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Little Toe Peep

Vivia Chen

July 31, 2010

1739517803_118c22fa85_b This doesn't have the gravitas of whether Chelsea Clinton should change her last name now that she's gotten herself hitched, or whether Bristol should have taken back Levi after he badmouthed the Palins, but it's a hot subject in the circles I travel in.

What's the topic du jour? The peep-toe shoe. More precisely, whether women professionals risk losing credibility and respect by exposing their toes in the office.

It might not seem worthy of debate, but I can assure you that passions run strong on this one. 

Waiting in line in the ladies room at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel recently, I heard this discussion: "In my day, I always wore pumps to court," said in a woman in her fifties. "Can you believe this associate went to court with open-toe shoes?" Her companion shook her head, then asked: "How did she do?" The first woman replied, "Her work was good, but her shoes weren't right."

On one side are lawyers who say it's always bad form to show your toes. "Toes and feet are either unattractive, or, in the rarer case, maybe sexy," says a lawyer who's worked at several high-powered firms. "I don't want to look at someone's toes in meetings or at work, and I also don't think it's appropriate to flash the sexy red-toe pedicure at work either." 

Another friend, who just picked up six pairs of Manolos at the summer sale last week, says that kind of conservative attitude is nonsense. "If it's fashionable and tasteful, why not?" she asks, as she looks down at her new strappy tan sandals.

New York might be an epicenter of style, but don't count on the the city's lawyers to be trend leaders. Former Cahill Gordon associate Kat Griffin, the founder of Corporette, says corporate culture "frowns" on peep toe shoes: "Peep toes are marginally better than flat-out open-toe shoes, but even then a closed- toe shoe is the preference." Her advice: "Don't wear open-toe shoes unless you've seen a much more senior lawyer do it."

But to lawyers in California, the peep toe is totally acceptable. "Here in L.A., everyone seems to wear open- toe shoes all the time. Of course, with a perfect pedicure," says a senior lawyer. "The closed-toe look is more of a nice flat shoe--think Tory Burch. I, myself, wear open-toe shoes year round."  

So what's a girl to do? Wear peek toes if your feet are hidden under a conference table, but not in court? Never on the East Coast, but go wild and get out those gladiator sandals in L.A.?

Perhaps the best advice comes from my law school bud, Jennifer, who says it's the "overall presentation" that counts. "If the whole outfit is too casual or provocative, then that translates to 'unprofessional,'" she says. "If the clothing is tasteful and the shoes match, then I think it's acceptable." Her caution: "Keep those feet well-groomed!"  And remember: "No one wears sandal-foot panty hose anymore--the horror!"

Think peep toes are a hot topic? Just wait until we get to the subject of toe cleavage.

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email The Careerist's chief blogger Vivia Chen at [email protected].

Related posts: Tell Her She Looks Ridiculous, (Over)Dressed for Success, Pretty Enough for this Job Market?

Photo:Thomas R. Koll.


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Go LAB! So very true,

peeptoes will never go out of style. they have been around for years. love them love them.

I CANNOT wait for peep-toe shoes to go out of style. As an attorney in her 50's, finding professional-looking shoes that are comfortable but not frumpy is very hard. It's even harder when for every pair of closed-toe pumps a store carries, there are ten peep or open-toe shoes.

I'm not sure if i've taken a risk losing some credibility or respect by exposing my toes at this Law firm i work for. But i have to say, it's a battle of leverages between comfort and professionalism. For now, i will stick with my closed shoesm Dreaming of a day when i can wear sandals to work!!!

God knows what you would make of Queensland, Australia, where lady lawyers of all ages frequently wear "screw me" me sandals and plunging necklines in all sorts of formal settings.

Open toe? Too conservative by half.

It's easy to have an opinion about fashion. No homework required. You can defend one side or the other all day long with stuff you just make up as you go.

It is so disappointing to see women cutting each other down over things like clothes!

I agree with your law school bud, Jennifer!

Whatever you attorneys wear, remember that you cannot expect your staff to dress better than you dress -- that means no two dress codes should exist. If you require your staff to dress professionally, we, your staff require you to do so.

One of my male mentors at my first law firm once announced, tongue firmly in cheek: "Remember, Munnell, you can't kick ass in open-toed shoes".
I did anyway.
If you look crisp and sharp in Boston you can try for low healed, but not strappy, ummer sandals. But you need to wear a nice suit or conservative dress and blazer to get away with it.
When in doubt--heed my mentor's advice.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: [email protected]

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