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Brown shoe sales soar as men jettison sartorial rules

Snappy dressers follow in Fred Astaire's footsteps and don tan brogues

Once, in the circles where such things matter, "wearing brown in town" was a sartorial sin. Along with peak lapels on a single-breasted suit and mixing spots and stripes, one would be openly mocked for such a faux pas.

But change is a-foot. Men up and down the country are eschewing black shoes in favour of the more versatile brown, as high-street stores report a boom in sales. What was until recently a cutting-edge look – brogues or boat shoes worn casually with jeans or a suit – is now the staple of the high street.

Ian Chumbley, men's shoe buyer at John Lewis, said: "Sales of brown shoes are 15 per cent up on last year. Brogues are everywhere and utilising all fabrics and multiple colours. But the key, really, is the earthy tones that are coming through."

Harrods, too, which recently launched a new shoe salon, also reports increased sales. Jason Broderick, its menswear manager, said: "Men's work wardrobe has much more crossover than ever before with casual dressing. A more preppy look has impacted on their choice of shoe. Boring is not acceptable. Brown shoes enhance a man's style because they stand out."

Burton, meanwhile, has teamed up with the high-end shoemakers Loake. The aim was to make the normally expensive shoes affordable to the general public. Burton has seen "a steady increase in sales" over the past couple of seasons, with the tan brogue being the most popular shoe.

Men first embraced the brown shoe 60 years ago, when snappy dressers such as Cary Grant and Fred Astaire wore brown shoes with grey trousers. But that changed in the 1960s when businessmen adopted the more serious black shoe as uniform. Now, the likes of the singer Robbie Williams and the actor Jude Law have been seen at the forefront of the brown revolution.

Even women have been seen to adopt the brown shoe look. Celebrities such as Alexa Chung and Agyness Deyn have been spotted wearing different varieties. Stephanie Cairns, a fashion writer at Esquire magazine, said: "Almost every photo shoot we do now includes brown brogues. The younger generation are using them as a means to distinguish themselves from the older and more conservatively dressed businessmen. The trend is ongoing and shows no sign of stopping."

Even for established shoemaker's such as Crockett & Jones, which has supplied the City gent since 1879, there has been a marked rise in sales of brown shoes. "They are more versatile, practical and comfortable," said Philippa Jones, the firm's managing director.