It’s one of those classic combinations that’s surprisingly easy to get wrong. So, can you really wear brown shoes with khakis?
Brown shoes can easily be worn with khakis in both smart-casual and business-casual settings. Dark brown shoes work better with more formal-looking khakis, while light brown and suede brown shoes work better with more casual-looking khakis.
Although that’s the short answer, there’s more to it.
After going through some essential tips for wearing brown shoes with khakis in the most effective way possible, I’ll run through a couple of FAQs on the topic to really round things up.
Let’s get to it.
7 Tips For Wearing Brown Shoes With Khakis
Consider all of these tips before putting together your outfit.
1. Make Sure It’s Appropriate
Your first step should be to determine whether this combination is appropriate for the setting or event you’re attending.
It may be versatile, but there are situations where it just wouldn’t be formal enough.
Khakis and brown shoes work well in both smart-casual and business-casual settings.
Smart-casual is a dress code where a T-shirt and jeans just wouldn’t be enough. Examples of appropriate items include polo shirts, Henley shirts, and OCBDs.
Business-casual is a dress code where you try to find a balance between casual attire and business attire. Jeans wouldn’t be enough, but a suit would be too much.
Examples of appropriate business-casual items include OCBDs, dress shirts, sweaters, and cardigans.
Khakis and brown shoes would work well in both of these dress codes. In fact, khakis are considered a staple of business-casual attire.
However, the combination wouldn’t be appropriate for business-professional or formal attire where a full suit would be required.
Brown leather dress shoes should be OK, but the khakis would look too casual.
So, stick to smart-casual and business-casual and you should be fine. Once you’re happy that the combination would potentially work, it’s time to pull it off in the best way possible.
2. Try To Match The Formality
Khakis can vary in terms of how casual they look.
While most khakis will be made from chino cloth (i.e a cotton twill) and will be a classic light brown (i.e khaki), some will look more formal and others will look more casual.
The trick is to try to determine how formal or casual your specific pair of khakis look and try to match them up with a pair of brown shoes of a similar level of formality.
Although khakis should never be considered truly formal, the “more casual” pairs of khakis will often have the following features:
- A brighter and bolder shade of khaki
- A looser/baggier fit
- Patch pockets
These casual pairs of khakis will usually look better with more casual pairs of brown shoes.
For example, consider going for monk straps or loafers instead of Oxfords or Derbys. If you do go for Oxfords or Derbys, consider going for suede instead of shiny calfskin or cowhide.
Suede will always look more casual – I’ll be going through this in more detail later on.
If, on the other hand, your khakis have a more formal look to them (eg. tapered fit, muted color, jetted pockets), consider wearing a more formal pair of brown shoes.
Calfskin or cowhide brown leather Oxfords or Derbys would be great options.
Here’s an example on Amazon:
Trying to match the formality levels of the shoes and the khakis isn’t essential, but it’s definitely worth considering if you want to go the extra mile.
3. Dark Brown Vs Light Brown Shoes
Dark brown shoes can be worn with khakis, especially those that have a more formal look to them or those that have a lighter shade of khaki.
The darker the brown shoes, the more formal they’ll look. Khakis give you the versatility of being able to wear both dark and light brown shoes with them.
However, it’s worth giving it some thought if you really want to make it look great.
If you’re wearing a more formal-looking pair of khakis (as per the previous tip), go for a darker shade of brown.
Here’s an example of this on Amazon:
If you’re wearing a more casual-looking pair of khakis, go for a lighter shade of brown (eg. tan).
It’s also worth bearing in mind that adding some color contrast between the shoes and the khakis can be a great touch.
For example, pair a light pair of khakis with a dark brown pair of shoes and vice versa.
4. Brogues Work Well
It’s common to find several different styles of brown dress shoes with brogue patterns. The term “brogue” simply refers to the decorative perforations that you can find to varying degrees along the seams and on the toe cap.
Brown brogue shoes work great with most pairs of khakis, but you should still take the formality into account.
If you’re wearing a pair of khakis as business-casual and not just smart-casual, you’ll want to avoid going overboard with the brogueing.
Quarter-brogues and semi-brogues would be fine with the vast majority of khakis as the brogueing is quite subtle.
Wingtips (i.e full brogues) have perforations along the seams and on the W-shaped toe cap.
They have an especially casual look (especially in spectator form) and would usually be too casual when trying to wear khakis as business-casual.
So, consider brogues – but be careful with the extent of brogueing you go for. Spectator wingtips would be fine for going to a local bar or a garden party, but may not be great if you’re rocking those khakis to work.
5. Consider Suede
The napped and rugged texture of suede works well with that of chino cloth. It’s always worth considering suede brown shoes when wearing khakis.
This is especially true when dressing for a smart-casual setting. The suede shoe and khaki combination often works pretty seamlessly here.
Suede brown shoes can also work with khakis when dressing for business-casual. However, it’s usually best to go for dark brown suede shoes here to ensure that the shoes look formal enough for the dress code.
6. Go For Brown Dress Socks
To keep things simple, wear brown dress socks when wearing brown shoes with khakis. The light brown khakis should blend seamlessly with a pair of dark brown socks, with just the right amount of contrast.
In general, brown socks would be better than black socks when wearing brown shoes with khakis.
While the brown and black won’t necessarily conflict with each other, the combination can sometimes draw a little too much attention when all three items are fully visible.
However, it’s worth mentioning that in more casual settings you do have the freedom to experiment with contrasting socks.
Taking risks and adding unusual splashes of color with the socks is becoming increasingly common and may be worth experimenting with if you feel you can.
Sticking to darker colors such as wine/burgundy red or a navy blue would still be a safer option, however. It’s important not to go overboard.
7. Change Up The Laces (If You Can)
An underrated style device that people don’t take advantage of is changing up the laces of the shoes to add splashes of color to an otherwise simple pair of shoes.
Changing the laces of the brown shoes may seem time-consuming, but it’s a great way to change the look of your shoes without needing to go out and buy a completely new pair.
Laces are a lot cheaper than shoes, after all.
While this won’t be appropriate in all settings, it’s worth considering if you feel as though the setting is casual enough to allow it.
All khakis are casual enough to make it work.
An example may be switching the laces of your brown shoes to a shade of yellow or red. There’s just enough contrast there for the difference to be noticeable.
It’ll make them look interesting without looking odd or jarring.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to a couple of frequently asked questions to really round things up.
Black Or Brown Shoes With Khakis?
When wearing khakis, go for brown shoes instead of black shoes. While black shoes can sometimes work, they often look too formal to easily pair with the casual and rugged texture of chino cloth.
In addition, khaki is a shade of light brown and often blends more seamlessly and easily with brown shoes – whether that’s dark brown or light brown.
Mixing brown and black isn’t a faux pas by any means, it’s just harder to get right.
To keep things simple, go for brown shoes instead of black ones in this context.
Can You Wear Grey Khakis With Brown Shoes?
Grey khakis can easily be worn with brown shoes. Consider wearing a pair of dark brown shoes for business-casual settings and reserving lighter shades of brown (like tan) for smart-casual settings.
It’s worth mentioning that “grey khakis” should more correctly be called “grey chinos”.
“Khakis” is simply a term used to refer to chinos in a khaki color (i.e a classic shade of light brown).
Either way, it’s entirely possible to wear grey chinos with brown shoes.
There you have it. Hopefully, that’s everything you needed to know about wearing a pretty classic combination.
As you can see, sticking to basic principles should ensure that you pull it off effectively whenever you choose to wear it.