How do you deal with visits to “shoeless” homes? It’s often a surprise, so you can’t plan ahead with cute socks or by making sure you’ve recently had a pedicure. Not to mention that shoes are part of an outfit — and keep your feet warm. I’ve been confronted with this more often in the last few years, and I’m never comfortable removing my shoes. Any advice? — Ann, San Francisco
Feet! They are among the most controversial, least discussed parts of the body. I know people who quail at the sight of other people’s feet, and we all know about people who fetishize feet. They can be callused, blistered, hairy, hardened and otherwise ill tended. Also smelly.
Indeed, foot angst may be one reason we spend so much time thinking about our shoes — and why the growing trend toward shoeless homes can be so hard to navigate.
To be sure, this is a North American problem. In many cultures, removing your shoes when you enter someone’s house is natural; it’s a sign of respect. In those cultures it is also expected, so visitors and hosts are generally prepared for the eventuality.
As to why the practice may be on the rise, there is a theory that going shoeless inside is potentially healthier since shoes track in germs. That makes some sense, especially after the emergence of Covid-19, though The Times’s Science desk took a deep dive into the studies and found that the matter was not necessarily clear-cut. Then there’s the argument that it simply keeps the house cleaner (also true).
Yet if you plan an outfit down to the shoes, it can be disorienting to suddenly have to reassess, especially if you are attending a festive event, like a dinner party. And that doesn’t even begin to get into the psychological connections between footwear and adulthood and the way going barefoot can make you feel oddly disempowered.
It’s not quite as bad as showing up for an exam in your underwear, but it’s not that far off. After all, in taking off your shoes you may be revealing something you did not mean to show the world, be it bunions or the weird socks you normally keep hidden.
Personally, I will not forget the experience of dressing to go out in a favorite pair of flared trousers that need to be worn with heels to achieve the full legs-for-miles effect only to arrive at an apartment and be asked to remove said heels, at which point I had to roll up my hems and felt like a hobbit.
Still, like it or not, if you arrive at someone’s house and they ask you to remove your shoes, you should remove your shoes.
That means, said Karla Martinez, head of content for Vogue Mexico and Latin America, the best approach involves preventive measures. Dress as if you may be asked to take off your shoes. Check socks for holes and stockings for runs.
Ferdinando Verderi, a creative director who has worked with Versace and Google, said that when he lived in Sweden, it was common practice to go shoeless inside, and he developed an entire sock wardrobe as a result. Bonus!
If you really don’t want to take off your shoes, Jefferson Hack, a co-founder of Dazed Media who is firmly in the shoes-on camp, suggested dillydallying in the doorway to see if other guests feel the same, the better to persuade the host to relax the rules without (ahem) stepping on anyone’s toes.
Then remember this conundrum. And, if the shoe is on the other foot and you are a host who wants guests to go shoe-free, adopt a policy of always forewarning your guests.