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AFEW years ago a friend of mine walked into a restaurant, only for the chap he was meeting to point at his shoes and gasp: “Brown!” For many in the City, shoes were traditionally black. “No brown in town”, was the catch-phrase. But in recent years, as dress-codes have relaxed, men have ditched their ties, and brown shoes have been spotted in the Square Mile.

So can a man really wear brown in town in 2009? In this, as in so many sartorial matters, tradition is the watch-word right now. At Church’s shoe shop in the Royal Exchange, they say that 90 per cent of the shoes sold at the moment are black. In the past few years, they did see a slight move towards brown, but that is definitely over now. The manager of another well-known City shoemaker agreed that “conservatism” is certainly back. Brown is seen as a continental style, and as far as the he is concerned, the continent is where it should stay.

William Lobb of St James bespoke shoe maker John Lobb says that if you are wearing a dark suit, then the shoes just have to be black. “Most people don’t want to have a huge contrast unless they’re going out of their way to make a statement,” he says. Avoid the fashionable pointed toe, he adds, and go for a more traditional “almond-shaped” one. Brogues, he says, give a more casual look, while a plain shoe is more formal.

Nathan Brown of Mayfair shoe-maker Lodger says the downturn means many men are attending more external meetings – and of course, interviews – and therefore smartness is required. “The old adage about judging a man by his shoes certainly appears to be true in this market,” he says. However, tradition can be adapted a little: “Something classic, other than black, can mark a man as being an individual without being reckless.” A chocolate-coloured Oxford can work with a blue or a lighter suit.

Whether you try it is, as so often in the City, a question of your attitude to risk.

ABRAIM SHOE, BY ROCKPORT
£81
www.rockportgb.com

WING TIP BLACK, BY LODGER
£550
www.lodgerfootwear.com

CONSUL SHOE, BY CHURCH’S FOOTWEAR
£315
www.church-footwear.com

FULL BROGUE, BY JOHN LEWIS
£90
www.johnlewis.com

CAP TOE BLACK, BY LODGER
£550
www.lodgerfootwear.com

DERBY KIMONO SHOE, BY BERLUTI
£920
www.berluti.com