Inspiration: Combining black and brown in your outfit

It’s easier than you think.

Ever since I got into menswear, the old adage of don’t mix black and brown’ was one of the silly rules that never quite made sense to me.
I find the two shades often go nicely together, if paired by a sharp eye.
It’s not a matter of whether you can, but it’s a question of how to mix black and brown.

The ‘rule’ seems largely to be perpetuated today in one narrow context, that of advising novice dressers to avoid mixing the colours of their smooth leather dress belts and shoes.
It seems to me that it may have spawned from too many black belts being worn with unsightly tan dress shoes.
In that narrow context, it’s passable advice (tan dress shoes look horrible with everything, especially a black belt), but on a broader spectrum the ‘rule’ is rubbish.

There are a number of ways to effortlessly pull off a mixture of blacks and browns, sometimes using other elements of an outfit to pull the colours together.
Even in the case of mixing a black shoe and a brown belt, this can be done well.
I won’t go into a length dissection of why some things work and others don’t.
It’s an art, rather than a science.
But it all starts with approach.

For me, there’s no barrier to entry. I have brown hair, so wearing black anything is automatically making my appearance mix black and brown somewhere. My daily worn Garrett Leight frames are also brown, meaning I’m always wearing at least one brown accessory regardless of how the rest of my fit looks.

My only real rule of thumb when mixing these two tones is to avoid saturation in extremes.
Even then, I sometimes break it.
However, it is an easy road map; a washed out black will be easier to play with, and the lighter the wash of the brown, the easier it’ll play with black (usually).
Also, warm browns are much more cooperative than cold browns when it comes to mixing.
Distancing the two tones can also help them harmonise easily.
The above points are merely guiding words to help you start your foray into combining these shades, rather than rules.

Enough text, here are some examples from my own wardrobe.
Some make the combination in a subtle manner, others utilise it as the heart of the composition.

You’ll notice some common appearances in here.
A black Paradise Found aloha shirt, a black knitted tie (perhaps the easiest way to mix black with brown), a dark brown western belt that goes with everything, and my Drake’s linen overshirt.
A brown jacket almost always mixes nicely with black shoes, and is perhaps the single easiest way to stick it to the rule snobs.

Let this be encouragement to you. Try mixing black and brown!
See what you come up with.

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With content features ranging from occasional appearances on popular menswear hub social accounts (The Rake, Styleforum, Put This On) to French perfume newsletters and university course readings, Sam is an enthusiast, designer and writer in the fields of menswear and fragrance.

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