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Toes in the workplace? You may want to exercise caution.


In spring, the desire turns to… open-toed shoes! Sandals, Birkenstocks, mules… all the shoes that allow your feet, stuck for months under layers of socks and boots, to breathe a little. To feel the breeze on your bare heels and toes is to know that warmer times have arrived. But the feet also carry a host of associations, stereotypes and prejudices.

Indeed, when it comes to heavy body parts, the feet take up quite an important place. They have been revered and loathed throughout history – a symbol of both our rootedness and our desire to escape it, of humility, hard work and eroticism.

Pablo Neruda wrote odes to the feet. Dr. Seuss wrote an entire book about them (example excerpt: “In the house and on the street, how many feet you meet!”). At certain times, they were the rare piece of visible skin that gave them all kinds of powers, sexual and otherwise. Hence the term “toe cleavage”.

There’s a reason the royal family always abides by the rule against open-toed shoes on major public occasions. There’s even an official name for a condition in which a person experiences an extreme aversion to feet: podophobia.

As a result, the question of how much to bare is not without its complexities, as with other parts of the body. Especially in the workplace.

An ad hoc survey of co-workers produced results grouped into two extremes: those who were completely optimistic about the idea of ​​having visible toes and heels at work and those who were horrified by the mere suggestion.

Yet there are no official rules regarding shoes in the workplace. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no official policy on wearing sandals in an office environment, a fact that spawned its own advocacy group, Bare feet are legal. This means that, given the opaque dictates of most dress codes, the vague label of “appropriate” applies, leaving it up to the individual to interpret the term.

Context matters. Presumably in warmer climates, more casual workplaces, and some areas of Silicon Valley, sandals are standard footwear. In more traditional bastions of law, finance and government, not to mention urban environments where simply walking down the street can feel like stepping into a trash can, sandals can cause a hubbub.

The type of shoes you choose also. A tasteful slingback (the kind favored by Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour) sends a different message than an athletic slide, which sends a different signal than a low-cut stiletto. The accessory frames the exhibition.

However, everyone agreed that if one wants to give free rein to one’s work, one must take responsibility for its emergence and make it suitable for public consumption. Which means at the very least pedicures – and paying attention not only to nails, but also to those often-neglected heels.

Whatever type of shoes you decide to wear to work, keep them on. Showing toes and heels may be a right, but baring your soles is probably a step too far.

Every week on Open Thread, Vanessa will answer a reader’s fashion question, which you can send to her at any time via E-mail Or Twitter. The questions are edited and condensed.


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