Reader mail: Feeling black and blue…

2015 Update: Check out our latest thoughts about how to wear black and navy together. 

Reader T writes in with this request…

Could we please have a discussion about wearing blue/ navy with black? Today I’m wearing a navy sheath dress with grayish/black tights, black shoes, black belt and a gray cardigan.  I feel like I’m getting some weird looks. I feel comfortable in this outfit; it’s not boring and I’m sick of wearing this dress with flesh colored pantyhose and navy shoes.  I thought that this would be interesting! I just feel like people are “getting” this combo. What are your thoughts?

Pictured above:  Jessica Schroeder from What I Wore, wearing black and navy together.

To us, this sounds like a great outfit, with one important caveat:  that it doesn’t look like you got dressed in the dark.

For starters:  From everything we’ve read, yes, it is entirely appropriate to wear black shoes with navy. We can’t remember which fashion book we got this from (InStyleElsa KlenschDebrett’s?) but the rule we’ve always read is that “black dresses navy up, while brown dresses navy down.”  Think about men and their suits — the navy blue power suit is almost always worn with black shoes.  (Or, occasionally, a dark red cordovan shoe.)  More specifically, think of naval and marine officers’ dress uniforms.  (Oooh, or there’s a great Audrey Hepburn movie called “How To Steal A Million” where we think she wears a navy Givenchy suit with black patent leather bag and shoes also, but we can’t find a screenshot of her in the outfit.)  It’s an interesting question whether, when wearing a navy skirt suit with tights and black shoes, whether one should wear navy tights (to elongate the skirt) or black tights (to match the shoes) — to be honest, we usually punt and wear sheer pantyhose in that circumstance.

In terms of wearing black and navy clothing together:  Again, we’ve heard from a number of fashion “authorities” that you can wear them together, and we’ve seen it in runway pictures, but … well, it’s hard to pair them together when you grew up hearing “don’t wear black with navy” over and over again.  So here’s the rule of thumb we’ve come up with:  if the navy is very close to a black — so close that in a low light it actually looks black — then you probably shouldn’t wear it with black, because people will think you got dressed in the dark and didn’t realize that it was navy. If, however, the navy is more on the blue/purple side — or some of them even have a good amount of gray mixed in — then wear it without fear.  If possible, accessorize to accent the fact that you know you’re wearing black with navy, and in fact have done so by choice — such as by pairing it with gray, or putting a black belt directly over a navy sheath dress, or… well, exactly what it sounds like you’ve done.

Now, on to the “weird looks” — our opinion has always been that as long as you’re not violating an “office”-y dress code (are your toes, breasts, and underarms covered?), pushing a societal button (do you look like a dominatrix or a ’50s housewife?), or otherwise looking like you’re in costume (Annie Hall? clown?  Joan from Mad Men?) then your fashion choice is … well, your choice, and it’s a matter of taste.  At that point:  pull yourself up a little taller, and wear it with pride.

Readers, what are your thoughts?


  1. I think it was Tim Gunn who said that black and navy are a sophisticated choice together, so long as it looks intentional. Exactly what C said.

  2. Anonymous :

    I’ve been reading Corporette for a long time and I think the closing thoughts on “weird looks” is the best thing I’ve read here!

  3. Dorcas Swindle :

    My mother always told me I was d”ressed like a bruise” when I wore black & navy together and thus enforced that this choice was not appropriate. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t – just suggests other mothers may have influenced your office similarly.

    • oh yes I’ve heard that bruise analogy too, but I still wear black with navy when I feel that red shoes might be too flash.

  4. Anne Vohl :

    I have just spent a week in New York City, and can report that this is what looks good now: black suits with a dark blouse or sweater – either a very dark blue (darker than navy), a very dark brown or a dark marroon. To make this look work (and work it does), there needs to be a lot of black and a smaller amount of the other dark color. But proceed with care. These combos are tricky to do nicely.

    • Anonymous :

      I also think it works if there is a lot of the other dark color and a small amount of black. Basically I think it works best if one color is the dominant color and the other is the accent.

  5. One suggestion I read that I thought was interesting was having a textural contrast between the black and the navy. I don’t know why, but it does seem to make it look more intentional somehow; maybe because it’s clear you didn’t intend for the pieces to be matchy in any respect.

  6. Thanks so much for this. I have been struggling with the Navy/Black issue for sometime and have not worn my navy suit in months because I was having issues about wearing the right kind of shoes.

  7. I’ve always worn navy with black and never gotten a weird look. Some of my other choices — oh yeah. That one, never. Until I read this post, I didn’t even know it was considered wrong.

  8. Navy with black is good, navy with dark red is good, navy with rust is fab…and the note on making it intentional is perfecto!

