Reader mail: Are bare feet in pumps and toe cleavage acceptable?

Today’s reader mail comes from reader E…

My feet get sweaty while wearing pumps all day. Am I supposed to be wearing some type of hosiery-sock with them? How do others deal with the sweaty feet issue? Is it even appropriate to have the bare tops of my feet showing while I’m in pumps?

And in that same vein, what are your thoughts on “toe cleavage?” Some of my pumps are cut so low that I’m flashing toe cleavage at work. Can you recommend pumps that are cut higher?

We’re curious what the readers have to say about this one.  (Pictured above:  Toe Cleavage, originally uploaded to Flickr by cuteheels.) For our $.02: We find it difficult to walk in pumps while wearing trouser socks or tights — on those days we tend to wear Mary Janes, T-straps, or at least something with a higher vamp.  And we’ve seen plenty of women on the streets of New York wearing pumps and bare feet.  There do exist various kinds of socks — toe covers or other — but in our experience they tend to be very difficult to wear with pumps because the cloth from the “sock”  is always showing.   (A guiding principle, though: for the love of God, please do not take your shoes off if you’re sitting in a meeting. In your own office, fine, but no one wants to see bare feet beneath a conference room table.  Actually, no one wants to see bestocking’d feet, either.) But then, our feet don’t get that sweaty — apparently, camel leather shoe inserts are your best bet to helping control that issue.   (If anyone can recommend a brand of such inserts, we’re sure our reader would appreciate it — we can’t seem to find one.)  We would also advise giving your shoes a day “off” between wearings, to let them air out and so forth.

In terms of toe cleavage — this has historically been a controversial issue, and maybe one that’s ripe for a poll. But that said, personally, we don’t mind it.  Here’s our reasoning:  there are a variety of reasons why other types of shoes are considered not acceptable for the office.  The peep toe requires a perfect pedicure (and hopefully the wearer doesn’t have unattractive toe problems, such as hammertoes or things).  The tall boot (which, according to our poll a few weeks ago, 1 out of 5 women would still say is “absolutely, always inappropriate” for the office) veers a little too close to the “dominatrix/stripper” vibe.  And yes, there’s the name — cleavage — but, let’s face it:  a view of your toes isn’t similar to a view of your breasts.   (Also, we’re a little biased because a friend of ours had a great kitten-heeled pair of Louboutins that showed toe cleavage, and we loved. those. shoes. Also very similar: these more affordable kitten heels from Stuart Weitzman.)

Readers, what are your thoughts?cleavage

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  1. I think the above shoes are perfectly appropriate. Shoes that have a higher vamp get very dowdy very quickly – and because it’s so difficult to fit precisely where your foot bends (required by definition if no toe is to be shown), they’re often blister-inducing to boot.

    For comfort reasons (and also because my feet get a bit sticky in pumps), I wear trouser-height pantyhose socks under pants. But I see no issue with the top of the foot being bare with pumps – you wouldn’t think twice about that area when wearing peep-toes.

  2. I’ve never gotten the toe cleavage thing. It doesn’t even seem in the same universe as, you know, regular cleavage to me.

    • I concur. I don’t think I’ve ever noticed toe cleavage (or the lack thereof).

    • To me, toe cleavage doesn’t seem “inappropriate” as much as it makes it look like your shoe doesn’t fit well.

  3. My objection to the pictured shoes is not the toe cleavage but the shape and silhouette of the shoes. Unless you have dainty lotus feet, and maintain your shoes fastidiously, this takes you into Wicked Witch territory.

  4. Anonymous :

    I wear nylons every day to work – is this not the norm?

    • I actually got mocked for wearing nylons recently.

      • Anonymous :

        I wear them every day as well (and my office is business casual veering towards the casual side). Sometimes I get mocked. Who cares? The best advice I got re: how to dress when I started my new job was “be yourself” – everyone has a slightly different style, just go with what you feel comfortable with (well, within reason I guess).

    • I live in the midwest, and nylons went out of fashion about 4 years ago, even in professional circles – thank goodness! Now I either go bare or (once the snow starts falling) wear opaque tights.

      • Anonymous :

        I am so bummed about stockings going “out of style.” I’m 31 and have a good figure, but I don’t know that many women — even young ones — who don’t need some control top and non-sweaty feet!

