How to Dress Professionally: The Basics of Shoes and Belts
The finer details of your professional look can't go overlooked. Shoes and belts make a big difference in how you are perceived by those around you.
black cap toe shoes with a matching belt. (Zac Johnson)
Burgundy wingtip shoes with matching belt. (Zac Johnson)
Black loafers with matching belt. (Zac Johnson)
The devil is in the details, as they say, and this is certainly true when talking about dressing professionally. You’ve got the suit and the perfect shirt and tie combination for your engagement, but you still won’t look the way you want to if you ignore the little things in your look. Your choice of shoes, socks and belt are absolutely essential. As with everything else in dressing professionally, there are rules to follow here in order to keep from looking tacky.
Your shoes will make as much of an impression as your suit.
If you walk into a job interview with an impeccably tailored thousand dollar suit but you’re sporting sneakers with it, guess what is going to leave the impression on your potential employer? And it won’t be a positive impression. If you want to be taken seriously, your shoes have to reflect that. There are a few different kinds of shoes out there. I would recommend owning at least two pairs. The first pair should be a pair of black cap toes. The cap toe ends with a rounded edge at your toe and laces up. It’s a very durable, versatile look that can go with almost anything. These are your go-to shoes.
The second pair should add some flavor to your look, and you have some choices here depending on what you like. Burgundy is an often overlooked shoe color that works well with both neutral (charcoal, navy) and primary (brown, taupe, olive) colored suits. A pair of burgundy wingtips (named so because of the stitching on the top of the toe) adds a different look to your wardrobe. If that isn’t your thing, go for a pair of brown loafers, or slip-ons. These lack laces and can be dressed up or down. These are truly an American style shoe that can work for most occasions.
Your colors still have to match.
Black and brown don’t work in any scenario. Don’t wear brown shoes with a black suit or vice versa. Typically, keep black with black and charcoal, and brown with all the primary colored suits. Navy will work with both colors. Burgundy shoes will work with just about all colors. Just make sure you like it before going with it. If you aren’t sure, ask your roommate.
The main rule of your shoes is the leathers need to match in color.
Your leather shoes needs to be the same color as your leather belt. Black with black, brown with brown, and so on. And make sure they are the right shade of color. A light brown shoe with a dark brown belt doesn’t count, and it doesn’t work. This is a huge rule that gets broken constantly, and it pops out to people who are looking at you.
Polish and care for your dress shoes.
Go on the internet and find a video of how to polish dress shoes. That little four dollar instant shine sponge does not substitute for actual polish. In fact, use that thing enough and it’s bad for the leather. Go buy some shoe polish and a brush and take the time to brush your shoes as often as you think it's needed. Every 10 wears or so should work fine. If your shoes are scuffed, it’s noticeable, and goes back to not being taken seriously.
Also, invest in a pair of shoe trees. You only need one, no matter how many shoes you have. At the end of the day, put them in the shoes you wore that day. They’ll air out the shoe, making it smell at least more acceptable. But more importantly, it’ll keep the toe from rising up and pointing in the air. This happens naturally, since the pivot of your toes and the rest of your foot form a crease on the top of your shoe. By keeping that rise from occurring, the shoe trees make sure that you continue to put pressure on the toe of the shoe as you walk and not further down towards the middle. This part of the shoe wasn’t meant to take that strain, and will wear away much faster.
Socks can’t be overlooked.
The rules of socks are simple. They aren’t meant to match your shoes, they are meant to match your slacks. Imagine your sock as being an extension of your slack. If you are wearing charcoal slacks, you need to wear charcoal socks. This is important because your slacks will naturally rise up and expose your socks when you sit down. Imagine how bad it would look to have white athletic socks on with a black suit. Imagine how much your eyes would be drawn to it. Now apply that to other colors. That’s why it’s important.
Details can’t be overlooked. Your shoes and belt make a big difference in how you look, and people are constantly making mistakes with them. But for the other parts of your look, here are the basics on wearing suits, a guide to dress shirts, and a small blurb on ties, perhaps the most creatively driven garment in fashion, men’s or women’s.