According to fashion lore, Charles Revson, founder of Revlon Inc., would fire any male employee who showed up at the office in brown -- not black -- shoes in the '30s. Today, men's business footwear has moved beyond the black wingtip -- not only are brown shoes acceptable, they're suddenly chic.
The brown blitzkrieg began last year as shoe manufacturers reacted to the new earth tones that started showing up in menswear collections. Black shoes look too heavy when paired with suits in olive or taupe shades, explain shoe savants.
"It (the brown shoe campaign) also reflects a softening of rigid dress-for-success codes," says Peter Hanig, vice president of Hanig's Footwear stores in Chicago.
Yet picking the right brown can be tricky, warns Louis Ripple, vice president of sales and marketing at Allen-Edmonds Shoe Corp., Port Washington, Wis. If the brown is too dark, shoes look muddy. Too light? Then they look too casual.
Warm browns -- walnut, teak, oak -- are the best way to go, advise fashion experts. Olive tones are big for summer with cordovan, a burgundy-colored leather, heating up for fall.
There's also more texture with woven leathers, nubuck and pebbled finishes.
While wovens usually are considered a more casual shoe, most nubuck styles can be worn to the office, says Michael Karpik, chief operating officer of Bigsby & Kruthers stores in Chicago. It all depends on the silhouette, he says, with tie shoes always looking dressier.
Although rules about color and materials have relaxed, many fashion fashion folks advocate the oxford as the only shoe style suitable for a conservative office setting. "A tie shoe sends out a psychological message that you went to some extra effort to get dressed ... that you didn't just slip into it," says Colby McWilliams, men's fashion director at Neiman Marcus stores.
The big problem with loafers is that when a man crosses his leg, the heel can slip off the foot and make him appear too relaxed, says McWilliams. "Besides, lace-up shoes give you more support," he adds.
Yet McWilliams makes one exception to his tenet of tie shoes -- the monk strap.
A slip-on with a buckle on the side, a monk strap shoe is considered a hybrid between a loafer and a lace-up. "It gives a lighter look to the foot, but still fits like a dream," says Mike Svoboda, men's shoe buyer at Nordstrom in Oak Brook. "The monk-strap shoe is something our grandfather considered a basic, but today has become a fashion item."
"I like them (monk straps) because I can wear them with a suit to the office or on the weekend with khakis or jeans," says Marc Cerone, a 24-year-old Chicago architect.
Still, there are some men who refuse to part with their loafers. "I like to kick my shoes off under my desk," says Scott Edwards, a vice president at Smith Barney Harris Upham & Co., a Chicago brokerage firm. "And that's pretty hard to do in a pair of lace-ups."