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UK 120,000-strong petition calls for change in work dress-code law after high-heel row

A temporary worker at London's PwC office sent home for wearing flat shoes has organized a petition for parliament to hold a debate. In Cannes, Julia Roberts took her shoes off altogether in protest at the dress code.

London worker Nicola Thorp's petition reached 129,614 on Friday, having earlier passed the threshold needed for the UK parliament to consider holding a debate

on the issue.

The petition titled "Make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work" was posted on Tuesday night and by Thursday afternoon had gained more than 100,000 signatures.

"It's still legal in the UK for a company to require female members of staff to wear high heels at work against their will," the petition states. "Dress code laws should be changed so that women have the option to wear flat formal shoes at work, if they wish. Current formal work dress codes are outdated and sexist."

"Employers are allowed to impose different dress codes for men and women, which is fair enough as long as that dress code doesn't favor one of the sexes," Thorp told the ITN television channel.

"By making women wear high heels you are acting favorably towards men because their footwear doesn't affect their posture, their ability to move. It doesn't create long-term health problems," she added.

Flat-footed

Thorp, from Hackney in east London, arrived in flat shoes for her first day as a receptionist for global accounting company PwC last December and was told she had to wear heels.

After she reportedly refused to go and buy a pair of heels, she was sent home without pay. She also says she was laughed at when she said the demand had been discriminatory.

After the horse has bolted

Portico, the agency that organized the contract at PwC, said it has reviewed and revised its policy that "female employees wear heels between two and four inches (5 to 10 centimeters) high" and announced a broader review of its uniform guidelines on PwC's request. The guidelines now state "all our female colleagues can wear plain flat shoes or plain court shoes as they prefer."

Portico's detailed uniform guidelines are three pages long. They ask that women wear "tights no more than 15/20 denier" and also mandate that "make-up [be] worn at all times and [be] regularly reapplied, with a minimum of: light blusher, lipstick or tinted gloss, mascara, [and] eye shadow." Portico's guidelines show 14 shades of nail varnish that employees are asked to match "as close as possible."

A Portico statement indicated that the rules were common across business and that its policies were "in line with industry standards."

A case to answer

Forcing female employees to wear high heels has been widespread across the business-reception and front-of-house sectors, as well as guidelines on make-up.

"That's direct discrimination on the grounds of gender. It's not a requirement of the job and it's only applied to women," solicitor Anne O'Connell told the Irish Independent newspaper.

These shoes were made for walkin'

Meanwhile, at the Film Festival in Cannes, film actress Julia Roberts walked up the steps of the congress center barefoot at the premiere of her latest film "Money Monster" Thursday. The Festival insists on a strict dress code demanding high heels and evening dress. Roberts could be seen mouthing "wow" and "this is crazy" as her picture was being taken on the carpet.

French magazine L'Express Friday called the move a "veritable act of militant feminism" and the French edition of Gala celebrity magazine said she had "dared the unthinkable."

A social media storm erupted in 2015 after reports that some women had been turned away from the festival venue for not wearing high heels.

Oscar winner Susan Sarandon walked up the red carpet on opening night of this year's Oscars in flat shoes.

jbh/jm (AFP, Reuters, AP)

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