COMMONS

High heels and work place dress codes web forum

Have you been made to wear high heels at work? Share your experiences with the Petitions Committee.

The Committee is investigating a petition it received on petition.parliament.uk asking the UK Government and Parliament to: "Make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work."

The petition goes on to say:

"It's still legal in the UK for a company to require female members of staff to wear high heels at work against their will. Dress code laws should be changed so that women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work, if they wish. Current formal work dress codes are out-dated and sexist."

If you've been personally affected by this issue we want to hear from you.

Your experiences will help us understand the problem. It will also give us an idea of how many people this affects and help us to decide what action to recommend to the Government.

When sharing your experiences, please include: 

  • What were the circumstances that led to you being made to wear high heels? For example: what type of work was involved? Were you a permanent or a temporary member of staff? 
  • Did you challenge the requirement? If so, what was the outcome?
  • Did you think that the requirement was reasonable? 
  • What does a reasonable work dress code mean to you?

This forum is now closed. The deadline for comments was 10am Thursday 16 June 2016.

Message to contributors:

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to share their experiences with us. The Petitions Committee, working with the Women and Equalities Committee, will now hold several 'oral evidence' sessions to continue gathering information on this issue.

You can keep up to date with our work on the inquiry page.

730 Responses to High heels dress codes web forum

Casey says:
June 15, 2016 at 08:13 PM
I worked as a waitress for 3 years while I was studying at uni and I was made to wear high heels. My shift hours were between 8pm and 6am, usually 4-5 times a week. I have damaged my back and it is taking me years of hard work and training to get it right again. I have had to pay out for numerous sessions with osteopaths and physic therapists. It's not fair and unhealthy for ANYONE.
Alison says:
June 15, 2016 at 07:10 PM
I think we all need to feel happy and comfortable in whatever we choose to wear. Wearing high heels would not be a realistic option for myself as I am very tall. I feel self conscious being taller than most men anyway. I would consider this to be a form of dictatorship and bullying as it would not be my personal choice to wear heels at all. I am fortunate enough to say that I have not been told to wear heels however if I do then I would feel discriminated against.
Chloe says:
June 15, 2016 at 05:56 PM
At an iconic Knightsbridge luxury department store it is in the company handbook that women must wear high heels and make up.

At the time I worked there (I don't know if this is still the case) there was actually a picture of a face with make up painted on as a "guide" to how we must decorate our faces. Manicures were also expected and coloured/ highlighted hair must be kept "fresh", no roots of more than a few mm were considered acceptable.

A minimum of a 3" heel was required in the Nursery Furniture department in the children and baby wear area I worked in. I believe this was higher in the fashion, beauty and perfume departments, the hair and make up standards were definitely much more strict in those departments and it wasn't unheard of for girls to be found crying of shop floor after being insulted by management for not wearing enough make up or scolded for trying to sneak flat shoes on behind their counters. It was expected that we would wear high heels whilst taking trips to the sub basement to bring up pushchairs and small items of furniture for customers as well as whilst demonstrating the pushchairs (assembling, folding up etc).

Trousers were not obligatory but I was once called off shop floor by a senior manager who 'suggested' that perhaps my "body type was not appropriate for trousers and a skirt would be better", incidentally, I was a UK size 10-12, which at 5ft6 is certainly not large!

I managed 8 months part-time whilst studying before (for my sanity) moving to a yellow West End luxury department store where the uniform was slightly more relaxed and the management style less distressing. Officially make up and heels were required in the fashion, beauty and luxury departments but management took a more relaxed approach to heels providing we still looked smart-glamorous and make up standards were not usually enforced.

