27 In Anatomy of an Outfit/ Styling Tips

Why I wear cognac boots with black and white

Pairing cognac brown with black and white

Sticking by my decision to wear cognac boots with black and white


Did you grow up with the idea that it was important to match your boots or shoes to your outfit or at least your pant color? Brown boots, brown pants. Black pants, black shoes. White Capris, white sandals. Or if the color red is in a floral print top, you might choose red shoes. Ditto for spotting yellow, green, turquoise, or orange in a print dress.

I’m going to challenge all that (maybe not all at once!) by introducing a reason to wear cognac colored suede ankle boots in a jean outfit that’s 100% focused on black and white.


matching shoe to top

To match or not to match, would you or wouldn’t you?


Seeing it differently this year

I don’t know if I would have shared this idea with you last year. It just didn’t come up. This year I’ve added some much-loved black and white pieces into my wardrobe. Plus, I’ve gone coo-coo for mixing stripes, checks, and plaid, which is easy to do in black and white.

But when I put this outfit together—my striped cotton tee, a windowpane peplum jacket, and the bold plaid oversized jacket—I had no desire at all to wear black boots with it. I looked over at my black patent leather boots and my black suede ones there on the floor of my closet and didn’t want to go near them. It was odd, as odd as it would be for me to suddenly not want dark chocolate after dinner.


Chocolate flavors

A few of my favorite things


I turned away from the obvious black boot choice and picked up my cognac suede ankle boots instead.

As soon as I slipped into them, all was right with the world. Chocolate? What chocolate? Who needs chocolate?


It’s not a black and white issue

I added my cognac bag so my boots would have a friend. I’d achieved the perfect mix for me.

When something feels so right from the inside out—even while it goes against an obvious choice—I have to explore why.

I took a couple of minutes to stand in front of my full-length mirror.

Remember, everything about clothes has a message. It’s why building an outfit is so much fun. You get to add a little of this and a little of that to create a look that deeply satisfies you.


Tallying up the messages in this outfit

Here’s what we’re looking at.

Black and white are sharp and classic together.

Straight lines are more formal than curvy ones, and my outfit has lots of straight lines.

You could say my denim jeans are informal. True, kind of. In the various shades and washes of denim, this dark indigo is the most formal of them all. To wear a jean with a more casual message, I’d keep going lighter in color and add a few holes or frayed edges.


Brown shoes and bag

Shades of cognac


I didn’t want to change a thing about my black and white print combo or my choice in jeans, but I was feeling too light, bouncy, and frisky to want to come off being too stiff or formal. So to match how I felt and how I wanted to be perceived in the world, I had to add something that would give my outfit the friendly vibe I wanted.


Shades of brown come to the rescue

I looked to the color brown to help me out.

Here are messages that shades of brown put out into the world:

  • Approachable
  • Comforting
  • Grounded
  • Friendly
  • Supportive
  • Sincere

What’s the message of black? Black gives a vibe of sophistication, high authority, power, mystery, and sensuality.

If I walked around in this outfit wearing black boots and carrying a black bag, I’d be feeling businessy. I’d be marching along, focused on getting a job done, prepared to be authoritative if need be.


Wearing brown with black

It’s important to listen to what feels right


On this particular day, I was looking for balance. I wanted to be more approachable than mysterious, more friendly than authoritative.

And cognac gave me the balance I needed. And once we feel solid about the message we want to convey, it’s easier to own that and really put it out there.

So that, my friends, is why I wore cognac boots with my black and white outfit.

How is this landing for you? Can you see my reasoning for not wearing black boots? Would you consider wearing a different color in your shoes and bag than the rest of your outfit? I’d love to hear your thoughts!



PS If you’re interested in learning more about color messages, you can read here about how I fell for the color yellow and what yellow means in the world. Also, In the Dressing Room with Brenda has a chapter (#13) that goes into messages in case you have that in your personal library.

