Safe. Modest. Conservative. Formal. These are some of the words I frequently hear tossed around to describe black shoes. Black shoes are, in essence, the quintessential business shoe. Enter the Allen Edmonds Park Avenue. Ask around internet forums and style blogs, and nine times out of ten, someone will inevitably recommend a man’s first dress shoe to be some variation on this style; a black closed-lace cap toe. Whether it be Meermin, the aforementioned Allen Edmonds, Loake, Crockett and Jones, you name it, the black cap toe oxford has found its place in our offices and is here to stay.
That being said, has it become the only place for the black shoe? Dig a little deeper. What more do you hear? Boring. Prudent. Somber. Inflexible. Black shoes, the cap toe notwithstanding, have been condemned by the fashion-oriented as conformist and too formal to function outside of office attire, being replaced in lieu of various shades of brown to the tenth degree, ranging from the bright, flashy walnuts to the understated and classy bourbon tones. Even the rich sanguine oxblood and deep burgundy tones have exploded onto the feet of members in the fashion world.
But that doesn’t mean black doesn’t have a place.
Consider this a return to form; an analysis, so to speak, of the various uses of a black shoe. Yes, it is true that black is traditionally a formal, business color, but black shoes can be dressed down and up for a powerful, elegant look. First and foremost, black is a color that demands respect. It is a color that denotes that one takes his or her self seriously, and puts effort into their lives and the things they do. Because of their formality, black shoes are often unadorned and simple, leading to a sleek and refined silhouette. After all, there is a reason that Black Tie necessitates the use of black shoes.
If you’ve ever taken an interest in English formalwear, then you no doubt have heard the phrase “no brown in town.” I always wear my worsted wools and my darker city colors with black shoes. Black footwear contributes to the color gradient of the suit; it doesn’t disrupt the clean lines and flow of the suit and effectively keeps the suit grounded by connecting it to not only the ground, but the shadows you cast on it. Wearing walnut with a navy suit, for example, does the opposite, projecting high contrast that draws attention to your footwear instead of the outfit as a cohesive whole. It is a very flashy and fashionable look, and in that sense works with the outfit, despite contradicting the very basis of a suit. A suit is meant to be visually appealing, by building and emphasizing both the lines of the human body and the masculine silhouette. The contrast breaks these lines apart and segments your body into three distinct pieces: top, bottom, and shoes (assuming you are using a belt). Black is powerful, it is understated and it is refined, as opposed to the more rakish and flamboyant browns.
Even outside of the realms of tailoring, it is wholly possible to wear black without being utterly formal. Although here is a place where browns would be far more versatile, you can, dress black down with chinos, or take off the suit jacket in place for a casual jacket, and so on. Black does not have to be a color reserved for suiting.
At the end of the day, there will always be people who will favor the brown shoe over the black, but that’s the beauty of menswear: it’s a subjective art, and one where everyone can see one another’s expressions of their own selves with the clothes they wear.