Last year, Nicola Thorp was hired by temp agency Portico as a receptionist, based in one of finance company PricewaterhouseCooper's London offices. As the story goes, Thorp turned up on her first day, head-to-toe in smart, black business attire, and was told that her shoes were inappropriate. The 28-year-old temp's misstep came not in the form of Doc Martens, Crocs or a pair of YSL Tribtoos, but a smart pair of black flats. When Thorp commented on the male receptionist in the PwC offices not wearing heels, and mentioned that wearing heels all day would ruin her feet, she was simply laughed at by a female staff member. Thorp's whole story seems worthy of laughing at, to be honest – how can such sexist dress codes still be a thing?
The ugly truth is there for us all to see – the male PwC receptionist not being forced to wear heels, while Thorp was, is testament to the dodgy, unbalanced nature of Portico's dress code at the time. If heels were essential for doing your job properly, surely everyone would have to wear them, regardless of gender?
Since taking her story to the press in May 2016, Thorp has divided opinion. While most people have agreed that antiquated, sexist dress laws are, well, antiquated and sexist – therefore undeserving of a place in modern society – a worrying number of people (mostly male; mostly over 40) still believe that heels (and, I'd hazard a guess, pencil skirts and seamed stockings) are as pertinent to Doing Your Job Well as having functional ears, eyes and fingers.
Portico amended its dress code to a series on more lenient, non gender-specific requirements as of May 2016 (why do I get the inkling that this would never have happened had Thorp not spoken out?). The ridiculousness of the agency's pre-May 2016 dress code, published by the company less than a year ago, can be seen in part below – this comes before you even reach the whole compulsory-heel-wearing bit. In essence, if you were a nail-biter, prone to oily skin, or just couldn't afford to get your roots done, Portico would have shown you the door.
The whole thing reeks of BS because we're all adults. If our jobs don't require us to buy and wear a uniform issued to us by our employer, it's likely that there is some sort of dress code at our workplaces. What's the point in giving women the freedom to not wear a uniform, but then issue a dress code that is so strict that we may as well be back at school, being called out for wearing skirts that are too short or putting 'unusual' colours in our hair? Dress codes like Portico's, which show such a blatant gender imbalance, are so infantilising that it's as if women cannot be trusted to do a certain job if they aren't dressed in a certain fashion. Why, as grown-ups, can't we trusted to dress ourselves appropriately for work?
Nicola Thorp recently appeared on Good Morning Britain to explain why she is continuing to fight her corner following last year's incident. Given that Thorp has legions of supporters and has been recognised by the Government, on any other TV programme she might have been praised for her efforts. But Piers Morgan co-presents GMB, so, in an entirely predictable series of events, he argued vehemently against Thorp. As Ann Perkins has pointed out, men like Piers Morgan are the kind of men who love a good, antiquated dress code. 'These “what to wear” lists don’t read like dress codes, they read like the fantasies of middle-aged men who need a chorus of pretty minions to sing them to their desks,' she says.
If pop culture is to be believed, high heels are a marker of a woman who is in charge of her shit. A 'strong, sassy' woman. A 'boss bitch.' This is all well and good if you are the boss – not just any kind of boss, but the kind of boss who has a private driver, and comes into the office for minimal hours a day, drinks only sparkling water, eats only lunch prepared by Michelin-starred chefs, and never moves from her desk. Have you met this kind of woman? Me neither. Maybe I'm disillusioned because I've only ever worked in female-centric offices with no dress code, but I've rarely seen working women – women who walk around an office space, run up stairs carrying boxes, prepare and deliver drinks, rush out to grab quick lunches – wear heels.
You know when you've been out boozing, and once you leave the club your heels feel like they're lacerating you and you need to get them off as soon as humanly possible? Well, imagine being forced to wear heels for 8+ hours, but in total sobriety (therefore less numb to the pain), and stuck in a professional setting where you can't just start crying and kick off your shoes in protest. Now that would be inappropriate at work.