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

Melissa Sadler says:
June 16, 2016 at 12:54 PM
I work in a jewerly store which is why I have to wear heels. I am a permanent member of staff and only work 15 hours a week. This doesn't make it any easier on me as my feet bleed and physically hurt so much I am unable to walk or do any daily tasks when not at work. I understand that heels look smart, but so do smart flat shoes, if so more so because staff members arent hobbling around trying to get from A to B.

A reasonable dress code to me is something comfortable but smart, something where your job is more achievable as pain is out of the window.
Laura West says:
June 16, 2016 at 10:09 AM
As Secretary of the Society of Shoe Fitters I can categorically say that insisting a woman wears high heels to do her job is not only discriminatory but dangerous. Heels alter our physiology,stance and gait. You lean back to compensate and therefore they have a devastating effect on your knees, hips, back and neck, often requiring medication and remedial help. In addition your feet slide to the front of the shoe (where they should not be) and hammer toes, bunioins etc. ensue. Again this alters a persons gait and illhealth follows. It is a no-brainer that high heels should only be worn for short periods. You cannot ban them, but you can insist that women are not forced to wear them.

This post has been edited by the moderator to remove personal contact information.
EVE says:
June 16, 2016 at 04:45 AM
I am working in a company of 20 people for more than 20 years. For a year I started to wear flat or proper scandals to work as I stay in the administrative office now and moreover good court shoes are hard to find here. Secondly new recruits and workers nowadays wear so casual even the gen. manager, so I have to adjusted a bit to the enviroment.

I have been wearing court shoes for more than 20 years, it makes me feel feminine, outstanding and elegant compared to wearing flat shoes. I never regretted it. See example Princess Kate, she looks so elegant and stylish even though her dress code look simple. Yep I made my own dresses to match the high heel court shoes.

When we buy shoes we should tried on and get the most comfortable ones so it does not affect our walking and standing position. I walked and took a bus to and fro work those days and even have to wait for an hour or so if the buses delays.

'We are what we dressed up ' to significant our outlook (not to overdone) and posture and also indicate our position in society ! Even as a receptionist we still can wear elegantly with the proper FITTING COMFORTABLE shoes and if working in big company why not we try to be outstanding (but not to overspend !) There are many out there would like to wear and look prominent but do not have the chance.

I got so many females jealous of me that they complaint to my boss and what did he said to me 'watch out you may fall down !!!' The females jealous as they dont have the chance to be what I am ..... an Administrative Personnel ! My new boss do not know that I have been wearing for the past 20 years ! Soon those females started to wear also.

And lastly a bit of dress code, we sometimes cant differential an individual personality by their outfit especially from what organisation which could be misleading to society.

For info, I do not reside in UK but I have traveled and stayed and also traveled to Europe with my 2 and half inches court shoes which I feel comfortable whereas I do not with flat shoes. When I was pregnant I do wear 2 & 1/2 which do not gives me any backache, so wearing 2 inches is good for us.

I hope both parties here re legal or illegally impose high heel will consider what is best and proper and have discretion to it.

A bit of supportive comment to the issue raised, the firm's personnel concerned should give her a chance that she should come in with proper requirement shoes the next day. So ladies out that you should enquire the rules and regulations of the organisation before you join in

Here I wish to apologise, if any, there is any misused of sentences or grammar unintentionally used.
Cynthia Vanzella says:
June 16, 2016 at 12:22 AM
Four years ago, when I was unemployed and really needed money to pay my rent, I got a job at an agency that recruits temporary freelance-basis staff for luxury brands – pretty much the same type of job the lady who started this petition had, but while she was a receptionist, I was a sales assistant, so I wasn’t allowed to sit down at all during the entire day. One of the demands of the agency was the use of heels. Due to genetics, I have both wide feet (inherited from my mum) and bunion (from my dad). It’s not my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it. And, to be fair, until then that had never been a problem for me. I knew some people suffer with a lot of pain, but it never really bothered me too much. Until I got that job.

I bought the lowest heels, square shaped, in a wide-feet comfortable pair of shoes from Clarks. Very “old-lady” style, managers from the posh stores hated, but at least I could work. That lasted for the 9 months I work for that agency’s clients – and I could feel something was changing. Suddenly, I wasn’t only feeling uncomfortable while wearing the shoes, but also after.