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  • Reply
    January 21, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    You look gorgeous! I love the sumptuous coziness of glowing rich colours like cognac, amber and chestnut. I don’t suit warm colours but your cognac looks so luxurious with your cool colouring … I already have the bags. Will be looking out for some boots!!! (I just discovered your blog. Absolutely loving it!)

  • Reply
    Cathy D.
    January 21, 2019 at 8:55 pm

    I love your outfit! It looks warm and friendly, not at all the way it would look with black boots. Brenda, I’m learning so much from your blog. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Trinnie Q
    January 22, 2019 at 2:47 am

    Ohh! As usual, you have hit the nail on the head! You look , approacable, sophisticated, knowledgeable ,yet warm and playful. All of the qualities I would describe you as a person . How beautiful Brenda . Sending love from Oz. P.s, no warm clothes for me, it was 40 degrees Celsius here today! 42 , on Friday coming! Yikes !

  • Reply
    Opelt Cynthia
    January 22, 2019 at 4:34 am

    I’m in love with the orange loafer!! Do you have a resource you would be willing to share? Thank you. Cynthia

  • Reply
    Holly Sue
    January 22, 2019 at 5:23 am

    Love it. The cognac gives it a pop of color and softens the look. Almost any color goes with black; I even like wearing dark blue and black (which is against everything this southern girl was taught). I tend to use the softer color up around my face – but you don’t need to – you look great in black. Love your blog and other materials, am inspired to make changes in the way I dress!

  • Reply
    jodie filogomo
    January 22, 2019 at 5:44 am

    Love, love, love this. I want to send it to my mother, but it was just her birthday yesterday, so maybe I should hold off.
    I just love how you describe the process of choosing the boots too.

  • Reply
    Nelda Pattillo
    January 22, 2019 at 5:48 am

    I love the boots with the black and white! The purse is a great addition as well. I think that being too ‘matchy matchy’ is old fashioned and maybe makes me look old!!
    It’s good to step out of the fashion box!!

  • Reply
    cindy hattersley
    January 22, 2019 at 5:56 am

    I love everything about this outfit. Yes I did grow up with that notion. Would you share who the boots and the jacket are by. I love them both!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 6:30 am

    I love this post. As you said, black shoes and bag would make the look all business. I’m not all business so my look shouldn’t be either. I’m wondering though, as a daily brown boot and bag wearer, and not a black wearer, how would you flip this look to go the other direction? Less messages of brown and more of the black messages (sophistication, authority) ? Without using black.

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 7:18 am

    I do carry a cognac bag with my black winter coat. It brightens the look. Sometimes there really is just too much black. But I always stick to black boots.

  • Reply
    monique arends
    January 22, 2019 at 7:27 am

    I love the entire outfit. It looks youthful, casual and yet not overthought which sometimes ages in my opinion.

  • Reply
    Linda Hobden
    January 22, 2019 at 7:52 am

    So like me – I wear a black & white outfit or dress but will wear burgundy boots or red footwear or bright blue or hot pink or orange – rarely black or white! I used to have cognac boots that I wore with a black top & black skinny jeans – unfortunately they are no more & I haven’t replaced them yet.

    • Reply
      January 25, 2019 at 10:52 am

      I’m with Linda. I immediately thought of my burgundy suede booties (probably because I don’t have brown – yet), and my oxblood bag. On some days I might wear my grey suede booties and grey Lo & Sons crossbody bag, but only if I wanted to posh it up a bit.

  • Reply
    Sue Reinardy
    January 22, 2019 at 8:49 am

    In an earlier post you mentioned Lucky boots, got myself a pair of olive suede and have been wearing them all fall/winter. Now with this post I know why – they are more casual with jeans than with my black leather ones. Mystery solved on why they feel so right, plus they are comfy. Thank you Brenda!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 8:51 am

    I think too matchy matchy makes us look old. I bought cognac boots a while back after seeing you where them with jeans & yes, they do match the stitching 😉 You look vibrant & full of life Brenda. Now, pass me the chocolates!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 8:53 am

    Great look! What brand are the boots?

