When it comes to clothing, brown’s name is mud. Brown shoes, fine. A belt, sure. But pretty much anything else in the colour has traditionally been shunned as unwelcome and unflattering. Brown is ugly, they say. It conjures up images of everything regrettable about 1970s style. That hasn’t stopped the world’s best designers from splashing it all over anything they could get their hands on it recent seasons. Now brown is inescapable. It’s everywhere. And having witnessed its rebirth firsthand, it actually has a lot going for it.
Brown is warm and surprisingly flattering. It also pairs well with a wide array of colours and lends itself nicely to other trends currently sweeping through menswear, particularly textured fabrics and mid-century style. The issue lies in how to wear brown. For all its plus points, it’s notoriously tricky to get right without looking like you’ve just stepped through a time portal straight from the set of Starsky and Hutch. But it can be done. Here’s how.
How To Style Brown
Pulling off this divisive colour in a way that doesn’t make it look like you’ve started taking style cues from your high-school geography teacher relies on a number of factors. Notably, picking the right shades, knowing what garments they work on, and having a knowledge of how to pair them with a variety of colours.
“Despite being shunned from the fashion scene for decades, brown doesn’t have to be difficult to wear,” says celebrity stylist Harriet Byczok. “There are so many different shades of brown that you can easily find something in your wardrobe to match.”
All those shades, from chocolate to cereal hues, mean that tonal outfits work well. “Tonal outfits are a great way to look fashionable without trying too hard,” says Byczok. “Try wearing a darker, chocolate-coloured suit with lighter shirt and tan shoes. Or, if tailoring isn’t your thing, try a darker brown shade pair of slim fit chinos with a camel coat and knitwear of a lighter shade.”
Byczok also stresses the importance of using a variety of textures. “Even something as simple as adding a suede shoe into the mix can work wonders. I actually think there are a few fabrics that actually work better in brown. Suede, leather and corduroy, for example.”
The Right Brown For Your Skin Tone
Are you guilty of listening with one ear to your paler-skinned pals moan about being washed out by white and beige? Well, it’s finally your turn to be cautious about colour. If you’re tanned or darker-skinned and pick the wrong shade of brown, from a distance you’ll look semi-naked at best, full birthday suit at worst.
Luckily, it’s simple to avoid faux flasher status. Just check the shade of the item against your skin tone: bring the garment up to your forearm to see if it’s significantly lighter or darker than your skin. If it’s not, stick it back on the hanger and start again, using these nine failsafe brown garments as your starting point.
9 Ways To Wear Brown
Too many men have an outerwear collection which consists solely of navy, black and grey. Don’t get us wrong, they’re great, but ignoring the wealth of other colours on offer is an unforgivable style offence in our book. We love camel coats as much as the next outerwear fanatic, but if you want to take your top layer to the next level, don’t overlook brown.
“Brown is a very classic masculine colour,” says Delphine Ninous, a creative director with the likes of Belstaff on her CV. “It can look evaluated and edgy at the same time.” When it gets colder, a brown oversized coat is your sartorial safety blanket. Avoid anything too tailored and look for dropped rounded shoulders. Get tactile with your textile, too. Shearling, fleece and rich wool all look great in brown.
A brown winter coat is also extremely versatile. Worn over a cream crew neck knit and jeans, you’re ready for the weekend; sat on top of a grey suit for work, it gives off strong Richard Gere in American Gigolo vibes, which is a life goal as far as we’re concerned.
It’s no coincidence that brown is enjoying a revival at the same time 1970s style is getting a second crack at the whip. And that means that when it comes to brown suit, the internet’s your oyster. Brown tailoring may not be many people’s type on paper, but trust us (or Ryan Gosling – a confirmed fan), you might just swipe right for this season’s handsome suits in chocolate, caramel and tan shades.
As always with tailoring, you’ll need to consider the cut (take it to a tailor), but the shade is just as important. If you want to go for a full suit, dark brown will get the most wear – and it’s not a flash-in-the-pan fad buy, either. “Brown has always been a classic choice in menswear tailoring,” says Danny Ching, a menswear designer who has worked at the likes of Aquascutum, Hardy Amies and Dunhill. “With new ways of styling tailoring, it has re-emerged amongst the countless grey and navy suits men continually wear to work, social events and weddings.” Timeless yet not overdone? That’s menswear gold.
Particularly since brown tailoring is hard to mess up. “Brown is a rich, versatile colour that helps to enhance and enrich contrasting colours that it’s paired with,” says Ching. “Given its neutral underpinnings, it can be styled with virtually any hue, though it tends to work particularly well with shades of blue and green.” Also try tonal tans and dark neutrals including black. And because brown is slightly more casual, it works nicely with knitwear when you want to dress your suit down.
In Britain, you’ll often hear something particularly frightening referred to as “a brown trouser moment”. However, you don’t have to be attempting your first skydive or watching The Exorcist in order to don a pair. In fact, brown bottoms are a solid everyday alternative to jeans or more traditional navy or beige chinos. The secret to getting it right is in how you style them.
“From nutmeg to tobacco, brown trousers are the new black trousers,” says Richard Biedul, a male model and influencer who has worked for the likes of Drake’s, Ted Baker and Edward Sexton. “Transitioning into your wardrobe requires an astute eye though: I think brown looks best colour matched. Partner your trousers with a top half item similar in tone, texture or pattern to create a rich, sumptuous look.”