        I get blisters where my shoes rub when I go sockless, and I just think it’s almost good ettiquette to keep your thighs, hips, and tummy “in control!” Is it just me?!

        • When I start hearing the men in my office worry about keeping their thighs, hips, and tummies in control, that’s when I’ll start worrying about doing the same for mine. ;-)

        • I disagree about the control tops, for the same reason anon at 7:25 gave. But I completely agree about the sweaty feet. I also don’t want to see hairy legs, scabs, etc. But even on a supermodel, bare legs aren’t professional, period.

          • I wish they were in style, but apparently, they make us look “old.” I really could use a little coverage on my legs to cover veins, bumps, etc. As for the control top, I wear a shaper. And if you weren’t concerned about how you look, you wouldn’t be looking at this site.

      • I constantly wear stockings at work. I just can’t wear all of those shoes without them, my feet get too sweaty. I also like that it smooths out my legs, which occasionally have bruises on them from me being clumsy (plus, I’m very pale). I don’t think that it looks unfashionable – just get ones that closely match your skin tone and fit snugly, without folding or wrinkling.

  5. I commented earlier that I don’t think toe cleavage is a big deal, but I’d also like to add an “amen” to the don’t-take-your-shoes-off-at-a-meeting policy!

  6. Anonymous :

    I live in the South and have really sweaty feet. I have solved the problem with Odor Eaters foot spray. It is like spray deodorant/power for your feet. It works all day–even in the New Orleans heat–and costs about $4 for a can that will last a month or more.

    • You can also just use your regular underarm deoderant. I had a physician recommend this and it solves the problem instantly. Be warned, however, that if you go barefoot in your shoes it is a little slippery for the first few steps.

      • Underarm deodorant may also help prevent blisters. Many runners put deodorant on their feet as a Body Glide substitute pre-marathon for blister prevention. If it works in running shoes, I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t work with dress shoes.

    • I just use regular underarm deodorant in an aerosol can (usually I can only find the aerosol can at Walmart) and then it is only about $2. I even use it under my nylons on some very hot days during summer, when I’m sure I would get sweaty feet anyway. It works like a dream plus I don’t have to rub my regular deodorant into my feet with my hands.

  7. Has anyone tried summersoles for sweaty feet?

    • I have these, and they are FABULOUS. I have always had extremely sweaty feet (I’m talking puddles in my shoes and soaking wet socks), so it was very difficult to wear shoes with no socks or hose. My feet would slide around my shoes and cause blisters, cuts, etc. But these insoles completely solved the problem. They just stick to the inside of your shoes and absorb all the sweat so your feet don’t slide around. I cannot tell you how happy I have been with these.

    • Yes – I was going to recommend these as well for sweaty feet. I am ADDICTED to these, and they really do work on all kinds of shoes, including sandals, peeptoes, pumps, etc.

  8. Midwestern Working Girl :

    We had a dress consultant at our firm this summer… she suggested a good shoe guideline… more shoe than foot. We had admin wearing strappy evening sandals to work… or the almost-a-flipflop. She suggested nothing between the toe and more shoe than foot. I think those are basic and will help to define those that like to push the limites.

    So if there’s barely any shoe there and you have toe cleavage… then it’s a no for us.

    • I briefly worked at a firm that had a pantyhose/socks-required policy and basically no other footwear guidelines. The result? Hose with sandals, a la street corner, or worse, the paralegal who wore hose, socks and sneakers in the office. I wish I knew about dress consultants back then, because jeez, that was the stupidest policy ever.

  9. I’m not sure when young women stopped wearing socks or hose, but it looks unprofessional to have bare legs and close-toed shoes (and obviously sandals/open-toed shoes are inappropriate in many workplaces). And any kind of shoes without socks looks gross and makes your feet smell.

    I also cannot comprehend how anyone can stand to wear shoes without socks or nylons. Don’t you get blisters?

    • Most of the young women at my firm do not wear hose with skirts to the office in the summertime. The winter is a different story — I’m in the midwest, so it’s cold and there aren’t a lot of skirts around here past October, anyway. I always wear tights (with skirts) and socks (or tights when it’s really cold, with pants) in the winter, but that’s a warmth issue rather than a gross/smell/blister issue.

