When it comes to buying a new pair of boots, one common question is, “Should I wear brown or black boots?” The answer depends on your personal tastes, but generally speaking, brown boots are more casual and versatile, and black boots work for more formal situations and also, given the earthy and classic look of brown, black tends to work better with more contemporary streetwear looks.
Yes, we hosted a debate.
Key Takeaways: Brown vs. Black Boots
- Brown Leather: Most common and versatile. Ideal for first-time boot buyers.
- Black Leather: Better for formal or less casual wear, plus they’re good for guys who don’t wear a lot of color.
- Color Coordination: Brown boots match a wider range of colors, including green, khaki, and blue. Black is better for outfits with more gray and black.
- Personal Wardrobe: Your choice should reflect the colors and style you predominantly wear.
Brown Leather Boots: The Timeless Heritage Choice
Nick advocates for brown boots, emphasizing their classic, heritage, and timeless appeal.
“What’s more classic and iconic than a brown pair of boots?” argues Nick. “If you’re buying a pair of boots, you’re making a fantastic decision but you’re not making a cheap one, and you want a boot that’ll match as many colors as possible: that’s brown.”
Brown boots, in his view, offer greater versatility in matching with a range of colors, especially in casual wardrobes. While it’s especially great with earthy tones — think shades of tan, green, brown — it works with most neutral colors as well, like blue and white.
“My only exceptions are if you’re buying dress boots for a suit or if you’re wearing black pants,” he admits. “But it’s just so easy for black boots to look too military or too dressy.”
Nick also notes that brown leather ages more dynamically than black. “As they age, brown develops a patina, adding character and depth to the leather. Black, very famously, doesn’t get that. There’s no color to change. So buy the color that’ll look better every day.”
Who Should Get Brown Boots?
Colors: If you enjoy wearing colors like olive green, tan, or cream, brown boots are a better match. These natural tones pair well with brown leather, making them a versatile choice for colorful outfits. The cooler colors of deep blue indigo and rich navy also pair well with brown, though black’s fine with them too.
Age and Patina: Brown leather ages gracefully, gaining character over time. While you can polish brown boots to refresh their look, they develop a visible patina that many find appealing: the color darkens and lightens in different places, and acquires deep and lustrous color with regular conditioning. That said, black leather boots take shine more easily and maintain a more consistent color over time — we acknowledge not everyone likes a ‘worn’ look.
Versatility: Brown boots offer a broader color palette for pairing. It is harder to dress up brown boots, but they match more colors. It’s a situation of picking what works for your wardrobe: open your closet, if you see a wide array of colors, pick brown. If it’s more like a sea of blues, greys, blacks, and whites (not uncommon for men), then black is best.
Black Leather Boots: The Modern, Versatile Staple
Troy disagrees, unleashing a blistering tirade from the black corner.
“There is nothing more classic, more iconic, more versatile than a black boot,” he asserts. “What’s the most neutral color on the planet? Black.”
Black leather boots, he argues, can seamlessly transition from casual to formal settings, maintaining a sharp, clean look.
“You can go from day to night in black boots and not have to go home and change,” says Troy. “Go to a coffee shop in the morning wearing your brown boots and then go to a nice event in the evening, you’re going to look underdressed.”
As for the patina argument? It’s true that guys who are really into leather boots pride themselves on how much the color changes and develops with wear. (There’s even an annual Patina Thunderdome competition from our friends at Stitchdown.) But your average guy might not want that.
“If your entire goal is to take something brand new so you can make it look and beat up as possible, by all means, go with God,” he jokes. “But if you want something that is going to look sharp and c;ean and crisp as long as you maintain it, I mean what’s going to do that better than a nice clean pair of black boots?”
While they dress up more easily, they’re probably best for guys who like modern casual looks as well. If your daily look leans dressy or if it just leans black, white, gray, and blue, black boots are an excellent choice.”
Who Should Get a Black Pair of Boots
Personal Style: If your closet emphasizes grayscale (that’s black, white, and grey), black boots are a more suitable choice than brown. They complement a greyscale wardrobe effectively, making them ideal for those who prefer monochromatic outfits. (Blue jeans in a grayscale getup are fine!)
Care: Black leather is excellent for a polished, formal look. Black boots take polish well and can achieve a shine, making them a classy choice for formal attire. The color barely changes with age, and while it’s still good to condition regularly to enhance the leather’s longevity, it’s simply less work keeping black boots looking good.
Work Requirements: For certain professions, black boots are practical as they hide scuffs and marks better, especially if the work involves contact with materials like tar or black paint. It’s also the required color for a range of professions, from restaurants to security. If it’s a mandated boot color, it’s obviously the right color for you!