  9. Black and navy are fine, but like they mentioned above, if the navy is too dark in hue, then you have problems.

  10. I wasn’t allowed to wear blue and black together at my old job b/c I worked w/ gang kids and we tried to avoid wearing their colors. It was an unwritten rule that also ruled out red and black. We didn’t let them wear it to our office so we wouldn’t wear it either.

  11. housecounsel :

    I totally respect a woman who can wear navy and black together and make it look right and intentional, but I don’t think I’m one of those women.

  12. Maybe I’m particularly accustomed to seeing black and navy together because I live in DC, but I first began wearing them together when I observed the U.S. Navy dress uniform for women and men entails navy with black shoes. I figured that years of tradition AND Brooks Brothers (fun fact: BB uniforms our male and female military officers!) wouldn’t lead anyone astray. :)

  13. Like the post says – so long as it looks intentional, it’s fine. What you don’t want is to look like you thought an item is black but it’s actually navy.

    For the commenter who asked about shoes with a navy suit – when wearing navy I base my shoe choice on what matches my shirt or another accessory. I like to carry a red tote and wear red shoes, match my shoes to a silk scarf, wear a camel-colored shell and brown shoes, etc. I agree that a navy suit and black shoes isn’t a great look if you don’t have any other black in the outfit. If you’re just wearing a white shirt with the suit and no colored accessories, I’d go with gray or cordovan shoes.

  14. I have a lovely summer jacket from Nordstrom in a fabric that is black, navy, and a touch of white. It’s great. I can wear with with black or navy on the bottom and it looks fabulous.

  15. I think black patent leather shoes look great with navy suits. Something about the shine of patent leather looks better against navy than black matte leather.

    • Yes, but haven’t you heard the “rule” about not wearing patent leather after labor day!?

      ( Sorry, can’t help to make fun of these wholly outdated rules — wearing patent leather shoes right now, just think the whole thing with “rules” is stupid. Seems more like guidelines for the unitiated to me ;) )

      • Never heard of that one! I always thought of patent leather as a winter texture – it seems like cold weather material and black patent leather in the summer just seems weird to me.

        • I never heard it either until someone at work informed me otherwise (apparently, suede is the contrasting fall/winter option; plain leather is acceptable all year round). It’s one of the stupidest rules I have ever heard. Makes me question the logic of any and all of them.

          I do find it amusing that all of this time I have been walking around in patent leather shoes past September, and at least someone out there thought I was committing a major faux-pas!

  16. I don’t think I’ve worn anything BUT black shoes with my navy pants. Oh wait, yes, I had a pair of oxblood Ferragamo pumps I would wear. They looked good. If you wear gray, don’t make it light gray. Looks too much like a flight attendant.

  17. This discussion is quite timely. Just this morning I stood in front of my shoe rack, contemplating which pair of shoes to wear with my navy skirt suit. With trepidation, I selected a pair of black Coach patent leather pumps, and opted for nude pantyhose. However, I was a little concerned that I was violating some fashion rule. This post and these comments have validated my selection! Thank you!

  18. Reading some of the comments, made me smile. All this time, I have been thinking that as a modern woman, the so called “rules” of dress no longer applied. But, apparently the rules do still exist and women still adhere to them to one degree or another. While I don’t adhere strictly to the rules ( I will and do wear navy with black and, intentionally) I never wear patent leather shoes anytime of the year except during spring and summer months, a rule instilled by my Mother and Grandmother.

  19. So well and wittily said on the Black and Blue. It is good to know what the ‘fashion rules’ are and were so you can make informed decisions. I always thought suede was for winter until I saw all of those gorgeous, rich color shades last spring.

  20. My daughter wears navy opaque tights to school. Last week I dressed very early and went to an out of office meeting, all in black with a black patterned coat.
    Left the meeting, walked out into the sun with clients and my legs GLOWED blue. Secretary said it wasn’t noticeable. Convinced myself I looked like Audrey Hepburn, or at least french.
    Went home.
    First words from teenage daughter? “Why are you wearing blue tights??’!!!!!”That looks shocking”.
    Can’t win.

    • Anonymous :

      That’s what they mean about making sure that you don’t look like the navy was an accident :) Navy tights in the middle of an all-black outfit (shoes, dress, coat) don’t work because there isn’t enough of a contrast; purple or red ones would, although I don’t recommend that for business unless you’re in one of the industries where quirkiness in dress is acceptable; I would never stroll into my law firm in brightly colored tights, but I’d do that on the weekend in a heartbeat.

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  23. Navy shoes are difficult. Matching up the Navy’s rarely work. Choosing black patent shoe and clutch is the way to go. adds a clean, sharp look to the outfit and can be used with almost ant ouutfit

  24. Anonymous :

    Can you wear navy shoes with navy pants? What other colors can you wear them with .

  25. Anonymous :

    I have a dressy dark blue dress for a wedding ,that is sleeveless. I can only find a black lacy shrug to pair it with . I was planning on black shoes. Would the colors work together ?

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