Brown suiting is seriously underappreciated in menswear. I suppose there are some who find it boring. Or, visions of ultra-wide lapeled polyester numbers from the 1970s spring to mind. Or, men may just find it harder to style. Any or all of these reasons might be the culprit.
Before we dive fully in, though, let’s consider brown as a color. At first glance, it can appear a little boring-far less dynamic than the many shades of blue we tend to see. And yes, brown is less formal than grey.
However, look beyond the color wheel. Brown is, actually, so much more. A dark, chocolate brown flannel suit is chic, sophisticated-and can look dashing and contemporary at an art gallery opening with chunky black eyewear and a wool (or cashmere!) turtleneck. A ‘charcoal brown’ mix of both brown and grey is an excellent middle-ground. Or, a sportcoat may look brown from afar, but is actually a blend of black, grey, and cream once you get a little closer. And, tan is really just a shade of brown.
With that context and the right pair of dress socks, a brown suit is surprisingly easy to put together.
Brown and blue is a classic combination for a reason. Brown, a combination of red and yellow, is a warmer color, no matter what shade it’s in. Blue, whether it’s deep navy or pale sky, is a cooler color, no matter what shade it’s in. So, we’ll start off this list with a double feature.
A classic navy sock is a versatile, classic pairing for a brown suit in pretty much any kind of cloth. It doesn’t shout, but blends harmoniously in with the outfit. Try it with a dark brown flannel or a worsted wool, ‘charcoal brown’ situation. This will work best in formal, business settings.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a sky blue pair of socks is the perfect accompaniment to a tan cotton suit and navy gingham shirt at a summer wedding. Try with a knit tie and some lighter brown derby shoes for a preppy, festive kind of outfit.
Green, a combination of blue and yellow, and brown (red and yellow) are another interesting combination based on the color wheel. Here, shade is especially important to pull off correctly.
Green, of course, comes in many different shades-brighter kelly, medium forest, and an olive most common. I’ve found olive the most versatile for most any kind of outfit, but especially suiting.
Olive works especially well with the dark brown flannel suit from above. Try it with a cream or off-white dress shirt and deep green striped necktie. Shoes are also interesting here. Flannel and suede go beautifully together. We like a dark brown suede monk strap best for this kind of outfit, but any pair of dark brown or even oxblood Oxfords would look excellent here as well.
Red socks are quite a bit of fun, but they also command quite a bit of attention, especially when worn with tailoring. Burgundy socks are much more versatile.
Burgundy is okay with our dark brown flannel, but may blend in a little too much. Burgundy and grey, though, are excellent pairings. The ‘charcoal’ brown (especially if it leans a little more grey) suit is the best option here. It’s a neutral base that soaks up and emphasizes any color your pair with it.
Burgundy is the perfect choice, then. It’s rich, elegant, and just the right amount of interest to command the attention of the room. Tie pairings can be burgundy, of course. But, we like trying a blue (or green) and red foulard print with a white or medium blue shirt with the charcoal-brown suit for an unusual, but not ostentatious, outfit.
Readers of my recent piece for Boardroom know I’m a fan of purple socks. Sure, purple and brown can convey images of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. But, as a lover of this childhood treat who frequently makes them with my daughter, I’m a fan.
Purple and olive corduroy go well together, yes. So, too, can purple and just about any shade of brown corduroy. Darker brown looks regal. Mysterious. Sophisticated. Purple socks with a medium brown cord suit are fresh and a little funky.
It’s possible to wear purple socks with a tan suit, although it is a little bright. But, try it for a festive summer wedding or a (slightly) whimsical bow tie at a horse race and it can be quite fun!
At the risk of stating the obvious, brown socks and a brown suit go about as well together as anything. When you’re styling suits, a safe but versatile place to start is to match your socks as closely to your trousers as you can.
In our case, a matching outfit works in a couple different ways. For the darker flannel, charcoal brown, and corduroy suits, a dark brown sock and brown shoes work best. If you happen to have a khaki or tan suit, try it with khaki socks.
Matching socks and trousers also has a couple of distinct benefits. First, it makes for a seamless, harmonious outfit- which is one of the ultimate goals of menswear. Second, it elongates your leg line, making you appear taller and, potentially, leaner.
Brown, though, is much more versatile than in just brown suiting.
Style is supposed to be fun, and we have more of it when getting creative.
What do you think, though? Anything you’d add?
Thanks for reading.
Yours in Style,
Looking for more style tips? Be sure to read our exhaustive article on socks for suits.
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