Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Match Your Shoes to Your Suit

Whenever I select a frame and components to build up a bike, I'm one of those people who really likes to pay attention to details. Whether picking out colors for paint, choosing the "right" saddle, choosing bar wrap, matching up the right components for the bike and its particular "mission," and even down to selecting cable housing or toe straps -- I enjoy putting together a bike that not only works the way I want, but also satisfies my aesthetic taste.

When it came to picking out the saddle for the Sequoia, I had an extended moment of indecision. I knew I was going to use a Brooks leather saddle - that part was easy. But which color would look the best with the bike? The frame color is kind of a medium/dark blue, and Brooks saddles come in black, brown, and honey/tan (and occasionally some limited runs of other colors like blue or green). Which to choose?

I did a quick search online for pictures of bikes like mine and found that the vast majority were paired with black saddles. That seemed like the "safest" choice, but I wasn't sure it was the best one for me.

Blue suit, brown shoes.
Ultimately I took my inspiration from what some people might think is an unexpected source: the sartorialists at the men's fashion magazine, Gentleman's Quarterly. Yep. GQ.

You see, when I'm at work, I wear suits. Every day. Well - sometimes on Fridays I'll wear casual pants with a sport coat. I mean, I'm only a teacher, but I believe in dressing professionally. It's something that started when I was the leader of the teachers' union and I frequently had to meet with administrators or school board members (most of whom are local businessmen) and found that they took me and my demands a lot more seriously when I was dressed like them, if not better.

See the similarities?
So, I've found that a lot of men wear black shoes with everything. It's the "safest" choice. The default, if you will. But it's not always the best, stylistically. A lot of guys will wear black shoes with a blue suit, for instance. That's okay - but the better choice is actually brown.

With a navy blue suit, you'd want to go with a darker brown shoe. A lighter blue, and you could either go with a medium brown, or maybe more of a tan shoe. And then you match the belt to the shoes. If you still wear a watch (many people don't anymore) and if the watch has a leather band, ideally you'd want the band to match the belt and shoes, too.

Well, I figure the same advice can be applied to a bike. For example, I think my light blue Rivendell looks awfully nice with a honey tan leather saddle. And then, like matching the belt to the shoes, I often like to match my bar wrap (and toe straps, too!) to the saddle.

It seemed to me that in this case I could either go with the "antique brown" or the "honey tan" leather for the Sequoia's medium blue paint. In the end, that suit and shoe combination pictured above struck me as being "right" and helped make my decision. The antique brown leather saddle, combined with brown shellacked bar tape would be my combination.
By the way, I found this handy guide for matching suits and shoes online. You're welcome.
Sometimes inspiration comes from odd places. Then again, I'm reminded that noted fashion designer Paul Smith has done several collaborations with Mercian cycles in England and often gets inspiration from bicycles. So maybe not so odd.


  1. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who gets thoroughly fussy about this sort of thing when restoring a bike.
    I have one "Commuter" bike where I've really tried to let it look like a 90's clunker, but even on that one I found myself fitting cork handlebars and nicer bar ends....

  2. I pay attention to such things, too. On the whole, I prefer leather in brown, tan or related colors--unless the bike really cries out for something else.

    (I have a limited-run maroon/burgundy Brooks Pro saddles --with big copper rivets--on my lilac-and-plum Mercian Vincitore Special.)

  3. I thought you were about to talk about the tyres, as sometimes is easier to link tyres with shoes, saddle with hat and bar tape with gloves.

    I was told off once by my family for wearing brown shoes with a black suit in a wedding, but nobody has dared to complain about a black frame with brown tyres in any of my builds!

  4. I think a brown leather saddle (Brooks or similar) is always classy on a vintage steel bike regardless of the bike's color. Sometimes the matching color coordination thing can seem a little extreme; I've noticed an occasional rider go overboard with the florescent yellow - jersey, helmet, gloves, bar tape, shoes, even a yellow chain. I do good to not mix my plaids and paisleys. The only thing I must avert my eyes from is somebody wearing solid white bike shorts, I have seen that and by the end of the long ride there was inevitable staining from sweat, maybe some from their black saddle, or whatever, not a good look! Makes sense for bike shorts to be black besides tradition.

  5. Brown shoes are much more common on European males than USA males.