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Should women be expected to wear stilettos in the workplace?

Having started a shoe business to change an industry that insists on putting women through pain, I couldn’t believe it when I heard that someone was told to leave the office for neglecting to wear high heels.
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There has been a lot of media coverage over the last couple of weeks regarding a temporary receptionist who was sent home from PwC for not wearing stilettos. Frenzied conversation ensued as to whether or not it is right to expect women to wear heels and if by wearing heels women are victims of a sexist society.

Whatever your view, one thing women seem to agree on is that most stilettos are painful, cause discomfort and, over time, lead to foot deformity. Iconic shoe designer Christian Louboutin famously said “I would hate for someone to look at my shoes and say, ‘Oh my God! That looks so comfortable!”

Easy for him to say when he doesn’t actually have to experience the pain that goes with squeezing your feet into said instruments of torture!

I am a lover of high heels. Being a rather modest 5ft 4″, not only do heels make me taller, they also make my legs appear longer. So often, however, I have found myself on a night out wearing a pair of killer heels which are, quite literally, killing my feet.

Why do women wear shoes that cripple their feet and yet men, quite sensibly, wear shoes that fit properly? How often have you seen men late at night walking down the road, hobbling barefooted and holding their shoes? Yet, this is a common occurrence for women.

But before we start accusing women of being vacuous slaves to fashion, perhaps we should point the finger at the shoe industry who I believe has failed to recognise that women’s feet are getting wider and haven’t adapted their shoes accordingly.

After the birth of my first child I discovered that my feet had got wider. This is a common side effect of pregnancy (and a permanent one). I was annoyed that I could no longer fit into half of the shoes in my wardrobe. On a positive note it did mean the excuse to shop for more shoes!

This time, however, I decided to focus on wider fit shoes as not only did my feet now require them I also became conscious that they were beginning to show the signs of damage being done by wearing shoes that were too tight and needed to put a halt to their demise.

The problem I found was that the choice of wider fit shoes, if you wanted something that was in any way stylish, was utterly pitiful. Believing there was a gap in the market that needed to be filled I started a small luxury shoe company specialising in stylish wide fit footwear for women.

We that recently conducted a survey of nearly 900 women in the UK to better understand their footwear needs. Over half told us that they felt they have a wider shoe fit.

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Almost 60 per cent said they had bought shoes that they knew didn’t fit properly but they sacrificed comfort for style and 40 per cent admitted to continuing to wear shoes that are ill-fitting. What this tells me is not we are now a wide footed nation, but that women’s footwear needs are not being correctly catered for by the shoe industry.

A chat with any podiatrist will tell you that they are seeing far more cases of women coming in with long term foot problems due to wearing shoes that have irreparably damaged their feet.

This, to me, is the nub of the issue. Who cares if you choose to wear heels or not? What SHOULD matter is how they impact your feet. It is not heels that are the problem, it is ILL-FITTING heels that we need concern ourselves with.

Vanity may prevent you buying a wider fit shoe but I can assure you once they are on your feet they won’t look any different to “standard fit” shoes as the difference in width is just millimetres, but rest assured those few millimetres will make a huge difference to how comfy the shoes feel.

I know that shoe factories don’t make wide fit shoes as standard because when I started my company I approached factories in UK and Europe. They all told me that if I wanted them to make wider fit shoes I would have to get new wide fit lasts (the moulds which the shoes are made around) made as they didn’t have them.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why so few shoe brands offer wider fit shoes. Because in order to do so they would need to purchase entire new lasts for production which would be a costly outlay.

Based on our research, the majority of women in the UK need a wider fit shoe, then perhaps it isn’t that our shoes are too wide, it’s that everyone else’s are too narrow.

Katie Owen is founder of luxury wide fit shoe company Sargasso & Grey

If you think high heels are an issue, these are the risks of short skirts and grey hair for Britain’s bosses.

Image: Shutterstock

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