Privilege Blog

Can I Wear Black And Brown Together? Or, Saturday Morning at 8:32am


Thank you for coming to my TED talk. Sorry. Sorry, sorry. Let’s review some slightly more compelling evidence.

Black and brown outfits from trusted sources, i.e. Frances at Materfamilias Writes in black and gray with a beloved French camel scarf,

And That’s Not My Age (this blog gets better and better),

but also random Instagram people,

and bloggers I do not know.

We do not lack for high level endorsements, my friends. In Vogue last month (which I promise I did not know before deciding to write this post) and from Miuccia Prada over several decades.

I myself now fly lower in the fashion skies, so I wear black tops with enormously baggy boyfriend chinos and call it a day. No pink foot gloves for me.

However I do make sure to choose a very specific kind of top – quite fitted so as to counteract my slouchy trousers.  This can mean a ribbed black tee from UNIQLO, at $9.50, or a Dries van Noten turtleneck, more like $200. Either way, before I go out, I will stop in front of my mirror and consider. Brown shoes or black? And it depends. When it’s warm outside, I keep the fitted black tee and khaki chinos simple with black sneakers and some gold studs, or hoops. If it’s cool, more layers – black lightweight UNIQLO down jacket, that scarf you see below in the Edinburgh photo – support the additional contrast of brown sneakers.

The idea is, substitute structure, contrast, and textures for color. You don’t add brown to black helter-skelter, choose carefully, create shapes. To a dress that creates a column of black, wears black shoes but add a brown cardigan for subtle contrast. Or try cognac bag if you prefer vivid. Soften a black jacket/camel scarf, as Frances does, with a tonal plaid skirt. If you’re wearing chinos, keep all your top layers black, a non-color blocking of sorts. When in doubt, add a black and brown scarf, my favorite cheat to pull an outfit together. Especially when my only clean clothes are neutrals. A black jacket, mixed neutral scarf, hey, I did it on purpose! I totally did not let life get away from me.

I’ve evolved this idea over the years. Here’s a rule. Few pieces, color block, only one shade of brown. Many pieces, add patterns, tonal shades of brown.

Circa 2011.

Circa 2012.


As you can see, additional layers, more textures, to say nothing of letting loose a bit, resulted in more style and more comfort. The approach works from quite traditional – Land’s End chinos, tan tee, black sweater, black loafers – to, well, further than me but I can imagine.

Of course this morning I’m on my sofa in Punjammies but let me live a little.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone. Neutral anything can be thrilling if you pay attention.


The links in the product widget may generate commissions. Tell me if it bugs you, the widget tool just works like that.

32 Responses

  1. Thank you for including me! I’m disappointed you won’t be donning pink neoprene foot gloves anytime soon, but delighted to see that 2016 outfit again. I love everything about that photo, insouciance most of all! xo

  2. I loved Frances’ outfit too! And your examples are outstanding. I’ve always loved brown and black together (hello, LEOPARD PRINT!).

  3. Love the black and brown from That’s Not My Age. I have all of those items and they are going into the suitcase I will bring to Paris in three weeks. Also going to subscribe to the blog. Thank you!

  4. I love black and brown together, the darker the better, and always have. Some people I know find this quite odd and would never wear this combo and I did grow up with the idea that these should not be seen together. It’s very restful to my eyes and better than all black. As I type it is black jeans, black top, brown ankle boots. The combination I find hard is black and dark blue. Each to their own. There is a tumblr called blckwhtslvrbrwn which I have bookmarked for times when I feel a bit tetchy. Never fails.

  5. But now I want to know your thoughts on navy and black! (Spoiler alert – I LOVE that combo and no one’s going to convince me otherwise :-))

  6. I was thinking “pink sock sandals” and then I saw your take. Either way, not for me, either. (Do they have heels? Can’t tell.)

    I like the black/brown combo, and it looks good on me (medium tone white woman with hereditary brown hair). I usually save it for going out, as too much black isn’t appropriate for some of my volunteer gigs. Apparently it’s possible for me to be stylish at certain times…I’ve got a tiger’s eye necklace that shows the combo occurs in nature. too.

  7. Years ago I had a black dress coat that I wore to work every day during the winter, and I fell in love with a pair of brown suede boots but wasn’t about to buy a new coat. I walked into Saks and told the sales lady that I needed a scarf that would make the combination look intentional. She came up with a soft wool scarf – a mixture of black, brown, and beige prints, including but not limited to leopard – that was perfect but also very expensive. Ten years later I wear a different dress coat (more brown and tweedy), but still wear that scarf with it (and the boots, if it’s snowy) and still get compliments on it – one of the best investment pieces I ever bought. So cheers to you for mixing the colors!

    1. @MJ, And cheers for you for sticking to your guns, and bringing home style-defining piece for your efforts.

  8. I find this combination especially flattering for those with blonde or blondish hair as the lighter coloring provides a counterpoint. Would love to see which punjammies you decided on. They have such a wide selection.

  9. Honestly darling I twigged the perfection that is black + khaki in high school which was quite some tie ago. My current love is black + khaki + off white/ivory.

  10. Love all of your photos
    I’ve never thought about black and camel/honey as a black and brown combination. One of my favourite combos are black dress (or black pants and black cashmere turtleneck) with camel coat
    Nevertheless I like what I see as brown (like chocolate)/black combination,too,sometimes is all black simply too much
    Ditto for the navy and black (but colours,textures and materials must be just right).

    1. @Dottoressa, It is exactly all about textures, hues, shades, materials being just right.

      I think camel/honey seem like they don’t count because they are so much lighter that they have sufficient contrast all on their own.

  11. I love brown and black. I almost always prefer brown shoes and brown bags to black as well, the leather seems so much richer. Great photos of everyone and love the one of you in Scotland.

  12. I was really a doubter but seeing the pictures I am having some ah-ha moments. I never really thought of the black/tan or black/shades of brown because I avoided it. But now…its a whole new world. I do like the idea of half being color blocked – like top black t & black cardigan and then doing more on bottom and shoes etc. Oh and the pink feet gloves in the prada picture – I would try those if they did not (likely) cost way too much. Don’t love the pink but love the concept!! Thanks for the black brown tutorial this Monday morning.

  13. Love this post and I love black and brown together. Layering black and brown is one way to get through our long winter. Your ideas are terrific.
    I hope your achilles is healing and that your time on the sofa is feeling like a break and not a sentence! xx

  14. Does bronze with black count? I killed last night with a bronze Fortuny pleated silk scarf (from Venice!) tied loosely at the neck of my favorite black cashmere sweater at a friend’s book launch. (As I am still in recovery mode from foot surgery in early February, the look was completed with plain black pants and my roomiest/clunkiest flat black clogs, complete with interesting limp…)

    And on the black with navy front, did you read this week about the congresswoman who spent a whole day in one black shoe and one navy shoe (same style), and didn’t realize it until she finally sat down at day’s end for a photo op with constituents? Well, I’ve certainly done that with socks!

Comments are closed.