High heel policy
A high heel policy is a regulation or law about the wearing of high heels, which may be required or forbidden in different places and circumstances.
Historically, high heels were used by aristocratic women for cosmetic reasons, to raise their height or to keep their feet and long dresses clean. The style was then subject to sumptuary laws. In more modern times, stiletto heels have been restricted when they might damage the floor surface or cause accidents.
Some dress codes, however, require women to wear high heels so that they appear to be taller and more attractive. Such footwear may be painful and damage the feet, and there have been repeated protests by women workers against such policies. In 2016, a British receptionist was dismissed for not wearing high heels and she then started a petition which attracted sufficient support to be considered by the UK Parliament.
Regulations preventing the wearing of high heels
In 1430, chopines were 30 inches (76 cm) high, at times. Venetian law then limited the height to three inches—but this regulation was widely ignored. A 17th-century law in Massachusetts announced that women would be subjected to the same treatment as witches if they lured men into marriage via the use of high-heeled shoes. In 1770, an act was introduced into the British parliament which would have applied the same penalties as witchcraft to the use of high heels and other cosmetic devices.
Floor surface concerns
The pressure under a stiletto heel is greater than that under the feet of an elephant. Thus, as the very narrow stiletto heel became more widespread in the 1950s, the owners of many types of buildings became concerned about the effects of large numbers of such heels on their floors, especially in historic and high-traffic public buildings. Specifically, there was concern that the heels would either damage certain types of floor covering or cause minor accidents through heels getting jammed in floor-grills, the gaps in planking, or uneven surfaces. Soft outdoor ground also caused problems, affecting both the surface and the wearer. Wood flooring was the most vulnerable, but carpets, linoleum, and mosaic floors were also considered at risk of damage. Signs were frequently posted attempting to ban stiletto heels, though they were generally ineffective. A 1963 article in a US building maintenance magazine stated, "Replacement of floors is estimated to have cost at least half a billion dollars throughout the country since the advent of the stiletto heel fashion."
When stiletto heels were first sold in Africa, many of the wearers fell through the floors of their homes, not realizing that the floor timbers had been partly removed by termites. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service claimed in 1963 that "with style changes the stiletto-heel problem has diminished".
High heels can represent contributory negligence by the plaintiff in American personal injury cases involving slip and fall accidents. Many high heel policies in the US are related to concerns over the potential for legal claims.
Regulations requiring the wearing of high heels
In media and fashion
Some women have challenged the expectation that women should wear high heels in formal social situations. In 2015, a group of women were turned away from a film première at the Cannes Film Festival in France for wearing flat shoes, including a woman physically unable to wear heels due to an operation on one of her feet. The women complained that this was a sexist policy which forced women into a stereotyped appearance; festival organisers later responded that there was no official policy on footwear and stated that they would remind red carpet officials of this.
Guidelines on acceptable dress codes in the workplace are permitted by Canadian law in order to ensure that employees are able to complete their work safely and effectively. However the inclusion of the wearing of high heels in these guidelines has created controversy. Some workplace studies show that women in the hospitality industry who wear high heels have suffered injuries after tripping, falling or slipping. In addition, requirements for appearance which differ for male and female employees have the potential to be considered discriminatory.
During the mid-1990s, several US-based airlines required female flight attendants to wear shoes with heels. Minimum heel heights ranged from one-half inch to the two inches mandated by USAir. Flight attendants at times avoided censure by changing into more comfortable shoes during flights, since their supervisors were less likely to be present there.
In 2009, the UK Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists released a report outlining the dangers of wearing high heels for extended periods and approached unions and employers to collaborate on measures to ensure risk assessments would be completed on women's footwear, and to offer alternatives to high heels where these were deemed unhealthy.
Policies that force women to wear heels have been challenged in a number of locations. In 2001, cocktail waitresses in Las Vegas organised a "Kiss My Foot" campaign which was successful in getting casinos to relax their requirement to wear high heels. In 2014, waitresses at three restaurant chains in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, claimed that they were required to wear high heels at work despite complaining of pain and injury. Management responded that there was no written policy on wearing high heels. In 2015, the Israeli airline El Al introduced a requirement that female flight attendants wear high heels until passengers had been seated. The airline's workers' union stated that the requirement would endanger the health and safety of the flight attendants and instructed its members to ignore the rule.
Similar policies were tested again in the UK in 2016 when a temporary receptionist, Nicola Thorp, was sent home unpaid after she refused to follow the dress code at the office of accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers. Outsourcing firm Portico stated that Thorp "had signed the appearance guidelines" but after Thorp launched an online petition—"Make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work"—the firm changed their policy. The new guideline states that all female employees "can wear plain flat shoes or plain court shoes as they prefer." The petition gained widespread support from public figures such as Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and MPs Caroline Dinenage, Margot James and Tulip Siddiq. Two parliamentary committees in January 2017 decided that Portico had broken the law; the company had already changed its terms of employment. The petition gained over 130,000 signatures, sufficient for a debate in the British parliament. This took place on 6 March 2017, when MPs decided the UK government should change the law to prevent the demand being made by employers. However, this was rejected by the government in April 2017 as they stated that existing legislation was "adequate".
In April 2017, the Canadian province of British Columbia amended workplace legislation to prevent employers from requiring women to wear high heels at work. British Columbia premier Christy Clark stated that the government was "changing this regulation to stop this unsafe and discriminatory practice."
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