The Virtues of Black Shoes

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Boring, conformist, unfashionable, unstylish and not versatile. These are just a few things people often say about black shoes. But black shoes are a staple of James Bond’s wardrobe and are the only shoes he wears with city suits. City suits are worsted and flannel wools in grey, blue, black and certain browns. Though black shoes don’t get much love, there are many reasons to wear them. And these reasons are why James Bond continues to wear them.

Today, shoes in various shades of brown—particularly lighter browns and tan—are popular as they are seen as more versatile and more interesting. Brown, tan and burgundy are indeed more fun than black and can go with more things than black shoes can. Dark brown can especially go well with just about anything other than black. Brown shoes can take a patina, a variation in the colour that makes the shoes look elegantly aged. But black can do many things that brown cannot.

The John Lobb Luffield two-eyelet derby in Casino Royale

English tradition means that black shoes are to be worn with city suits, particularly when in London. Brown shoes are too sporty and too fun for business in London, where only black shoes are serious enough. There are a few occasions where for when only the grave look of black shoes will do. Funerals and typical job interviews are two of them. Black shoes, so long as they don’t clash, are an easy way to increase the formality of an outfit over brown shoes.

Black shoes are undeniably more formal than brown shoes. When brown shoes are an everyday choice for some people, black shoes are better for special occasions such as weddings, the opera and formal evening events. Though black shoes can never have the patina of brown shoes, brown shoes can never have the deep, clear shine of well-polished black shoes. This aspect of black shoes contributes to their formality. The elegant clear shine is also why black shoes are superior to brown shoes at night. The patina of brown shoes can get lost in the dark while polished black shoes continue to shine.

Black cap-toe oxfords in Diamonds Are Forever

For a look of power, black shoes cannot be surpassed. When well-shined, black shoes present a man who is serious about what he does. Black shoes also keep us grounded—the complete opposite of tan shoes—and never distract from the face like lighter-coloured shoes can. So long as they don’t clash with the outfit, they never compete with the outfit or drawn attention to themselves.

Black shoes pair easily with any shade of grey, and when Bond wears a grey suit or grey odd trousers he’s almost always wearing black shoes. Black shoes also pair well with navy suits, whilst black and blue are difficult to pair in other combinations besides leather. The texture of leather differs enough for the wools, cottons and silks of the rest of the outfit, which is why it can complement a blue outfit rather than clashe with it. The darkest blue suits—such as deep navies and midnight blue—demand black shoes. Black shoes are the only thing that can keep such deeply coloured suits grounded. Lighter blue suits can take a variety of shoe colours, but unless it’s a casual linen suit, Bond wears all other blue suits with black shoes.

Daniel Craig’s Crockett & Jones Norwich derby shoes in Spectre

Despite common wisdom about black and brown together, Bond even wears black shoes with some of his brown suits. Sean Connery wears black shoes with his brown suits in Goldfinger and Thunderball. Though black shoes often clash with browns, Connery’s brown suits all have black mixed in them, hence the black shoes have something in the suits to relate to. Since Bond wears brown suits to the office in London in Goldfinger and Thunderball, black shoes are the only choice Bond has. If the brown in in cool and muted tones, black shoes can work. Richer, warmer browns are much easier to pair with brown shoes.

Black pebble-grain slip-on shoes in You Only Live Twice—a less formal and more unique way to wear black shoes

Black shoes can even work with tan suits and trousers if the rest of the outfit is coordinated with them. However, it isn’t easy to make this work, and browns shoes are far easier to pair with tan. Black shoes are part of tan uniforms of certain armed forces.

Black shoes lend themselves to cleaner, more formal designs due to the formality of the colour. Cap-toe oxfords and plain toe wholecuts, derbys, monks and chelsea boots are natural choices for black shoes. For a larger black shoe wardrobe, semi-brogue and full-brogue (wing-tip) oxfords are some shoes that Pierce Brosnan wears in his Bond films, though these busier styles are easier to wear in brown or burgundy. Black pebble-grain shoes and black slip-ons some of the less formal black shoes Bond has worn.

Semi-brogue oxfords from Church’s in GoldenEye

Though black shoes are difficult to dress down, James Bond often wears black slip-ons with his cool-toned casual outfits. Browns are typically easier to wear casually, but it doesn’t mean that black shoes can’t be worn casually too. Black suede or pebble grain can be good for casual shoes if one is wearing black casual trousers, though brown shoes are almost always superior in all other casual situations.