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 11:22 am

    I’m loving non-matchy outfits, and especially browns with black. The “mismatch” just loosens up the whole vibe!

    These boots in particular look VERY comfy, are they rubber-soled??


  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 12:24 pm

    My big “wild card” addition this fall/winter was white boots, similar in look to your cognac ones. I don’t wear much brown, so have no shoes in browns. I would add white booties and bag to this outfit, and maybe some funky pearl accessories to make it “mine”. When I bought the white boots, I was afraid it was going to be an orphan, but I forced myself to wear them once or twice and really began to like the look, I get a few looks from people, but only “fashionistas” ever compliment me here in Tucson. They are still an “out there” look and many people look but don’t know what to say. I like it, and that’s what matters. Brenda, I really enjoyed you breaking down the thinking process behind adding the cognac boots. Once again, thanks!

  • Reply
    Elaine @ Following Augustine
    January 22, 2019 at 4:09 pm

    Great look; great explanation!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 4:35 pm

    I think the whole look is great!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2019 at 10:05 pm

    I agree with your decision! I always add some pop of color when wearing black and white. At my age , it’s much more fun to do the unexpected. So many wasted years wearing “ traditional “ stuff! It’s now about embracing life and having fun!’

  • Reply
    Cheryl Ann Johnson
    January 23, 2019 at 5:45 am

    I too grew up with the matcher philosophy. Then, I married and moved to Eugene OR in 1970. Brown was everywhere. People thought I was overdressed wherever I went. So, I tried to wear brown, but couldn’t quite get it to feel comfortable…I was 22. Now I’m almost 72 and living in Nashville. This year I bought a brown leather handbag and brown shoes. I love this combo! Yes, even with black & white! It’s very comfortable with who I now am. I’ve grown comfortable with doing my own style. By the way the handbag is Pebble leather and the shoes are suede. That just felt right. Now, I have to work on white shoes, just can’t get behind that trend. Thank you, Brenda for all you do to keep us interested in fashion. You are a blessing, my friend. I used to be very corporate and now embrace a more relaxed casual laid-back vibe. Not sloppy, though. I still want to be fashionable and have pride in my look. My grandmother and mother were fashionable too. My daughters always wanted to borrow my mom’s clothes. Now, my granddaughters at Christmas, just said “Grandma you are rockin’ those jeans…love it!

  • Reply
    January 23, 2019 at 7:35 pm

    Hi, Brenda
    This is great how you aren’t giving rules for style choices, but a sense of how to feel it and get the right vibe. You told the story well!
    Angie, http://www.yourtrueselfblog.com

  • Reply
    February 1, 2019 at 7:23 am


  • Reply
    Joan Kosmachuk
    February 4, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    I think the cognac boots work because: you added the matching bag to help draw the eye back up so it doesn’t stop at your boots AND because the contrast level works for you too. And I love that you explained WHY you went with cognac over black because too often woman are unaware of the message their clothes are sending. Great post!

  • Reply
    February 16, 2019 at 2:51 am

    I really appreciate this post!
    I too was a “matcher” of assessories, black purse, black shoes, black belt.
    Same for Browns.
    I worked with a dear lady who would point out non matching coworkers to me. Sounds kind of mean, but the non matching really bothered her.
    Just this year, I realized, black/grey/white are neutral and ok with browns! It matters more the “style” of the item, meaning casual, dressy, work professional, work casual, relaxed bohemian.
    So I’ve been trying to expand how I combine my outfits, I try things on, take a look with an open mind. Out of my comfort zone sometimes but if I like what I see, I go for it.
    I think your post is confirming I’m on the right track.

    • Reply
      February 19, 2019 at 5:53 pm

      I LOVE your thought process here! You laid it out very logically. I love a comment my mother made once about combining black and blue together in the same outfit. I was suggesting it to her for a travel wardrobe I was planning for her. She said, “I’m just not ready for that yet.” I loved that her comment wasn’t “I’d never” but opened the door to the possibility that maybe…just maybe…(but probably not) she’d do that. It made me love her all the more! An open mind is a great accessory!

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