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Jeans & Shoes Combinations: How To Always Get It Right

A handy guide to the shoes and boots that work best with every colour and wash of denim you own. And some styles you should definitely avoid.

Words by: Charlie Thomas

If you care about clothes, chances are you have more than one pair of jeans. One of the most popular garments in the world, a hallmark of Americana and a classic wardrobe anchor that’s easy to dress up or down, jeans are nothing short of a design icon. And they look good in all manner of colours and washes – but only when they’re paired with the right footwear.

While staple dark blue denim might complement every shoe you own, from minimal sneakers through to Chelsea boots, knowing which kicks to combine with white, grey or light-wash jeans is a little more difficult. We’d always encourage personal expression above all else, but there are some shoes that simply don’t work with certain styles of denim.

So, as always, if you want to avoid rookie moves and simple, avoidable style mistakes, these are the right shoes to wear with all your jeans.

What shoes to wear with black jeans

Ah, black jeans. What more can be said? You’ll never regret investing in a straight-cut pair of black jeans made from quality denim. They are, without doubt, the most adaptable pair of pants you’ll ever own.

Go for jeans in pure black and they can pass for trousers, working with blazers and tailored jackets for the smartest of smart casual affairs. But, thanks to their five-pocket design and textured fabric, they’re just as easy to wear casually with a tee, hoodie or worker jacket at the weekend. Black jeans are a blank canvas you can pair literally any style to. Which means, of course, they can be worn with virtually every style of classic shoe or sneaker.

Chelsea boots in black or brown? Yes. Derbies in leather or suede? Yes. Loafers in burgundy? Yep. Sneakers, from pared-back silhouettes through to chunkier, ‘ugly’ designs? Oh yes. It really depends on the look you’re going for, but whatever the occasion and whichever category your personal style aligns with, black jeans have got your footwear’s back.

There are two particular styles of shoes that work with black jeans best though. The first is black Chelsea boots. This classic, rock ‘n’ roll shoe is the bread to black jeans’ butter – the two were practically made for each other. Go for an all-black outfit consisting of black jeans, black leather Chelseas and a simple black tee to see what we mean.

The second pair that only really works with black jeans is black sneakers. All-black leather kicks finish off black jeans with a clean, understated look that’s ideal for laid-back weekends.

Shoe styles: lace-up boots, Chelsea boots, sneakers, loafers, Derbies

Shoe colours: black, white, burgundy

What shoes to wear with dark/raw denim jeans

Raw denim jeans are always a wise wardrobe investment. The dark indigo shade is essentially a result of the dye going untouched, resulting in denim that is as it left the factory: raw, unwashed and ripe for wearing in. This is the jean in its purest form and, second to black denim, is the most versatile of the bunch.

Unless they are washed, a pair of raw jeans will stay dark for some time, so pick the right pair of shoes and they aren’t going to change anytime soon. But what should you wear with them? First of all, any colour shoe that complements dark blue is a winner.

That means brown leather and suede is perhaps the most obvious choice. Brown and dark blue is an effortless combo, especially when contrasting textures are thrown into the mix. A pair of brown suede Derbies or loafers, for example, is one of the finest choices for wearing with raw denim.

You also can’t go wrong with brown desert or chukka boots. The perfect smart casual boot, they can work with raw denim to dress down a rollneck and blazer or, on the flip side, to help dress up a workwear-inspired flannel shirt and chore coat combination.

When it comes to sneakers you can’t really go wrong, with anything from canvas high-tops through to white minimal tennis shoes working well. A pair of clean white leather kicks will pop against the dark blue of the jeans, while more colourful renditions can work to add a subtle statement to the bottom half of a look.

Shoe styles: Derbies, loafers, work boots, hiking boots, desert/chukka boots, sneakers

Shoe colours: brown, tan, white, black, burgundy

What shoes to wear with mid-wash jeans

Mid-wash jeans are underrated. Most people tend to gravitate towards dark blue or black denim, or much lighter stonewashed jeans. The sweet middle ground between them is ideal for experimenting with, given that it’s neither too smart nor too casual.

Mid-wash denim is often at its best when paired with plenty of colour up top, with its versatile blue shade complementing deep greens, burgundy, burnt orange and rich browns. Downstairs then, when it comes to shoes, it’s often better to stay neutral, which helps to anchor a look and keeps it from getting too out-there. Mid-wash jeans tend to be brighter and more instantly noticeable than raw or black denim, so simple shoes and sneakers are the best.

Light shades of brown make an excellent choice, so look for a shoe that suits this shade. A Chelsea or Derby boot for example is a perfect addition for fall and winter. Lace them all the way up and roll the hem to allow the boots to shine, and finish with a suitably seasonal feel up top with chunky knitwear and a waxed jacket.