You need to add a few hits of contrast though, to avoid looking like a cosplay Jedi knight. “Adding an element of off-white, such as a shirt worn under a knit or a pair of white trainers, will help break up the colour block,” adds Biedul. If it’s totally tonal, it’s totally easy.
Brown knitwear is pretty unloved. We get it. When done badly, it can look like you’ve raided the lost property box or remind you of the oatmeal cardigan you suspect your grandfather never washed. Done well, however, it’s suave and very much on-trend this season.
“Brown is the perfect colour for autumn and winter as it nods to what’s going on outside,” says stylist Phill Tarling, who has dressed the likes of Tom Hardy. Try pairing a rust-coloured sweater with mid-wash denim and desert boots. Or camel with black jeans and layered with a white T-shirt would work nicely too. The main thing is to make sure that if you’re going to match with black, the shade of brown shouldn’t be too dark.
Brown knitwear won’t just pair handsomely with your wardrobe staples – it can get a little more lively with the right treatment. “If you’re looking for a more trend-led way to wear brown knitwear, take a leaf from Mother Nature and team with moss green trousers to nail two of this season’s most important colours in one outfit,” adds Tarling. Stick on a pair of white lace-up sneakers and job done.
We’ve already established that brown is the perfect colour for playing with different textures. And this is something jackets are equally suited to. By putting the two together, you can guarantee you’re onto a winner, whether you favour a bomber, biker or field jacket.
A brown jacket is a bona fide autumn essential. Keep it classic with suede, an Oxford shirt and chinos. Or go for a sportier vibe by opting for a brown varsity or coach jacket, a plain tee and leather sneakers.
Brown also provides a less ‘biker-y’ alternative to black if you want to try a leather jacket but don’t want to look like an extra from Grease. To steer it in the other direction, try pairing one with a rollneck (you’ll never catch a Hell’s Angel in one of those) smart trousers and a pair of black derby boots.
A solid selection of shirts is the foundation upon which to build the rest of your wardrobe. With that in mind, they should be not just well-fitted and good quality, but also varied.
A brown shirt is a great addition as it can work in several different ways. First off, it can be worn on its own, buttoned up and paired with either smart trousers and shoes or jeans and trainers. Secondly, it can be worn as a light top layer, open over a plain T-shirt for a casual look. Thirdly it can be worn as an additional layer under your winter coat and on top of a roll neck. And last but not least, as part of a tonal outfit.
In order to get the tonal look right, try pairing a chocolate-coloured shirt with a camel overshirt, you can contrast this with a pair of off-white trousers, while tying it all together with some black Chelsea boots.
When picking a new blazer, your go-to colours most likely look a little something like this: black, navy, grey or, if you’re really feeling crazy, a bit of beige. However, by ruling out brown you deny yourself the opportunity to begin functioning on a whole new level of nonchalance. Brown tailoring radiates an aura of casual cool that the usual suspects will never be able to replicate.
For a fresh, autumnal spin on smart casual, try teaming a brown blazer with a tonal roll neck and contrasting the two with a pair of white or off-white trousers. You can then tie it all together with a pair of premium white sneakers.
As we’ve said, brown will always look good as part of a tonal outfit. However, brown blazers (and tailoring in general) also work very nicely with denim and chambray. A brown blazer, chambray shirt, tonal blue tie and navy trousers are a surefire showstopper.
After NSFW content, we’re quietly confident “how to wear brown shoes” is up there in Google’s most searched terms. While things will change slightly season on season, there are some hard and fast rules, which you’d do well to commit to memory.
“The humble brown shoe can be a tricky piece of footwear to have in your collection, always being the second choice behind the staple black Derby or brogue,” says Reiss brand stylist Paul Higgins. “Fear not though, dressing your brown shoes is as simple as pairing them with a navy or pinstripe suit, which is a sleek, timeless combination.”
If you want to get all #menswear on us though, it’s time for some brown sky thinking. Higgins recommends going double with your brown to give things a more trend-led feel. “Rev up some classic tan shoes by combining them with light brown tailoring. Seen from the likes of high-end designers such as Gucci and Camoshita to high-street giants Zara and Massimo Dutti, tonal brown looks are surprisingly easy to wear – just make sure your brown shoe is a lighter or darker shade than your suit.”
Brown may not be the most common colour when it comes to neckties, but once you see how good it can look, it’s difficult to see why. Rocking a brown tie is a neat way to make a style statement without sticking out with a sore thumb. It lets people know you’re not afraid of experimenting with your wardrobe, but also that you know where to draw the line in order to keep things tasteful.
At first thought, it’s tricky to imagine what might work with a brown tie, but in reality, the options are plentiful. Brown lends itself well to blue, so pairing with a navy or pale blue shirt or tailoring (or both) is always going to be a good option. For a more winter-friendly option, pick a knitted tie and team it with a crisp white shirt. You can then build on the theme of texture by wearing it with a thick wool suit. Incorporate a pattern for bonus points.
Remember, ties aren’t just for the office. You can dress the look down by switching the blazer out for a more casual jacket to make things a bit more relaxed. Try something like a smart bomber jacket for best results.