I cheated. Of course I did. Getting to my desk involves a school run, seven escalators and several hundred stairs – not even the podiatric sadists who reportedly sent home a receptionist this week for refusing to wear high heels on a nine-hour shift would expect that, would they?
To recap for those who missed heelgate: Nicola Thorp, a temp at PwC, was allegedly sent home from work without pay for refusing to comply with the dress code set by Portico, the company that provides receptionist services at the City accountancy firm. Pointing out that male colleagues were not asked to do the same, Thorp called the dress code debilitating, sexist and outdated.
So here I am, a “fashion person who doesn’t wear heels”, ditching my furry Birkenstocks for 10cm stilettos. By 2pm, I’m so hungry from having had no lunch because I simply can’t face the seven-minute walk to Pret a Manger from my desk. I have to agree with Thorp’s assessment. Tripping over a colleague’s rucksack during an office ideas meeting was another low point (really signalling “capable and efficient” there, huh?).
In fact, it’s the semantics not the aesthetics of high heels that are so interesting. Received wisdom has it that flats aren’t considered to be very businesslike; they don’t have the dubious honour of being able to shout “corporate” loud enough. Semantics are the reason why I spent most of my day in heels attracting comments like “you’re much more intimidating today”. They’re also the reason that female actors who choose anything other than Jimmy Choo Minnys, the Hollywood-approved strappy sandal, are considered to be making a statement – see Susan Sarandon this week at Cannes.
Actually, it’s not that I have a no heels policy. Some wide-leg trousers only puddle right (technical wardrobe term, right there) with the hidden help of a pair of heels. They can be a useful tool. But for the past few years the idea of high heels as a look in their own right has been sidelined. The era of the vertiginous It shoe is over. The concept consigned to the fashion gutter while chunky skater shoes, Stan Smith trainers and, most recently, elongated Gucci loafers, strode confidently past.
What high heels really signify is less about fashion and more about attitude. Look at Victoria Beckham. Once the patron saint of high heels, at her catwalk shows she’s the backstage worker-bee tomboy in Stan Smiths. Cut to the red carpet at Cannes and she’s busy boomeranging herself in heels and diamonds. The gear change from fashion designer to celebrity centres mainly on the shoes.
In truth, this week’s controversy was as much bad press for the fashion status of high heels as it was for City accountancy firms. If high heels can only really semaphore a corporate business attitude, or even that of being in charge, then they have their work cut out to compete with flat shoes, which can send a much more fashionable message. Because fashion fetishises all sorts of clothing categories, but glass-building office wear is rarely one of them.