Black shoes are tricky to pull off with mid-wash denim. If you do want to try it, stick to waxy, dull leathers and avoid high shine finishes at all cost. Anything too slick will jar with the laid-back nature of the jeans, creating too much of a contrast. Instead look at chunky work boots made from greasy black leather to tap into the utilitarian, lumberjack-esque feel of the combo. Or go for a timeless pair of black canvas Chuck Taylors.

Speaking of sneakers, white styles are the most obvious fit: anything from an Air Force 1 to Common Projects’ Achilles to a chunky throwback tennis shoe. If your top half is neutral (a white tee or sweatshirt), you can also inject a splash of colour down below: try a navy pair of Adidas Samba or a colourful retro running shoe from the likes of New Balance or Saucony.

Shoe styles: Derbies, Chelsea boots, lace up boots, minimal sneakers, retro running shoes

Shoe colours: light brown, tan, beige, white, navy, bold colours/multicolour

What shoes to wear with light-wash jeans

For a laid back, summery feel, light-wash denim is where it’s at. Think lazy afternoons in the Californian sunshine or warm evenings with friends at a BBQ. This is the pair of jeans you just want to throw on and not think about. So you naturally want a pair of shoes that offers the same level of laid-back cool.

The first style that probably springs to mind are canvas sneakers, and for good reason. Canvas skate shoes were invented in California in the 60s, and were basically designed for wearing with relaxed-fit, stonewashed denim. Whether you opt for low-tops, high-tops or slip-ons, this is a match made in heaven.

Don’t be afraid of introducing some colour here too. Light-wash denim complements pastels, jewel tones and primary colours particularly well – its subtle blue shade working with everything from pale pink to vibrant red. But equally, you can’t go wrong with a white or black pair of sneakers.

There is another way to channel a warm-weather feel though and that’s with loafers, specifically suede loafers. Stonewash jeans are inherently casual, but with the right pair of loafers they can take on an ever so slightly more dressy feel. Look out for a washed shade of brown or stone for your penny or tassel loafers, and go for either white socks or none at all, for a smoother take on pale denim.

Shoe styles: sneakers (canvas in particular), loafers, slip-ons

Shoe colours: white, black, pastel shades, primary colours, jewel tones, light browns, beige

What shoes to wear with white jeans

For the ultimate in summer jeans, the award has to go to white denim. They’re a Riviera classic and one that instantly evokes warm nights spent somewhere by the sea, with good food and even better wine. If you are heading to the south of France any time soon it’s practically a law to buy at least one pair. White jeans might not be as easy to wear in the city, or throughout the colder months, but on their day they epitomise good taste and confidence.

The trick is always in the styling, and that goes for footwear as much as anything above. Boots are largely out of the equation as they contrast too heavily with the summery feel, although we’re willing to hear arguments for a beige chukka. The trick is to look for smart casual shoe that can match the slick, sophisticated feel of the jeans without taking things too far. Boat shoes might look a little costume-y at the harbour, but try a chunky-soled Derby in a rich nut brown leather.

If you’re wearing white jeans more casually, almost anything in your sneaker collection will look the part. Yes, you can wear white kicks with white jeans, but you can also go for red and black basketball sneakers, retro tinged 80s runners or chunky-soled tennis shoes.

Shoe styles: Derbies, boat shoes, sneakers, loafers/driving shoes, sandals/sliders, chukka/desert boots

Shoe colours: white/off-white, pastel shades, bold colours, mid-light brown, beige

What shoes to wear with grey jeans

The monochrome equivalent to washed denim, grey jeans are what happens when black jeans are worn to death. They’re not as popular as washed blue denim, which is strange as grey jeans are just as cool and nearly as easy to style. There is one caveat when it comes to choosing the right shoes to pair with them: avoid brown. It just doesn’t work.

This means that black is the only option for proper leather shoes. Seek out every pair you’d put with black denim, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Black Chelsea boots, Derbies, work boots and loafers all work with the right styling. Black suede is also a good shout. Go for a pair of black suede chukka boots and finish with an Oxford shirt for a gentle take on rock ‘n’ roll casual wear.

You’re also more limited on the sneaker front with grey denim. Grey doesn’t take to colour especially well, so it’s best to stick to monochrome shades or white or light grey for your kicks. Off-white canvas also works particularly, as does plain white leather, giving grey jeans a pleasingly minimal feel that you, and everyone else, is bound to appreciate.

Shoe styles: Chelsea boots, Derbies, lace-up boots, loafers, chukka/desert boots, sneakers

Shoe colours: black, white/off-white, light grey