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

Lindsey McIntosh says:
June 13, 2016 at 05:45 PM
I was required to wear high heels for the role of a receptionist at a luxury nightclub in Glasgow. As I was working in a front of house position, it was explained to me that a professional and smart appearance was of great importance and high heels must always be worn, along with all-black attire. I acquired this job position in November 2014 just before the Christmas rush nightclubs usually accumulate due to work nights out, so although I was on a part-time contract, I definitely undertook enough hours for my position to be considered as a full-time job. Now, in my personal life I never wear heels - even for nights out I opt for flats because to me, comfort is key. I realise that this is my own personal choice and that many women love high heels and will opt to wear them on a daily basis. However, I personally feel that the mandatory stipulation of wearing high heels is an outdated practice which should be revised for the modern age and offer women the right to choose. I consider myself lucky that in my position there were chairs provided at the front desk for some much needed resting period after standing in high heels for long shifts. However, this is not to undermine the fact that for much of the day/night (my work pattern varied depending on the company's events for the week) I was required to run around, taking clients' coats for them and returning them, escorting them up very steep stairs and be expected to stand as often as possible as to not appear 'lazy'. I also couldn't even remove my shoes at any point whilst sitting behind the desk as if a client appeared, I was always expected to stand and greet them. As the nightclub was very popular in the final weeks before Christmas, an additional cloakroom had to be constructed which I was expected to stand guarding for the full night in heels without a seat until my 15-minute break and have a smile on my face whilst doing so. I would often return home after these late shifts with blisters and bleeding toes. As I naturally have very flat feet, keeping them suspended at an unnatural angle in a pair of high heels just made working feel so much harder than necessary. If I was lucky enough to have work off the next day, any plans I made with friends would have to accommodate my damaged feet, as I didn't want to worsen them for my next shift. I was reluctant to take the job and follow this dress code from the outset but as I was a recent graduate, I unfortunately found myself in the same position as so many others, in which I desperately needed money to pay the bills and couldn't find any work in my desired field. The reason I desperately would like this work dress code regulation to be reconsidered is when I think of all the women, working the same long shifts (and many much longer), running around all day in high heels WITHOUT the luxury of a resting period I was granted, I wonder how much physical suffering they must undergo just to be considered 'acceptable' to their practice. I fully understand and respect company policies to have smartly dressed employees. However, I simply don't believe that the removal of high heels from a company's dress code policy would in any way be detrimental to a woman's smartness of dress. Particularly in jobs which require a lot of movement, I believe allowing women to choose their own footwear which both enhances their comfort and in turn their job performance as a result of that comfort, would be much more beneficial to both women and companies as a whole.
Sarah says:
June 13, 2016 at 05:12 PM
I previously worked as a temporary Customer Service Assistant where it was part of the dress code to wear either stilettos or kitten heels. However working 8 hour shifts where you are on your feet, it was not comfortable at all. I did question the policy and was told that it was due to Health & Safety. I don't believe that this was reasonable as I would be in a lot of pain, and if there was a fire it would take me longer to get out of the building than if I was wearing smart but comfortable shoes.
Cibele says:
June 13, 2016 at 03:23 PM
I have been working as a receptionist for the past two years. Both my last agency as well as my current agency had requested a four inch heels as part or our dress code, as well as 5 items make up (foundation, mascara, eyeshadow, blush and lipstick), no jewellery, skin colour tights, skirt suit and a selected palette for nail polish.

I don't see a reason why I had the wear heels to meet and greet visitors, deal with meeting room bookings, printing and biding, booking taxis, flights and hotels. However I never questioned.

It only started to bother me, when my bunions became really painful. Some days, by the end of my 8hrs shift running around an office with 25 meeting rooms I had feet, legs and lower back so sore it was tingling. That's is when I went for my GP and requested a letter excusing me from wearing heels.

I feel better now and my work has not changed at all. In fact, I think I'm more effective!

