When Nicola Thorp showed up at PwC, a finance company in London, late last year, she was wearing flats — what she thought were smart, sensible shoes for her first day on the job as a receptionist.
But the 27-year-old temp worker was told by PwC that she would have to put on something a little taller. Specifically, footwear with 2- to 4-inch heels.
Thorp refused, countering she’d have to spend the day on her feet. “I said ‘I just won’t be able to do that in heels’,” Thorp told BBC Radio London in an interview Wednesday. “I said ‘if you can give me a reason as to why wearing flats would impair me to do my job today, then fair enough’, but they couldn’t.”
When she pointed out that men wouldn’t be expected to do the same work in heels, she says her new colleagues laughed at her and dismissed her from work without pay.
Portico, the outsourcing company that had hired Thorp for the PwC job, argued she had agreed to a dress code. It later told the BBC that, “with immediate effect all our female colleagues can wear plain flat shoes.” PcW said that such heels were not a part of its rules, the BBC also reported Wednesday.
Thorp has recently seized the opportunity to petition the United Kingdom government to outlaw mandatory high heels. “Current formal work dress codes are out-dated and sexist,” writes Thorp in her petition to the parliament. As of Thursday morning, the petition was about 7,00 signatures shy of the 100,000 required for the UK parliament to consider the topic for debate.
Research into the health impacts of high heels also suggest that mandatory, all-day stilettos might be a bad idea. Studies indicate that, over time, high heels restrict muscle function and reduce blood flow through the lower limbs; the shoes can increase the bone-on-bone forces in the knees; and a literature review traced the effects of pump shoes all the way up the spine. University of Alabama at Birmingham scientists estimated that there were 123,355 injuries related to high heels between 2002 to 2012 in the U.S., with about 2.6 percent being treated in emergency rooms.
That’s not to say every foot expert is demanding we stage massive high-heel-burning demonstrations. Many detrimental effects of wearing high heels come about after sustained use. The American Osteopathic Association’s Natalie A. Nevins offers six recommendations for wearing heels that she says are less likely to lead to chronic pain. Via the American Osteopathic Association’s website: Choose footwear with an inch-and-a-half heel or less, use insoles to diminish wear and tear on the knee, pick the right-sized shoe, don’t wear pumps when you know you’ll be walking for long distances, rotate high heels with flats or other shoes and be sure to stretch your feet.
“I think dress codes should reflect society,” Thorp told the BBC, “and nowadays women can be smart and formal and wear flat shoes.”