      I asked a (female) partner about it when I first started, because I was interested to see if she felt that it was inappropriate. She said that she wears hose to disguise what she considers “defects” in her legs: unattractive knees (whatever that means), vericose veins, and cellulite. She suggested because most young women do not have these issues to hide that it’s difficult to tell whether or not they are wearing hose in the first place. Therefore, she was not bothered by the bare leg look at all. (Obviously you do not share her views on this subject.)

      I don’t have any foot odor problems, even when wearing shoes without hose. I am pretty sure that this is genetic. Nor do I get blisters. I am pretty sure this is a shoe quality and/or fit issue.

      • I should add that I do wear nylons with skirt suits to court, to depositions, and to client meetings, even in the summer.

      • Blisters are more related to the sweaty feet issue. If there’s some moisture in there you’re going to be slipping around and this friction causes blisters. It has nothing to do with shoe quality…my very quality kitten heel/toe cleavage louboutins give me some of the worst blisters without stockings

    • Hose really aren’t practical in very hot climates. I’m in Florida where the vast majority of workplaces don’t require pantyhose unless you’re going to be in a courtroom everyday. I’ve also seen attorneys in court without them, so even that may depend on the judge. It’s just too hot here most of the year for them to be practical or comfortable, and I don’t think women here worry quite as much about the leg defects as people in other areas do.

      The only problem I have with shoes when I do not wear hose is that sometimes the insole will come unglued. This problem is easily solved by adding in another insole. Shoes that give me blisters typically aren’t any better when I’m wearing socks, so I agree with J that it’s more of a fit issue than anything else.

      • Amen. I’m in my 3rd year at law school in hot and humid Florida. Through two summer jobs, I’ve seen VERY few women wear hose to the office/court/meeting. The main women who do wear hose are older women, who (I’m guessing) have other reasons for needing/wanting to wear hose. But, generally, it’s just one more layer that you do NOT want to wear in this freaking heat.
        One of the other reasons that I hate wearing hose is that I feel the color never looks natural. Personally, I have a very hard time finding hose that are a color that could realistically pass as my own skin tone. The truth is – I’m as white as Casper. Even the lightest tone hose (nudes and buffs) still look FAR more tan than my legs actually are. If anyone can recommend a brand that is good about having fair and light tones, please speak up (as much as I hate hose, even I know there are occasions when I should wear them)!

        • just get ultra sheer stockings

        • I am pretty pale myself and have good luck with victoria’s secret hose.

        • Victoria’s Secret has a color (the name is escaping me) that works perfect for very pale girls (I’m a blue-eyed, redhead if that helps you envision the paleness) – I love it and stock up every few months at a store location since they don’t carry in their catalog.

          I wear hose primarily in the winter only – it’s not the heat down here in Houston that makes hose unbearable, but the humidity.

          And, I use the Johnson & Johnson Blister Block to prevent blisters. It earns my top ten beauty invention award – it’s a godsend.

          • Are you talking about the “pale nude” color? If so, they do sometimes have it online .
            Do they have another pale color in store?

        • DKNY the nudes. Also recently noted that spanx seems to have a rather pale color in their stockings. (Though I think the price tag steep for a pair of stockings that will inevitably still run.)

          • You are right about the spanx hose – I had high hopes for a pair I bought at Target (the Assets brand, but still $20) and they were only worn a few times before they ran.

  10. No blisters – mainly bc I know my shoes and use preventative hidden band-aids/shoe pads. It’s worth it to me. Nylons look dowdy and weird to me now. I threw all of mine away years ago. Tights, yes, trouser socks in the winter, yes, but never nylons. I wouldn’t mock someone for wearing them (well, ok, maybe if they were tan-colored and I knew the person well), especially ladies in their 50s+, but would be surprised to see them on anyone in their 20s or 30s. Or 40s, really. This is probably somewhat regional, though.

    • Ah – speak for yourself! ;) I’m mid-30s, consider myself somewhat fasionable (I shop at Banana, Ann Taylor, etc.), and I wear hose every day – including under pants. I like the look, and also like how the hose holds in that “I’ve had several babies” tummy pouch I’ve developed. Perhaps it is regional (I’m from the mid-west), but I’ve seen plenty of women in their 20s in hose as well – even (gasp!) the color that matches their skin tone hose.

      • That is too funny. It would be my own personal hell to fight with pantyhose every morning! To each his own. I really don’t see nylons very often though, and I am in the midwest too! I am in Chicago. Maybe it is micro-regional? :)

  11. I don’t see anything at all wrong with toe cleavage or the shoes pictured. In fact, I’m wearing similar ones today and I’m not wearing any hose or tights. I work at a 110-lawyer firm in the Southeast and young female lawyers at my firm rarely wear hose. In the winter, I wear tights.

