No shoes for you! Why I think footwear bans at parties make no sense

By Leigh Kamping-Carder  | December 5, 2014 - 8:59AM

It’s that time of year again when holiday invitations arrive fast and furious. It's also that time of year when pedicures fall by the wayside. And when the twain does meet—you're asked to remove your shoes when you arrive at a friend's year-end bash—that's the time when holiday cheer has the potential for quickly turning into a chill.

To shoe or not to shoe: That is the question. Hosts have their reasons for requiring party guests to go without—the germs, the mess, the way noise travels to the apartment below. I get it. Your apartment is your castle, shoebox it may be, and if you really want to ban the boots (and sneakers and heels), it's your right to do so. You want to forbid shoes on a Tuesday afternoon? Fine. No strappy sandals? Go right ahead. “It’s their home, so it’s their rules," as one manners blogger writes. "If they asked you to remove your hat, you do it too. If they asked you to rub the head of their ceramic Buddha sculpture for good luck, before entering—you do it.”

But here's why I respectfully disagree: When it comes to a party, it's time to rely on a different playbook. The tacit agreement is that both party thrower and party goer will have to sacrifice. 

Consider that Liz Lemon and Carrie Bradshaw—two fictional New York career women who probably wouldn’t agree on much—​are both firmly in the shoes-on camp: Liz, because of her abiding foot insecurity, and Carrie, because shoes represent so much more than just a barrier between toes and sidewalk. In a memorable “Sex and the City” episode, Carrie attends a baby shower where she’s forced to slip off her silver Manohlos. “This is an outfit!” she laments, holding her baby shower gift aloft. When the shoes go missing, Carrie realizes that the pumps are a symbol of her life choices. 

Yes, it’s cringeworthy. But there is a lesson here: asking me and my fellow guests to dump our shoes in a pile of slushy boots and tromp around with our outfits in disarray—particularly if the dress code is fancy—is no way to welcome us. Shoes aren’t just about style; they’re armor. I put on my boots (and, okay, pour myself a glass of wine), and I feel better equipped to mingle. Suddenly, I'm not just lounging at home; I'm at a proper holiday soiree. 

And, let's face it: a party is work, whether your friends are barefoot or not. When I come to your party, I've usually traveled some distance by subway, I've invested in a bottle of wine or bouquet of flowers, I've girded myself for a night spent socializing with strangers. And you've splashed out on food and drinks, risked the ire of your neighbors, and shouldered the burden of cleaning up the next morning—not an insignificant investment of time and money. 

And yet, some hosts draw the line at letting me wear my boots into their living rooms. Why? You might argue that soles bring in a different level of dirt, especially in snowstorm season. You want to protect your baby. Or your carpeting. Or both. No one likes germs and slush and salt tracked through the apartment. And yet, I'm skeptical that a no-shoes policy is really the thing that will keep chaos at bay this party season. With all the potential for mess and breakage and party snafus, is mopping the floor really the straw that'll break the camel's back? (If you're worried about foot traffic, why not invest in a few throw rugs for the night? They'll help with the noise, too.)

And for those who must enforce a shoe ban, at least do it right. Warn guests on the invitation. Ask them to bring a clean pair to change into or provide them with slippers (cheap examples abound). Squeeze a bench next to the front door for them to sit on while they de-shoe. And invest in a shoe rack big enough to hold all your guests’ footwear.

Let’s start the holiday season off on the right foot.

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