It’s rather a shame that leather shoes are so often worn with suits. For nothing complements the patina of a well-polished leather more than strong colour.
Grey and blue wools are all very elegant, and there are mutually beneficial combinations – oxblood and navy, for example – but strong colours are unlikely to be found in suitings. The shoes are likely to bring out an aspect of the suit, rather than the other way around: an English tan that highlights the speckles of colour in Harris tweed.
Indeed, there may be a rule of thumb here: Strong colours shed light on their muted neighbours. So leather shoes (other than black) bring out aspects of a subdued suit; bright socks make the most of leather.
For socks are by far the easiest way to put strong colour next to leather. It is no coincidence that brands such as Domenico Vacca and Paul Stuart showcase their shoes with a rolled up sock inside. It makes the patina sing.
Let’s take an example. A really dark, chocolate-brown leather looks great with a bright yellow sock. Yet other bright colours – red is the first that springs to mind – do not. Thick, muddy brown is uplifted by canary yellow; red just looks crass.
It’s not until brown leather gets some highlights to it, and approaches tan, that red begins to work. Artistically, yellow has to work better because the pigment of the brown has more yellow in it than any of the other primary colours.
So when I wish to add a splash of colour below the waist, I pair bright-yellow socks with chocolate shoes. Probably two-hole derbies, or wholecuts, to expose a broad expanse of the leather to its acidic neighbour.