I get the point when they say this was to keep a consistency between the staff but I guess it went to far.
Irene says:
June 13, 2016 at 02:39 PM
In one of my employments (working as a receptionist) at my interview, I was told I would have to come to work dresses smart: suit with a nice top, as long as I looked smart it will be very exceptable. Nothing was mentioned about shoes.
However after my contract have been signed and I came for my induction day I was given instructions on how I should make myself look. It stated: I had to wear uniform, heels and make up ( mascara, eye shadow, lipstick, blusher and bronzer) It was one of the companies rules and as I have signed the contract already there was nothing I could do...
If I was told at the interview all of the above, I would never have taken that job. I was mislead and had to put up with wearing awful cheap suit, had to buy high heels and more make up then I have actually used prior this employment. Also I had to travel for work to different locations. It was very uncomfortable, receptions rarely had a staff room, so I had nowhere to store my things either.
I am afraid I could not challenge anything at that point. I only found out about it after I have signed my contract. Nobody mentioned to me that I will have to have a "make over" in order to keep my employment.
So I think if we could have a choice of what shoe-wear we wear, that would be some relief and very helpful.
Ali says:
June 13, 2016 at 02:28 PM
I was working at an international professional services firm in a client-facing role (middle management). A senior male colleague who I had not worked with before commented that the 1 inch heels I was wearing 'were very low'. I replied that I was about to walk over cobbles to the client meeting we were attending. I had to carry a heavy laptop and often papers as well in this role. Office car parking was not provided apart from at the most senior levels, so there was an expectation staff would be using public transport. Many women who worked there wore trainers to work and heels in the office, but I think this is dying out as more women wear smart flat shoes all day. I think smart flat shoes (ballet pumps, smart loafers etc) are totally appropriate for professional women. I wear heels when I choose to in my current role, but am under no pressure to do so.
Ana says:
June 13, 2016 at 02:16 PM
Working in the hotel industry and I must admit I am still shocked that it is still mandatory for women to wear heels when working front of house. At the beginning of my career I was forced to wear heels whilst working. I worked as a receptionist doing up to 12 hour shifts weekly - there was no stool or anything behind the desk to sit on to relieve our feet on when the desk wasn't busy. The only way to relieve our pains were to lean our knee against the printers or take one shoe off at a time and balance on the other leg. There were CCTV's in the back office and a warning would be issued if our managers saw us taking off our shoes. We all suffered from pains and it caused knee, back and feet ache. Being in the 21st century I find it unreasonable that just cause it is aesthetically pleasing that we still have to wear heels despite scientific and medical evidence has proved that is unhealthy - simply cause we are women! Despite even progressing in my career - heels were still enforced all the way to the top. For some women - it doesn't make us confident either besides the constant pain we also waste so much unnecessary time on constantly concentrating on standing on our feet and balance and not slipping whilst walking around (health and safety!) and finding something to decrease our constant pain (being pain killers or something else). If hotels and restaurants etc. really feel strongly that this is a part of their image - then I encourage these work places to be forced to buy heels from this one designer whom have managed to create heels that support your feet and make those workplaces pay for them as well - not only are women forced to wear heels but also pay for them. And as the vicious circle continous - as wages are not the highest in hospitality women seek to find shoes that are cheap and aestically pleasing as shoes with more support costs more. Lastly, the reason why so many women in the hospitality sector do not "rise up" is because everyone is fighting to stay above our modern day poverty line - and managers would not hesitate to fire these women from not accepting to wear heels - as especially in London it is so easy to find another employee who will accept this term - hire and fire policy.

A reasonable dress code would surely be exactly what men are also forced to wear at work (suit and flats). Why can't women be able to wear ballerinas or loafers(female version of mens work shoes). They are so many different designs out there that will still permit women to "remain feminine" if that is the main concern. Or let women at their own discretion choose what they would like to wear on their feet - but to be forced to wear something that it so evidently unhealthy for us is not ok in 2016.

Thank you for listening to our plight and my personal story.
Sarah Saunders says:
June 13, 2016 at 12:05 PM
I was working for a recruitment company in Bucks.
Small team of 6 including myself. I would normal wear heels to work but didn't want to that day. We had 3 men booked in to go for a lunch meeting I was invited the day before. When my boss sore I wasn't wearing heels he uninvited me and said that I was there to be aesthetically pleasing... he said me wearing flats made me un attractive. I cried and stayed in the office alone. For the next week I didn't wear heels and I got laid off on the Monday.
Sophie Miloszewski says:
June 13, 2016 at 12:05 PM
Having worked as a sales assistant, I have been made to wear heels on multiple occasions. Required heel heights were specified and it was deemed unacceptable to wear anything else. Wearing heels in a retail job is detrimental to health as sales assistants can be on their feet for up to 9 hour days, continuously serving customers and running around the shop floor. In peak shopping periods such as when a sale is on, this can be painful. For prestigious stores to enforce this rule seems archaic and sexist. How can we serve our customers with the highest efficiency and enthusiasm if our work is hindered by our footwear?

This post has been edited by the moderator to remove the name of a specific company/employer.
Kat says:
June 13, 2016 at 11:43 AM
I am a permanent member of staff working as part of a 'Front of House Team' for a Corporate company. The job consists of being on your feet for up to 9 hours a day, and can involve moving furniture and going between floors if needed.
On joining you are given a pamphlet to sign about 'Appearance guidelines' and on it stated that only black matt leather with a minimum of 2 inch heal or maximum 4 inches was allowed. We were not allowed to wear any other type of material,or heal type and must be plain black without any added design on them.

I did challenge this once as I felt was unreasonable given the nature of the job role so not ideal to be in healed shoes all day. I was told this was the rules so had to be followed. If you declined or did not sign the form this could lead to a warning or discliplinary.
On one occasion when I hurt my ankle I was allowed to wear flat ballet shoes, but once it was healed I had to wear the high heals again.However I still have an issue with my ankle but have to follow the rules and sometimes very uncomfortable in the healed shoes.

I consider a reasonable work dress code to be smart and presentable , but do not think that the shoe type should be part of the requirement? If men are allowed to wear flat shoes who do the same job role as me..then why can't I ?
Sophie Hargreaves says:
June 13, 2016 at 11:24 AM
I was made to wear heels at my previous job. I have collapsed arches in my feet which require me to wear insoles in my shoes to correct my posture and back problems. I could not wear the insoles in high heeled shoes, but my employer did not care leading to further issues with my knees and back.