Along with a group of journalists and PRs, my friend and I arrived at the venue. With red dress and dramatic make-up I strutted in on my 10 cm heels.
And that was when I donnered to the floor.
Let me tell you, it is not easy to save face when you have literally just fallen off your heels. I managed to jump up quickly, but my knee was badly bruised and I limped for a couple of days.
What I’m trying to illustrate with this tale of sartorial misfortune, is that heels are not for everyone.
Even if you do like wearing high heels, whether it’s when you’re going out or running a board meeting, chances are that wearing them all day will make you miserable. Those suckers aren’t comfortable on the long term, folks. They put pressure on your toes and mess up your arches. And if you take a wrong step in a pair of stilettos, you can easily twist an ankle or otherwise injure yourself (see above).
So why is there still an idea that women have to wear heels in the workplace to look professional?
Two news stories made waves this week: London receptionist Nicola Thorp was sent home from PwC for refusing to wear heels, and a Canadian waitress was told to carry on working in heels, her feet bleeding, after losing a toenail during her shift.
Dress codes are standard. Accountants and photographers don’t wear the same kind of clothes to work, and the corporate world is usually more conservative. Uniforms are the rule in the service industry.
But having to wear high heels will not make you perform your job better. If you are on your feet, you will be in pain. If your preferred style is jeans and flats, heels will make you feel self-conscious and uncomfortable.
I’m not aware of a South African workplace that actively requires its female employees to wear heels, but there are definitely employers who will raise an eyebrow if you show up in flats. This is deeply unfair and frankly sexist.
I used to work in a building with several newspapers and other publications, as well as HR and marketing departments. It was very easy to see which of us were journalists: We wore comfortable flats (in case we had to run) and jeans (ditto) or sometimes nicer pants or a skirt, if you knew you were covering a court case or a funeral.
HR and marketing, on the other hand, wore bright dresses, careful make-up, and often staggeringly high heels.
That’s fine. We had different jobs with different requirements. But let’s allow everyone to wear clothing that will enable them to do their jobs as best they can.