Black and Brown: Office fashion faux pas

by epi on January 15, 2013

Q: Is there a tactful way to let a male colleague know that wearing a brown belt with black shoes is not considered appropriate dress?

A: To begin with, I’d be very careful about which office battles I choose to take on. In the bigger scheme of office relations, this issue may not be worth making a point of. But assuming the matching-belt-and-shoe issue is something that I really want to talk to someone about, one option is to approach him directly: “Hey Jerry, you may want to keep your jacket buttoned today.  You seem to have gotten a brown belt on, and you’re wearing black shoes.”  You might also consider a more circumspect approach.  On a day when Jerry had managed to match his belt and his shoes, you could make a comment like: “You know, Jerry, I can’t believe myself sometimes.  I was getting into my car when I realized I had on a brown belt AND black shoes.  By the time I made the switch, I almost missed the train!”

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Jody January 15, 2013 at 7:05 am

I would be very careful about saying anything in this situation. It’s possible your colleague was in a rush and accidentally grabbed the wrong belt. It’s possible that he left the room dark so as not to wake a companion, and accidentally grabbed the wrong belt. I’ve done similar things, and by the time I notice it’s too late to correct the situation. Rather than act guilty I just wore the items as if I’d meant to choose them all along.

If you do say something to your colleage, please don’t broadcast it in front of a group of people. There’s no need to make the fellow feel bad.


Joanna January 15, 2013 at 9:14 am

I agree with Jody – it could very well have been an error, or perhaps the man has some visual problems and cannot easily distinguish between the two.

Regardless, in this type of situation I’d have to say MYOB. This is none of the colleague’s business, no more than if someone came in wearing a tie she didn’t personally like.


Lilli January 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Agreed that it’s best not to say anything. Perhaps the gentleman is color blind as well.


Kate January 15, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Fashion is a matter of personal taste and preference, and actually, many fashion experts today agree that the shoes don’t necessarily have to match the belt. (E.g. Referring to a clash of belt and shoes as “inappropriate” dress is absurd. Not wearing pants at all – that would be inappropriate. Wearing a tee-shirt and shorts when he should have on a suit? Inappropriate. Disobeying outdated fashion “rules”? Good for him!

I would examine why you have decided to be the office fashion police, instead of focusing on your own work. Furthermore, do you really want to call attention to the fact that you are so concerned about such a trivial matter of opinion that you would actually consider taking the “offender” aside? Where are your priorities? Really!


Tam January 15, 2013 at 3:07 pm

Say nothing and stop worrying about what other people are wearing. Like the above poster was saying, if he wore flip flops to work, then have his superior discuss it with him. In this situation, best to keep it to yourself. (And don’t giggle about it with other coworkers behind his back, this would make you seem petty)

I once was in a car accident where I sprained my ankle so I had to wear a less fashionable and more comfortable pair of shoes to work for a week or so. A coworker did bring it up to me and made me very self conscious, but they didn’t know that I was wearing them for medical reasons. Why this person thought it was appropriate to tell me my shoes were unfashionable is beyond me. They were very embarrassed and sheepish when I kindly told them my medical reason. Save yourself the possible embarrassment and just worry about yourself.


Mariette's Back to Basics January 15, 2013 at 3:10 pm

This needs to be addressed very tactfully indeed. Yes, it happens in the dark and how many are colorblind? You almost have to organize your belts and shoes by color for knowing exactly which ones are what.
At least wearing a belt and leather shoes is a compliment on itself as so many nowadays dress way too sloppy; not showing any respect.
Mariette’s Back to Basics


Vanna Keiler January 15, 2013 at 11:43 pm

I agree with Kate and Tam, and Mariette’s Back to Basics responses. I don’t think mismatching a belt and shoes is considered inappropriate dress. As Kate pointed out, it is now fashionable to not coordinate belt with shoes, much as women no longer coordinate purse or handbag color with shoe color. Fashion does not equate to dress work etiquette. Moreover…when ties were no longer mandatory in most office settings (seventies’ decade?), this opened the floodgates of options deemed appropriate office attire for men.


Brockwest January 18, 2013 at 9:48 am

Wow, I feel Strongly that this fits in the none-of-your-business category. Etiquette demands that one not tell others that they are not up to your standards. A minor fashion faux pas, particulary in the workplace, Demands silence. With the exception of the boss who would need to deal with indecent or inappropriate attire, it is none-of-your business.


Alicia January 18, 2013 at 11:39 am

One of my favorite belts is black on one side and brown on the other. I just went into the ladies room and saw myself in the mirror. Somehow I had twisted the belt in the back and had it showing as half brown half black despite wearing black pants and and black shoes today.(blue shirt)
Anyway I just wanted to comment that these are the types of mistakes we all make. I’ve now fixed my belt.


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