For Your Eyes Only Shoes
Black slip-on shoes in For Your Eyes Only
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28 COMMENTS

  1. “Since Bond wears brown suits to the office in London in Goldfinger and Thunderball, black shoes are the only choice Bond has. ”

    -With reference to a certain dress code which is to be respected that seems to be true (although M regularly wears brown shoes in his office) But from a stylistic point of view the black shoes Bond is wearing with his brown suit in TB are definitely not the best choice because they clash with the richer tone of brown his suit has. In GF his black shoes are going quite well together with his suit which is (especially on screen) in such a dark shade of brown that for the eye it practically appears like black.

  2. I always loved the look of sir roger when he wore a three piece suit with slip ons like he did in the helicopter escape at the beginning of fyeo. Can someone sport the look now or would it look dated? What are your thoughts on the boots daniel wears in the funeral scenes? I think it was a mistake.

    I also think dress shoes should have hard soles. Your thoughts ?

    • Loafers with a suit is a very 1980s thing. They’re not formal enough to wear with a suit and should not be done. However, it’s one of the things that brought Moore closer to Fleming’s Bond, though overall Moore was still better-dressed than Fleming’s Bond. The monk boots in the Spectre funeral scene are rather heavy-looking for a suit. They don’t have the elegance of monk shoes or balmoral boots. But since they lack the laces that Fleming’s Bond hated, I’d say they are more appropriate for the character than any of Craig’s other footwear as Bond.

      What do you mean by “hard soles”? Dress shoes should have either single leather soles or discreet rubber soles like the Dainite studded soles that Daniel Craig wears in his last two Bond films.

  3. Single leather soles. The reason I ask is because I always felt sorry for the people walking around today who still wear doc Martins with a suit. I think the leather soles is what creates more of the formality for the dress shoe. Then again, I could be wrong? Many times I am…

    • The single leather sole is only part of it and not required. Craig’s Crockett & Jones Highbury in Skyfall is the perfect example of a proper dress shoe on a rubber sole because it is a 3-eyelet plain-toe derby on an elegant last with a thin, hard rubber sole. You wouldn’t know it has a rubber sole and not leather if you didn’t see it from the bottom. The last and style of shoe are more important than what the soles are made of.

    • The last two decent leather shoes or boots I’ve owned have had leather soles and are very noisy when walking on a pavement. Clack clack clack. I sound like I’m wearing high heels. Not very discrete and not something I’d assume a man who’s job it was too sneak around would want to wear. I’d assume Bond would go for quiet rubber soles.

  4. “Today, shoes in various shades of brown—particularly lighter browns and tan—are popular as they are seen as more versatile and more interesting. Brown, tan and burgundy are indeed more fun than black”.

    It’s just a shame that this “logic” doesn’t extend to suits too!!

  5. Matt. Thanks great posting as usual. I really enjoy your site. One modern trend that I have personally avoided is wearing tan shoes with a navy suit. It’s just not me. Black is the only shoe color I feel comfortable wearing with a navy or dark blue suit. I thought I was just showing my age. Thanks for reaffirming my choice.

  6. I despise the look of brown shoes with grey or navy suit. It’s a “try hard” approach that I’m not sure anyone can pulll off. Bond’s example is best.

    • I think it’s quite acceptable to wear (very) dark brown shoes with a navy suit(or a medium grey suit). Of course there’s a difference between brown and brown and I do agree with you that the lighter browns and tans mostly look like trying to hard when pared with a navy or charcoal/very dark grey suit.

    • It’s also a very Australian look. RM Williams with a suit. It says that you are a farmer rather than an investment banker. Although you are in fact an investment banker, and have never been on a farm.

  7. Matt. Why do you think oxblood shoes have fallen out of fashion? Until 10 years ago they were ubiquitous. Cary Grant’s oxblood oxfords looked great with his iconic North by Northwest suit. I think they would look great with your new special order suit as well.

    • Nobody I see wears full cut shirts anymore, even more classic fitting dress shirts still have some shape and are taken in through the back now, with darts or not. You would be hard pressed to find a full cut suit these days. All the suit trousers I see now are not that wide and are getting more tapered.

  8. And yet, well-polished oxblood shoes almost invariably make an outfit look a little more luxurious. Yet another reason to ignore the vagaries of fashion!

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