Color Matching Brown Leather Boots
Brown boots, especially in shades of dark brown, pair excellently with earth tones like olive green, tan, and navy. (Blues and white match both black and brown boots just fine.)
“Just go to your closet, open it up and see what kind of range of colors there,” suggests Nick. “If they’re more earthy, more tans and browns and greens and that kind of stuff, brown is definitely the best color.”
Earthy Tones and Denim
Brown matches with all shades of jeans, from light blue to traditional indigo denim. This combination is perfect for casual outings and gives off a relaxed yet stylish vibe.
[Further Reading: What is Selvedge Denim? A Complete Guide to Looms, Fades, and Sanforizing]
Casual Outfits with Light Blue and White
A pair of brown boots with light blue jeans and a white t shirt is a timeless combination. This outfit works for a variety of occasions and reflects a laid-back yet put-together look.
For smart casual, consider tan chinos with a light blue oxford cloth button down shirt, like in the picture on the right above.
Color Matching Black Leather Boots
Monochromatic and Formal
Black leather boots, particularly those with a mirror shine, are the better color for more formal outings. Pair a sleek black pair like the dress boots here with a suit for a classic, sophisticated look. The polish on black leather offers a shiny, refined finish that complements formal attire beautifully.
Modern Casual with Greyscale
For a modern casual look, match black Chelsea boots with black skinny jeans or grey chinos and a black leather jacket. This pairing suits those who prefer a monochromatic color palette. You can add a pop of color with a navy shirt, or even better, add some red, burgundy, purple, or pink to a grayscale outfit.
Or keep it simple and wear boots with black or white t shirts.
Exceptions to the “No brown with black rule.”
Nick and Troy viciously disagree on this issue: Nick is positive that black jeans mustn’t be worn with brown boots, Troy thinks it doesn’t matter.
But not everyone can afford two pairs of boots, so if you’re looking for a pair to wear with earth tones or more muted colors, consider a lighter brown boot. If there’s enough contrast between the tones — in this case black and brown — it tends to go over better. There are a lot of different brown colors that aren’t so dark, from reddish browns to more yellow browns, that can work well with grayscale colors.
“I often wear burgundy boots with gray and black, and I think it works okay with earth tones as well,” says Nick.
It’s not just burgundy that works well with grayscale colors and earth tones. If you’re looking for another choice outside the brown/black dyad, consider the very popular natural leather. This is leather that’s undyed, so it comes out looking somewhere between the color of skin and the color of gold.
Natural boots are easier to pair with grayscale than brown boots and easier to pair with earth tones than black boots. Just note that they’ll get darker with age.
Other Considerations and Conclusion
Both experts agree that the choice ultimately depends on personal preference and the predominant colors in one’s wardrobe. Nick concludes,
Look at your wardrobe and see what kind of colors you tend to wear. This will guide your choice.
While black and brown are staples, exploring other colors you might not have considered could help your dilemma. You may find that natural leather, burgundy (a.k.a. “Color 8”), and orange (like Red Wing’s hugely popular 875 moc toe) move more easily between earthy and grayscale than brown or black.
At the end of the day, both Nick and Troy own plenty of both colors, but we acknowledge that most people can’t afford several pairs of good boots and so they find themselves picking between the two most popular colors, brown or black boots.
So unless you need to wear black for work, just open your closet and see what’s there. If there’s a range of colors, brown will serve you better. If the colors are cooler and grayer than earthy and warm, go with black.
Can you wear brown boots with black jeans?
Brown is earthy and black isn't, so it's better to pair black jeans with boots that are black, burgundy, grey, or even orange.
What is the best color for boots?
Brown boots match more colors, so they're a good default. Black is best if your wardrobe is mostly black, gray, white, blue, and red.
Are black or brown boots more formal?
Black boots are more formal than brown boots, just make sure you're getting a dressier style of boot as well, like a balmoral, Chelsea, or service boot.
Black vs brown boots with jeans?
Both brown and black boots go with jeans, because blue is such a neutral color. Instead consider your top: brown is best for warmer colors, black for cooler colors.
Which color should I get for my first pair of boots?
Brown boots match more colors, so they're best for a first pair of boots. The exception is if your wardrobe is mostly gray, black, and blue, in which case black boots will be best.
Do brown boots go with everything?
Brown goes with most colors, particularly earthy tones like khaki and green, but it's not ideal for grey or black pants.
Which color leather is best for boots?
Brown is best if you own a wide range of colors, while black is better if your wardrobe leans more toward grey, black, and white. Blue goes fine with both colors.