At both stores the majority of the staff are slim, young and attractive, larger and/or older women tended to be moved to the home-wear departments.
Elisabeth says:
June 15, 2016 at 03:00 PM
I had worked as a receptionist for my previous employer for a number of years, when suddenly last October they changed the uniform requirement for female receptionists and we were expected to wear 2-4 inch heels on 12-hour shifts. I'm very tall anyway so I feel a bit self conscious towering over everybody else. Also, I think wearing uncomfortable shoes every day all day in a job where you stand most of the time can cause health problems in the long run and I don't understand how employers have the right to demand that you do something that is proven to be bad for you. In the event I was ready to move on anyway so I left the job, but I still feel I had been treated unfairly.
Laura Arnold says:
June 15, 2016 at 02:27 PM
I'm a 23 year old ex croupier. I worked for a casino from 2012 until late 2015. I was made to wear heels at work at least over an inch. All female staff were required to do this and although most of us worked 10 hour shifts STANDING throughout. The only way to not wear heels was to get a formal doctors note expressing a health reason for not wearing them. We were under no illusion that we were wearing them to look 'sexier' to customers. I found it demening and several male members of staff would remark about how they 'couldn't see the problem. My male coworkers did not have to 'look sexier' their uniform was a waistcoat formal trousers and a shirt. Whereas we were wearing low cut above the knee coctail dresses with high heels. If women want to wear them thats their own right but we would not force men to, so how can we justify forcing women to?

[This post has been edited by the moderator to remove the name of a specific company/employer.]
Clare Abbott says:
June 15, 2016 at 01:17 PM
I'm very lucky that I've not yet had to work for a company where the dress code states that women are required to wear high heels shoes. If I was to start working somewhere where I was told to wear high heel shoes without a legitimate reason (I really can't think of one) then I would refuse. It is outdated and sexist to make women wear high heel shoes at work; looking sexy and attractive for work is not a requirement.
Liz says:
June 15, 2016 at 12:51 PM
I am dyspraxic and for me a high heels workplace code would be a nightmare. I cannot walk in high heels. This isn't a matter of personal preference I cannot do it. I don't have the balance to manage walking on high heels without stumbling or falling over. This would actually be counter-productive to the aims of a dress code of high heels as I would look less professional and smart than I do in my normal footwear.

In addition I have weak ankles that have a tendency to sprain and wrench. I wear ankle or knee boots to counteract this problem as the extra support they give my ankles. Most shoes, whether high heeled or flat, do not give me the support I need to keep from spraining my ankle. My boots are always smart and professional and worn appropriately. When I've been required to dress differently (thankfully a one-off occurrence) I've fell, sprained my ankle, lost work and therefore pay and had to deal with my employer implying I was pulling a sickie until I came in on crutches!

I do not class either my dyspraxia or my weak ankles as a disability and do not wish to have to go through the stress and indignity of requesting a reasonable adjustment of different work shoes to the rest of the workforce simply because an employer has outmoded and sexist ideas of how women should look.

A high heeled dress code is inherently sexist. It treats women differently to men as their is no equal requirement to them to wear particular types of shoes. As such surely it is a breach of the Equal Rights Act 2012. Dress codes of this nature are inherently treating women detrimentally because of their gender.
wanda rossiter says:
June 15, 2016 at 12:36 PM
My experience is that a certain dress code is expected by a number of employers although not specifically written down, and like many things is what is expected. If you do not conform you are less likely to get on in the organisation.
I worked for what would be considered an organisation linked to the public sector. I was clearly told at a management development event that if I did not confirm by wearing high heels and make up then I would likely not progress in the organisation, it was just what was expected of me apparently.
I note that Shirley Williams has mentioned that had she known what a difference wearing make up may have made to her earlier in her career, she might well have worn it.
In conclusion it is the expectation and culture that can be the issue, however a change in the law could support a change in attitudes.
Natalie says:
June 15, 2016 at 11:11 AM
I was told I had to wear heels for work when I worked for a luxury retailer. I was forbidden from wearing flats on the shop floor as they did not convey the image that the shop wanted to convey (despite selling flats themselves). As someone who suffers with a back injury, this meant I would often end the day in crippling pain or relying on painkillers to get through.
Candy Hall says:
June 15, 2016 at 09:32 AM
When I was an estate agent I was told I must wear heels as it's professional. My job naturally involved walking around a lot and as my core hours were 8 to 8, they were long days to be walking around in heels. This became particularly problematic in the Winter when it was snowing and I had to show an applicant a property on a hill covered in snow. I looked ridiculous teetering up the hill trying not to fall flat on my face in the snow whilst sporting stilettos while my applicant had appropriate snow shoes on. One time I turned up and on my journey in, my heel tip had come off. The girls were brought out to the front of the office for a lecture on wearing heels and not with any damage or tips falling off as that would be unprofessional and give the wrong impression to clients. I was time even incentivised that if I hit my target, they would pay to have all of my shoes re-heeled!! The men in the office clearly didn't have the same expectations...