As a wardrobe develops, clothes get to become more specific. Earlier on, versatility takes precedence, letting a piece of clothing to be worn in multiple situations and in numerous combinations. A solid navy suit is the most versatile suit possible, being worn in professional environments, crossing over to after work functions and it’s able to be worn with the largest combination of accessories (white, blue and pink shirts, brown and black shoes, etc) and, when well cut, every man looks good in a navy suit. That’s why you buy a navy suit before you buy a mid-grey suit with a windowpane check. The grey checked suit can look exceptional (again, the caveat always being that it fits well) when worn with the right accessories, but that range of accessories is more limited than a navy suit. It’s harder to wear with brown shoes, the windowpane now has to be factored in to how it may clash with any patterns in a shirt or tie and the colour of the check affects decisions about other colours in the rest of the outfit. That grey suit is still a worthwhile investment, but less so than the navy suit.
For shoes, the standard advice for first pairs are black and brown calf oxfords (if you work in a formal environment) but they only suit more formal environments. Brown oxfords rarely look good with jeans and often struggle even with chino’s. The smoothness and shine of the calf is in direct contrast to the roughness of jeans and chino’s, most of the time (cue link to article about why texture matters). You can compensate for this by adding medallions to the toe-box or brogueing at the seams and it definitely helps, but it’s not often that they look effortless and in the right place with more informal trousers.
And then there was dark brown suede. The Eleanor Roosevelt of footwear; striving for peace across different groups, the formal and informal.
For versatility, there’s no other shoe which can work across such a breadth of different aesthetics and, whilst it can’t compete at the more formal ends of clothing, it handles everything from semi-formal, down to very casual and no other shoe can do that as well.
Throughout this article are images taken with a single pair of brown suede oxfords (a pair of my Carmina’s on the Forest last), worn with different trousers, highlighting how well they wear across the spectrum of formality, from the very informal white denim, to the more typically formal navy worsted wool.
The reason they work so well across such a broad range of styles and textures comes down to a few factors. Suede is inherently informal (more texture = more casual) but the deep brown brings back some formality when it’s needed and a refined, classic last helps too. A lighter brown suede stands out with navy wool trousers, because the colour, added to the texture calls attention to itself, but when the colour helps to hide some of that texture, you win back a degree of formality (and darker colours = more formal). A calf oxford is always going to be more formal and technically more appropriate in a formal setting (which includes many workplaces) but dark brown suede can make the leap into many offices without setting off alarm bells.
If the suede is borderline too informal, use sobriety throughout the rest of the outfit and don’t wear anything else which draws attention to itself i.e. by choosing a safe/understated shirt and tie. If it’s really borderline too informal, wear calf. You don’t need to be thinking about your shoes while you’re meant to be focused on the people you’re with and self-consciousness is obvious from a mile away.
Suede was made for flannel, they both share muted textures, which soften them greatly. They’re the perfect balance for each others texture. Once you move towards more casual looks (jeans/chino’s/patterned trousers) the suede continues to come into its own, with the texture complementing the roughness of denim, the worn edges of cotton and, in general, most patterns. Even without a medallion and brogueing (as these Carmina’s have) the suede alone is enough to work with these more casual cloths, long after calf has stopped being effective.
No other shoe can cross the divide from casual for formal(ish) this well, so if black and brown calf oxfords have to be your first two pairs, dark brown suede oxfords should be your third.