men are likely to wear.

But, and this is a big "but," when the shoes' color palette gets as light as "tan," I tend to draw the line. It sounds as though you do as well. I would lump tan dress shoes in with gray and navy dress shoes: colors that are too trendy and too far from the norm to be appropriate or acceptable as men's upscale dress wear.

Despite my (perhaps stuffy?) attitude on this subject, I do want to address the concept of exceptions to the rules. It has always been my opinion that when you break one rule, deliberately and elegantly, you are dressing with distinction and style. When you break several or you go too far afield, you are seen as a person who just doesn't know the rules. Wearing an offbeat item of clothing calls attention to that garment. Others will notice and focus on it (as you did at the wedding). Not only must the choice be within the realm of reasonable variation, your unusual shoes had better be high quality, in perfect condition and well-polished.

All of the above being said, there is another mitigating factor about the shoes you noticed; they were on men in the wedding party and thus were worn for attending an event/occasion. Weddings generally have chosen combinations, to some extent dressing "in costume for a role." This, plus their youth, allows for a bit of leeway and flexibility. In all matters relating to dress and acceptability, it is important to keep in mind age-appropriateness. While it is appealing occasionally to try a more current or youthful style, it is important not to look ridiculous. Your desire to follow the traditions support your experience and classic style.

Please send your men's dress and grooming questions and comments to MALE CALL:

Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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