  12. I think wearing hose is very regional. I’m 27 and I would never dream of going on an interview or to court without hose if I was wearing a skirt suit. If it matters, I’m in DC.

    • I’m in DC, too, and agree–the only place I can think of to which I’ve worn hose in the past few years is federal appellate court. Donna Karen -The Nudes makes a sheer, very light color that appears pretty much invisible on my just-released-from-the-hospital pale skin.

      • I’m in DC too. Maybe that explains why all the responses to my comment above disagree with me.

        • I think that even the people who “never” wear hose, still wear them on interviews/to court, etc., just about wherever you are–I’ve lived in New York, the south, and the midwest, an thinkt his holds true.

          • I actually *never* wear hose. I’ve interviewed, gone to both federal and state court, and met clients in skirt suits without hose, and as far as I know, I have never gotten a bad reaction or raised eyebrow because of it. This could be because I am young and a runner so my legs are in pretty decent shape, but I actually suspect that no one really notices if you wear them or not. I certainly don’t.

  13. I am a 23 year old CPA at an extremely conservative accounting firm in western Tennessee. In writing, our dress code is not incredibly conservative, but in practice it is extremely so (at least on the tax side, where I work. Auditors have more freedom in the field.) Our handbook led me to believe that slacks and a blazer hanging on the back of your chair was acceptable, the reality is that most days a full matching suit is necessary. Pantyhose or socks are always required. I always wear pantyhose with skirts – I would like to wear tights in the winter, but don’t have the nerve in this environment. I break the rule almost every time I wear pants as I can’t stand knee-highs and don’t have many shoes that a trouser sock would be appropriate with. Personally, I think that nylons make foot odor worse *and* make my shoes fit poorly – something about the nylon holding everything in tight, so that my shoes are like to fall off on a whim! Even I don’t mind a peek of toe cleavage, but too much is inappropriate, period.

    • That dress code sounds just terrible. You just reminded me of when I worked at a law firm in Memphis for a summer, back in 1999, and the dress code was formal. Suits every day in the Memphis summer – every afternoon I would get into my car to head home and just about die of the heat. Just awful.

    • Try buying the next size up in pantyhose. I am also in my 20s working at a conservative law firm, so I wear hose whenever I wear a skirt. I found once I bought the next size up (so for me that is 2 sizes over the “suggested” because I am an ex-soccer player which means most of my weight is in my legs) they stayed in place better and don’t give me the “holding everything in tight” feeling. Some days they are even comfortable!

      • As it is, I’m wearing a size up from “suggested” to keep the waistband from rolling down! Unfortunately, that makes for lots of extra fabric creeping down my legs all the time, and somehow still snug feet. This is drugstore pantyhose, by the way – L’eggs Silken Mist or somesuch I think. I tried wearing some brand of “curvy women” pantyhose (I think it might have been endorsed by Queen Latifah), and the waist and legs both fit properly, but the nylon just felt horrible.
        Oh how I hate pantyhose. If I could change the dress code at my office, I would NOT wear pantyhose, I would wear peep-toe shoes… oh, and the navy velvet blazer I just snatched at J. Crew would definitely be acceptable any day of the week!

    • I don’t think there’s anything less professional about tights instead of hose, so long as the tights are dark (I’d stick to navy, black or brown), go with your outfit and aren’t patterned. Also, they make sheer ankle highs. They’re harder to find than knee highs, but might be worth the hunt in your case.

  14. I put a few sprinkles of baby powder into my shoes almost every morning and it helps reduce sweat (and also the smell)!

  15. Corporette has done hose polls in the past. It IS really regional. I am from the West Coast, and you simply do not wear hose unless you’re going to Court, an interview, a major client meeting, or you’re old. Period.

    In fact, I hardly ever wear socks to the office of any variety (even trouser socks, but I am in SF). When I worked in NY and London, hose every day.

    And as for toe cleavage, many high fash brands make that part of their signature look, so I tend to associate it with more expensive, not cheaper shoes. It’s just a sexier look, but not inappropriate, as long as the rest of the shoe doesn’t scream “hooker”.

