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Spike that motion

Sharpen your stilettos, ladies - there's a shoe row marching in. The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists complains that women shouldn't be forced to wear heels at work: they "look glamorous . . . but are inappropriate for the day-to-day working environment". The TUC will debate this motion next month, though it is unclear why we should expect the unions to have views on the matter worth hearing.

The tabloids have reacted with push-button outrage to this "plan to ban heels". Yet it is nothing of the kind. Impractical footwear should not be a job requirement. This is so obvious that it barely merits a debate, much less a row.

Airlines and some banks are apparently the guilty parties. A former BA air stewardess tells me that while she was permitted to wear flat shoes in flight, heels were mandatory before take-off, at landing and when the stewardesses were not on the plane. This is ludicrous. No woman should be forced into heels, not because they are bad for her toes or her bank balance (do the rule-makers have any idea how much a decent pair costs?) but because it makes heels literally workaday. High heels should be frivolities, welcome in the workplace, but only as guests. Demanding them is like having a pornographic screen saver: an unseemly mix of the personal and the professional. As it is, we email all day and check BlackBerries all evening. How are we to know if we're on our time or the company's if even our footwear doesn't change? Some things must remain sacred; in a secular society, high heels should be one of them.

So I feel for those stewardesses, tottering yet crushed by the heel of misogyny. I'm just not sure this is a job for the unions. But if the TUC wishes to tangle with fashion, there is a broader, more interesting debate to be had about what people should be allowed to tell others to wear. Ties? Skirts?Niqab? It seems fair to request that one's employees cover the body parts our society deems it impolite to expose, but even that must become open to argument at some point. "Congress believes nipples should be widely visible in the workplace" - now that's a TUC
debate I'm tapping my Louboutins with impatience to hear.

Nina Caplan is arts editor of Time Out magazine

Nina Caplan is the 2018 and 2014 Fortnum & Mason Drink Writer of the Year and the 2014 Louis Roederer International Wine Columnist of the Year for her columns on drink in the New Statesman, and the author of The Wandering Vine: Wine, The Romans and Me, published by Bloomsbury. She tweets as @NinaCaplan.


This article first appeared in the 17 August 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Afghanistan: The Lost War