Leaving our shoes at the door

Shoes on or off indoors?

Red socks have caught fire on the fashion scene this year. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Red socks have caught fire on the fashion scene this year. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
With everything from E coli to heavy metals and petrochemicals on the soles of our shoes, western etiquette is changing, Tess Reidy reports.

Shoes on or off indoors?

It’s a long-running debate and one those in favour of removal appear to be winning — thanks to a greater awareness of germs. British and American etiquette is taking its lead from Asian and Scandinavian culture as guests at dinner gatherings and house parties are increasingly leaving their shoes at the door.

Experts attribute the change to younger people being increasingly conscious of germs.

Gabriel Filippelli, professor of earth sciences at Indiana University, says the first time he encountered this was with his son and his girlfriend, who live in Chicago and have a no-shoes policy at home.

"Friends’ kids also have this. I think it’s inspired by an increased awareness that the bottom of your shoes are really gross."

He too now operates a strict shoes-off-at-the-door policy.

There is certainly some justification for it, particularly in cities.

"What can be brought in and tracked on shoes ranges from E coli and heavy metals such as lead, to petrochemicals, oils and lubricants," he says.

According to Charles Gerba, professor of microbiology at the university of Arizona, one study of people’s shoes found that 95% had faecal bacteria on the bottom and a third contain E coli. He says people are walking on dog droppings all the time and not realising.

Ben, 31, has been to two parties at friends’ homes in Hackney, east London, in the last few weeks. At both events there was a gentle reminder to take shoes off and a large pile of footwear at the door.

"It was the first time I’d been to what was a party with about 40 people, as opposed to a gathering, where everyone was in their socks."

He says he preferred it.

"It was so pleasant. Often, everyone wears really fancy shoes for these kinds of things and just seeing all these people you’ve maybe only met through work in their socks in the kitchen, makes you feel more at home speaking to each other.

"It was like people didn’t have their armour on."

Behaviours are changing and Gerba thinks the pandemic has made people more aware of germs. Filippelli suggests that what we are seeing on social media is having an effect.

"In many Asian cultures it is an absolute no-no to walk inside someone’s home with your shoes, it’s a sign of utmost disrespect.

"Young people today are being exposed to a more global view."

From a fashion perspective, fashion author and blogger Leandra Medine Cohen thinks the trend is an opportunity, as there are looks that work better when you forego footwear.

She recommends baggy trousers, miniskirts or shorts and tights.

Medine Cohen’s fashion newsletter has more than 100,000 subscribers and expertly sets out what to buy, where to find it and how to style it.

When she recently hosted a dinner party at her Manhattan apartment with New York’s fashion elite she wore a silver lamé tank top with brown corduroys and ... red socks.

"It wouldn’t have been the same with shoes!" she says.

While red socks are a fashion power move that has caught fire this year, this wasn’t just about clothes: all the guests had their feet out, too. Whether you’ll have to take your shoes off is, she says, now "often a consideration" when you’re being invited to an event at someone’s home.

It’s even a conversation on top podcasts. Each week, Throwing Fits, a New York-based men’s style podcast, begins with the regular "fit check" at the start, where guests talk through their outfits from head to toe. Stating you are barefoot is no big deal.

Medine Cohen says that The Row, a luxury and trendsetting fashion brand, has "basically been trying to crack the code on how to wear shoes without looking like you’re wearing shoes for the last six seasons".

Indeed, their sold-out slip-on mesh shoe, which looks more like a structured sock than typical outdoor footwear, sells for £600.

So, when you’re thinking about an outfit for your next dinner party, perhaps the most important question, according to Medine Cohen, is: does this look good with my socks? — Guardian News and Media