When I was permanently hired by one of that agency’s clients, I realised I had to find another way. I needed the job, but I simply couldn’t stand that anymore. It was just too much pain, for too long, every day. I went to my GP, explained the situation and the doctor ignored me saying he couldn’t give me a request to not wear heels at work “just because of that”. My constant pain simply wasn’t enough for that man. Spending his days on a chair wearing large shoes with no heels, it’s very obvious for me why he couldn’t understand.

I asked to be sent to a specialist. The podiatric told me I needed a surgery to remove the bunions – it wouldn’t solve all my problems, but most of them. I did a couple of exams and then found out that would require me to absence from work from 6 to 8 weeks. I had just got a new job, was still on probation and had no savings. I couldn’t do it.

One day, while on tears talking to a work colleague about this, she told me there was a way: I could pretend I had back pain. It wasn’t the right thing to do, but it was my only choice. I booked another appointment, with another doctor and claimed that the heels were hurting my back – and to be fair I wasn’t lying, since the mandatory use of heels was indeed causing me discomfort, but the pain in my feet and legs was definitely stronger. He gave me the certificate and recommended me physiotherapy sessions. The paper was valid until the end of my classes – after that, I would have to attend another appointment to be diagnosed again and, PERHAPS, get another one.

I showed my managers the doctor’s certificate, but didn’t give them a copy. I knew that, in a place where little care is given about employees, there was a good chance they would remember I presented the paper, but forget it had an expire date. It worked.

About a year ago I changed companies, but am still working at the same place. Although the store seems to have relaxed the dress code, rules are still the same for temporary agency girls. I look at them and I can almost see the request for help in their eyes.

I, however, don’t have to wear heels anymore, just “nice pretty black shoes”. It would be all fine - if my feet haven’t accumulated so much damage through the previous years that now absolutely ANY shoes hurt me. My old trainers, my soft ballerinas, even my once-so-comfortable pairs of Converse. Every single closed shoe hurts me now. I’m literally constantly in pain – at work, on days off… as I write this. I am in pain right now. Just a couple of weeks ago, during a long day full of events, I worked for 12 hours: that day I got home crying. Four hours later, in bed, I was still in so much pain I had to take Ibuprofen to fall asleep.

The result? Surgery. I can’t escape anymore. I need to book an incredible painful surgery that will take me out of work for at least 6 weeks (for each foot) and everything started with heels. All members of my dad’s family have bunion, no one had to go through surgery.

For the politics and economics side of this, please remember the surgery will be done by NHS. Our health system is amazing, but we all know it suffers with little resources and high demand – and, as a tax-payer and a citizen, I feel sorry I have to make NHS spend money and time on me. But I am incredibly glad I have the option.

For the human side of this, please try to picture yourself dragging your exhausted body home everyday after work, with legs and feet hurting more than I can possibly explain… and the reason why. A female worker is not a Barbie doll. A female worker is a human being and should not be subjected to sexists ways of modern mistreat.
Daisy says:
June 16, 2016 at 12:15 AM
I wish to support this petition for the sake of all those women encountering these problems at work. I have had back problem in the past, and have been advised by medical professionals that high heels are damaging for the lower back. I would not like to find myself in future having to choose between my health and a job. I cannot believe that in the 21st century women are still being subjected to such outdated attitudes about their dress and appearance. Surely it is skills not clothes or appearance that determine someone’s ability to do their job. I hope that MPs take this petition seriously.
Tobias says:
June 15, 2016 at 11:39 PM
As a man, I've never had to wear high heels, at least not as high as the ones that many women are forced to wear. Since I work in IT, the quality of my work is considered more important than what I wear. But the issue of high heels represent a larger cultural issue. For example, I do go barefoot in forests, parks, and in most public places, except where there is a health or hygiene risk. This is a conscious health choice I have made, and the simulation on my soles has motivated me to keep fit by being active without any self-compulsion. Yet, I get jeered at by some onlookers to the extent that I feel like an outcast, while wearing of high heels despite being a health risk is seen as 'stylish'.

