Real Talk: Brown Shoes are Cool
There comes a point in every sneakerhead’s journey where owning and wearing colourful kicks is simply too exhausting. Monotonous monochrome alternatives aren’t much better: black is boring, grey’s too grey and beige is just bland. But all is not lost out in the sneaker sea. Brown shoes have always been the de facto cool colour, and it’s only appropriate to step out in caramel kicks as only more russet releases arrive.
The rise of Instagram moodboard and archive pages have turned curated colour edits into a constant feed of Pantone swatches. Dig deeper beyond the ‘hidden’ and Bottega to discover the brown earth that green sprouts from.
The colour brown seemed to reach a new zeitgeist, at least in the sneaker and associated street culture worlds, when it was adopted as the brand colour of one Travis Scott, whose most popular Nike and Jordan collaborations have featured the shade. This undoubtedly had a trickle effect onto similarly coloured general releases that experienced comparable levels of hype, namely the Air Jordan 1 ‘Dark Mocha’ and subsequent derivatives.
Brown has also made its way onto the more esoteric, IYKYK releases. Adsum’s chocolatey Reebok Club C was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it release that now commands big bucks from those with the foresight to buy pairs when they dropped in 2020. Another ‘bok colab, the Eames Classic Leather ‘Rosewood’, may be sitting now, but they’ll be one to look for in the years to come. Of course, all sorts of clay colours have made it onto New Balance, ASICS and other heritage brands.
And for those hunting for the obscure, set those eBay alerts for old adidas EQT Adventure models or Nike Lava Domes. In fact, outdoors shoes have played a big part in helping herald this brown thing (again).
The explosion of outdoors style (authentic or otherwise) has given technical footwear a new lease on life. Brands once operating in completely different lanes – not to mention terrains – to the sneaker scene are now embraced in all of their brown glory. The likes of Merrell and Salomon naturally crossed over thanks to the aforementioned moodboard appearances. While there’s the question of whether these shoes are being used for their intended purposes (when was the last time a pair of ‘Kangaroo’ XT-6s were posted on IG that weren't spotless?), at least the continued usage of brown maintains some semblance of brand legitimacy and credibility.
Beef 'n' Broccoli
Of course, desirable brown footwear didn’t just happen overnight. It’s been the default non-sneaker colour for decades. One of the most pervasive and cool nicknames – beef ’n’ broccoli – is straight-up brown and the Timberland Field Boot that inspires the moniker is one of the all-time greatest uses of the colour. The rugged and luxurious overlap of brown footwear for street use was also sparked by the likes of Vasque hikers, Mephisto Rainbows and Clarks Wallabees. Cool then, cool now.
Since the advent of modern sneaker ‘culture’, there has been an emphasis on colour and attention-grabbing combos. Perhaps it’s consumer fatigue and retinal exhaustion that has consumers finding shades much easier on the eyes. Even Jerry Seinfeld, sitcom sneaker king of the 1990s, went through a brown shoe era in later arcs of his eponymous show after rocking Nike heat the prior seasons.
There is an undeniable element of irony here though. Brown shoes once separated normies from sneakerheads in their patent BAPE STAs and reflective Jordans. But it’s not 2007 any more. Once the self-appointed sneaker gatekeepers had their sacred style diluted, they turned to the very thing they rejected. Now that everybody is a sneakerhead, it’s a statement wearing brown in a sea of colour. Regardless of the unceasing tension between individual expression and fitting in, the fact remains that it’ll always be cool to go brown downtown.