    Lastly, for the lady who wears nylons under pants, for the love, try Spanx or Donna Karan Intimate’s version of Spanx. Especially in the summer, you will be so much more comfy!

  16. Totally off topic, but check out Southwest’s amazing flight sale! I got a roundtrip ticket (crosscountry) fro $242.40! Plus two free bags!

  17. I’d also note that the foot sweat thing can really be curtailed by wearing real leather shoes, none of this synthetic crap. Plastic doesn’t breathe well! I’ve never seen a sweaty cow…!

  18. housecounsel :

    I’m in Chicago and kind of old, but in the past three or four years, I’ve only worn hose when in front of a jury. I do wear tights and trouser socks when it’s cold. I, too, have the post-baby pooch, and that is why I own every footless Spanx product ever invented.

    I think too much toe cleavage is icky!

  19. Those who think that pantyhose require “wrestling” are obviously too young to remember garter belts and stockings. Yes, I’m old. They were disgusting. IMHO, pantyhose are a walk in the park compared to all that other stuff. (And don’t even get me started on girdles — !!!)

  20. I have a real hang up about toe cleavage because I have freakishly long toes, so literally every shoe I own shows toe cleavage. I can’t wear a shoe with a really low vamp, because seriously, you’d see half of my toes. I really hope toe cleavage is not off limits, or else I’d have to wear loafers or boots everyday! :-)
    Somewhat off-topic, but if anyone out there has similar toe issues…I looked for 2 years (seriously) for a pair of flats that didn’t show half of my toes. I have the brand for you: Me Too. You can get them at Nordstrom and other dept stores. Once I found them I bought three pairs (three different styles, but all covered my toes and looked cute!).

    • Anonymous :

      Thanks! I’ve been looking for ballet flats that cover my toes (I have REALLY long “finger” toes too) and haven’t been successful so far. I will try these!

  21. My $ 0.02 is that (1) toe cleavage is fine – it’s not so much about the amount of “cleavage” as it is about the style of shoe. A cute peep toe that shows some toe is fine, but a strappy sandal – not so much. (2) I’m in FL, and pantyhose are not really part of a normal daily wardrobe for younger women here. Obviously, when I’m in court or interviewing I slap a pair on – but beyond that – no one wears them. I personally think they are a dated look. However, I am all about cute tights!

  22. If I wear pants I wear knee high pantyhose or ankle high pantyhose. I feel much more polished that way. If I wear a long enough skirt I wear knee high boots and if it is a shorter skirt I wear regular pantyhose.

  23. Just out of curiosity for the women who wear footless hose under pants, doesn’t it get really hot? I have a few outfits where shaping garments might be helpful in the hip area, but if that’s the case I’ll wear something specifically for the hips that ends above the knee instead of going for an all-out footless hose. I’d much rather just target the specific body parts that need help rather than everything else.

    • I find it does get hot and wear the above-the-knee kind for the same reasons you mentioned.

  24. I’m a 31-year-old in the Midwest. It seemed like until about 5 or so years ago, no one would have dreamed of going to work or a nice social without pantyhose. My mother was actually the person who suggested to me that it was okay to go bare-legged to a wedding. I guess old habits die hard because I would not be caught dead wearing a skirt without hose or tights at the office (though I’ve relaxed a bit at weddings). Part of it is that I have terrible vericose and spider veins, so I rely on my legwear to cover the ickiness. Even without those issues, however, I can’t see myself with bare legs at work. Maybe in another 5 years I’ll catch up!

    • I’m totally with you, Emily. I *just* started going no-hose a couple of years ago, but *only* for church. I can’t imagine not wearing them to work, especially with a suit – I’d feel too exposed, and I suppose too casual.
      Perhaps it’s because I’m old (I’m 39) AND in the Midwest! :-)

  25. I’m 23 from New England and I would never think to wear hose with a skirt (unless it was freezing. or i was going for an interivew. or both.) But I almost always wear hose (or the sock version) with pants.

    I’m also a “person of color” (south asian) so it’s hard to find hose that matches my skin well enough to pair with a skirt – with pants it’s usually less of an issue b/c only a small bit of it is visible. My problem is that most of my shoes irritate my toes w/o hose (but are fine with hose/the sock version of hose), so I really only have 1 or 2 comfortable options for shoes when I want to wear a skirt. Has anyone else run into this problem? Usually I’ll just go w/o hose and risk a blister.

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