When assembling an outfit or shopping for accessories, it can be tricky to feel confident in your choices. With belts and shoes, especially shoes made of leather or vegan leather, it’s easy to feel like you’re committing a massive fashion faux-pas if you don’t have the perfectly matched material in a belt.
As a basic rule, you want to be more traditional with your shoe-belt pairings in formal settings, while giving yourself leeway and going for more modern pairings in informal or semi-formal settings.
The Traditional Rules for Matching Belts and Shoes
In formal settings like job interviews, weddings, funerals, black tie affairs, or coronation ceremonies (kids these days go to those a lot, right?) you should abide by this rule: same color, same shade, same glossiness. The easiest way to know you’re wearing the right shoes and belt is to go black and black. Black shoes, black belt, good to go.
It gets more finicky if you’re wearing an outfit that isn’t suited to black shoes. Again, try to get the match as close as possible for formal situations. If you’ve got a pair of matte light brown shoes, you want a matte light brown belt. If you’re wearing glossy steel blue shoes, do your best to find a closely matching glossy steel blue belt.
The Modern Rules for Matching Belts and Shoes
In more casual environments, like grabbing coffee with someone, or going into the office on a Friday, or just feeling like throwing on your handsome shoes for Sunday brunch with the pals, you can be a little more relaxed. You can wear a light brown belt with dark brown shoes, or the other way around. Interesting and unusual colors of shoes like blue or grey or maroon can be paired with a black or brown belt without sweating the details.
We’d still advise against wearing brown and black together if you can help it. If you’re the sort of person who likes to rock a tucked in dress shirt with a pair of jeans, we suggest investing in a nice quality dark brown belt. A subtle espresso brown leather or vegan leather belt will match just about every shade and wash of denim except for black, and can be paired for a casual event with blue, red, grey, and any shade of brown.
Acceptable Belts to Wear with Black Shoes
Black belts are always acceptable to pair with black shoes. Because black leather and vegan leather shows shine a little more dramatically than other colors, try to match the glossiness as closely as possible. If your black shoes are matte, look for a belt that isn’t super shiny.
Because black and non-black is a lot more jarring than other pairings, this is one of the shoes where you want to stay pretty traditional. We don’t recommend a brown belt unless it’s such a dark brown that it looks black. We’d even go so far as to suggest to match any leather watch straps you wear to the black of your shoes as well.
The good news is that most people own black belts, even if they only own one belt, and they’re very easy to find at every level of price from low to high. There aren’t a lot of excuses for not pairing your black shoes with a black belt.
If you’ve got a wild, colorful belt you don’t have matching shoes for, black is probably the most sensible shoe to offset it with. For example, if you have a lime green belt, but no green shoes, your next best choice is the black shoes. Never, ever, ever wear a white belt with black shoes, unless we’re talking about spectator shoes or saddle shoes that have a white component to them.
Acceptable Belts to Wear with Blue Shoes
Blue with blue is just as correct as black with black, but you get a bit more leeway with what counts as “matching”. As long as the coolness of the blue is correct, you can get away with a belt that is much darker or lighter blue. Try to avoid pairing a greenish blue with a purplish blue, but generally speaking you can wear a cobalt blue with a steely grey blue, or a similar difference in tone. Even a midnight blue belt provides the right offset such that you can wear earthy tones in the rest of your outfit and still have cohesion and balance.
If you don’t have a blue belt on hand and it’s a low-formality situation, grab yourself a dark espresso brown belt and try to keep the rest of your outfit on medium colors. If you’re wearing light pants, like beige or white, you can wear a belt that’s a lighter brown. Try to throw in a blue accessory higher up on your ensemble, if you do that – a blue watch strap, tie, vest, or bowtie, depending on what your wardrobe has to offer and how formal you need to be.
If possible, avoid wearing blue shoes with a black belt – unless the belt buckle is blue.
Acceptable Belts to Wear with Light Brown Shoes
Brown shoes are pretty versatile, especially light brown shoes. As these kinds of shoes are generally less formal anyways, we strongly encourage you to pair them with a wide variety of belts. Again, don’t you go pairing black and brown, but pretty much everything else is on the table.
Obviously for more formal situations you want a belt that is actually brown like your shoes, but with light brown you can absolutely rock any earthy tones like olive or khaki, and even faded, low-intensity colors like grey blue, brick red, or rose. With the right shirt and pants, you can even wear light brown shoes with a white belt.
Acceptable Belts to Wear with Dark Brown Shoes
Dark brown shoes look best with a belt of the same shade – that’s just the objective truth. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: don’t wear brown shoes with a belt belt. Got it? Okay. We’ll stop harping on it.
If you’re looking to spice things up with your dark brown shoes, you can, like with the light brown shoes, try belts that are muted primary and secondary colors. We’d say to steer clear of a dark red belt, but you could absolutely pair dark brown shoes with a dark blue belt, especially if your pants are a mid-tone brown.
You can get especially fun and bright with your pairings if you add some colored laces to your dark brown shoes. Normally we’d say a bright turquoise belt doesn’t really suit a pair of dark brown shoes, but as soon as you add matching turquoise shoelaces to those oxfords, you’ve just gone from fashion mistake to fashion statement. Take that logic and apply to whatever bright color you hunger to cinch around that dapper waist of yours – orange belt? Add orange laces to your dark brown shoes, and yes, you absolutely have our approval. Hot pink belt? Hot pink laces and dark brown shoes.
Unlike the light brown belt, however, there aren’t a lot of situations where a white belt works with dark brown shoes. Probably easier to avoid trying to solve this fashion conundrum on your own.
Acceptable Belts to Wear with Red Shoes
Red is a big category, and can cover everything from firetruck red to oxblood. Because you typically get darker reds in dress shoes, we’re going to talk about that end of the spectrum – everything from crimson to burgundy.
Now, a lot of how to rock red shoes depends on the outfit (which absolutely deserves its own article entirely). The belt is just one component here, so we’re trusting you to have your house in order when it comes to the rest of the ensemble. A nice oxblood shoe is actually surprisingly quite versatile once you’ve got a solid grasp of color theory.
Most people will tell you it’s a no brainer: your burgundy shoes need a burgundy belt. Generally speaking, yes – if you are going to invest in some nice red shoes, pick up a perfectly matching belt so that you’re not always scrambling and scratching your head when the desire to step out into the city like a modern tomboy Dorothy hits you. It may seem silly to buy a red belt, but you can also pair it with any light brown shoes you own, so it isn’t just a one-trick pony. You’ll find it brings up the swagger factor of most outfits, and – unlike a brown – pairs well with black outfits just as well as it does blue ones.
In a pinch, brown belts and black belts are both acceptable with red shoes, but you should lean more towards brown if your shoes are more rusty, earthy tones, and more towards black if your shoes are purple wine tones.
Acceptable Belts to Wear with Grey Shoes
Does owning a pair of grey shoes mean you have to go out and buy a grey belt? Not necessarily. In fact, grey shoes go with a wider range of belts than maybe any other shoe color on this list. With black or dark blue pants, you can wear them with a black belt. With light pants, like pale green, faded blue, or light brown, you can wear them with a brown belt.
Here’s the fun thing about grey shoes – you don’t have to stick to leather or vegan leather belts, if it isn’t a formal event. (Most people don’t wear grey shoes to formal events anyways). You can pick up a webbed, canvas, or woven belt, and these belts tend to come in a much wider range of color. The sky is really the limit here, and it’s less about matching the belt to the shoes and more about making sure the core canvas of your pant color does something to unify your grey shoes and the belt you’ve chosen to rock them with.