Now, I have no problems with women who make the latter choice, but the issue is with the norms that exist in society, and this is often legitimized and reinforced by laws. As such there should be a law not just prohibiting the enforcement of high heels alone, but to any kind of specific shoe or clothing that interferes with the employee's comfort, except in cases where is a genuine health and safety issue due to the workplace situation, and even in such a situation, leeway should be there in the prescription of the clothing or shoes for allowing as much comfort as possible within the limits of safety. Once such rules apply to all companies, people's health choices will be respected more.

The question of high heels is not one of sexism alone. Men too often have to wear uncomfortable shoes, ties and other unnecessary items of clothing as well. I wouldn't be surprised if the amount of attention devoted to ensuring conformance to specific clothing is having an effect on our GDP not only because it distracts time from getting something useful done, but also because more people consult their GP as a result of the resulting physical, psychological, and psycho-physical problems, both apparent and real. As I can see in schools nowadays, children also are victims to unnecessary dressing norms. Do they really have to use full coverage shoes even during summer, or would they be happier and better learners if they could wear something more comfortable? Note that most shoes available on the market aren't even feet shaped in that they are tapered at the front, particularly at the inside edge. All these are happening while the Australians and New Zealanders are much more relaxed than us with respect to going out barefoot or in sandals.

I request the parliament to consider all the broadener health and social issues, than just that of high heels.

Jasmine says:
June 15, 2016 at 11:34 PM
Last summer I worked in retail. I started as a sales temp, and was originally never made to wear heels. However, I was then kept on as permanent staff. I came in one morning and my manager was cracking down on uniform and informed me that I had to look 'sexy', which entailed wearing heels. I was 20 at the time and quite uncomfortable with this requirement; smart or sophisticated I could understand but 'sexy' seemed pretty inappropriate. I obliged and wore a pair of heels for my shifts. Im quite tall and rarely wear heels so chose a pair that were neither too high nor overly skinny which I also thought was more practical, bearing in mind I'd be to-ing and fro-ing from shop floor to stock room all day. You can imagine the discomfort after being on my feet for even just 2 hours, but when I asked my manager if it would be okay if I changed to flats she replied saying 'what girl can't wear heels?' and continued to tell me I was being pathetic. She also mocked me for finding my slightly chunkier heel painful declaring that they're not 'proper heels', (i.e. a pair of 6 inch stilettos)
I stuck it out, knowing I would only be at this job for another month or so, however was made to feel extremely uncomfortable about the whole situation.
Monica says:
June 15, 2016 at 10:44 PM
I work in a shoe store in which I am required to wear heels as part of the dress code. Not only are we on our feet all shift (except lunch) we are also required to climb ladders when getting stock...is this not a health and safety??!
James says:
June 15, 2016 at 09:25 PM
I work as a safety consultant with a number of office based clients where heels form part of the dress code. I see this as a safety issue which has been raised with clients with little or no success. There is an increased risk of slips trips or falls for people wearing heels who do not usually wear them. I have had this raised by workers in our clients offices. Having undertaken office inspections it is not uncommon to find damaged sections of floor especially electrical socket covers. Whilst these gaps are little more than an inch square and would pose a minimal risk in flat shoes there is a risk from heels getting caught and workers injuring themselves. Whilst I am not aware of any case law on this (although I am not a lawyer) I suspect that this is more as a result of large companies with powerful legal teams using that power to deter claims. In my opinion this has less to do with women's rights but more to do with not increasing the risk of injury by conditions of work which is already set in law by the Health and safety at Work Act. Were the HSE to publish guidance on best practice stating footwear should not increase the risk and be justified by risk assessment it should give enough force to the existing laws in place to manage this issue in a appropriate manner.
ingrid crussell says:
June 15, 2016 at 08:44 PM
It is totally unacceptable in this day and age that this sort of discrimination exists. The sex discrimination act came out in 1975 and yet we still have such open discrimination by employers 40 years on. I don't think this is an isolated case - a bank also enforce this 'rule' - in London at least. All companies that adopt similar policies(also not allowing women to wear trousers) should be named and shamed and then fined heavily (depending on how many female employees they have and the length of time these policies have been in force.

This post has been edited by the moderator to remove the name of a specific company/employer.