This is one of those questions that I often get asked in store and one that seems to provide an ongoing conundrum for men especially.
Unfortunately, the answer is not as straight forward as you might think and that is principally because I do not subscribe to the same time worn responses that most style guides will trot out. Truth be told my view on belt style in general is more nuanced and really depends on the individual, the way they wear their clothes, the specific colour tones involved and the wearer’s own particular style. My explanation below should cover most eventualities…
As a starting point if your trousers are any sort of light earthy colour (beige/tan/khaki) or even Navy Blue then wearing a black belt with brown shoes is out of the question. The black belt just does not have reason to be tonally and will look completely wrong. You should be wearing a belt that matches either the shoe or trouser tone.
If wearing denim, I would nearly always err towards matching with the shoe colour – if you are wearing a black shirt you can go with the black belt, but the choice of brown shoes would seem strange in the first place, black would make more sense.
If you are wearing black trousers and are opting to wear brown shoes with them then there needs to be a reason you are doing so in the first place. The choice to go ‘contrast’ needs to be intentional and so you need to commit to it. In essence, there must be a reason that you are pulling brown tones into your outfit, presumably you have a brown jacket or coat that is leading you in this direction or you want to add lightness to black trousers by pairing with a white shirt and a tan belt/shoe combo. If your whole outfit is black, then I am not sure there is a good reason to be adding anything brown in the first place.
The safe option if you are mixing brown and black would be to work with the shoe colour although there are caveats (see below). If you are wearing brown shoes with black trousers, then go for a brown belt in a similar tone to that of the shoes. The tone is important, if you go too far off tone then it will just look like a mismatch and really not look good. Don’t worry about the leathers being the same, in fact varying the leather textures will look nicer.
Now to the caveats…If the shoes are dark brown then this is all relatively easy as the darker tones are more harmonious with the black. The lighter the tone of the shoe then potentially the more dangerous this can be as a light tan belt on black risks being quite a vivid contrast and may look like a bit of a line across your waist. If your shirt colour is light (white, beige) then this will be fine and makes for a nice light look, but if you are going for a darker shirt it can be more problematic.
In this latter case, if you are going say with black trousers and a black shirt and pairing it with a brown toned jacket then I would be tempted to go with a black belt instead. The brown shoes and jacket link together and then the black belt will harmonize with the shirt and trousers.
Hopefully this will set you on the right track – any questions feel free to ask - email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on +44 207 730 4000, chat with us online or come and visit us in store!