Flip-flops at the office? - Macleans.ca

Flip-flops at the office?

Maybe if you work in a Cabana.

Flip-flops at the office?

Denis Beaumont/CP

Ancient Egyptians wore them. So did the early peoples of South America, Africa, India, Asia and pretty much everywhere else the weather is pleasant year-round. But should you be wearing them right now? Not if you’re reading this at work.

The flip-flop—a flat sole with a thong grasped between the big and second toe—has provided basic footwear throughout history and seems increasingly popular across Canada today. Perhaps a bit too popular. Nothing stirs debate like the office flip-flop flap.

First some history. According to Elizabeth Semmelhack, senior curator at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, the modern flip-flop entered Western culture during the U.S. occupation of Japan, when soldiers were exposed to traditional zori sandals. As one of Japan’s first postwar exports, the rubber zori was initially marketed to North American housewives and children as a cheap and convenient substitute for slippers. Simultaneous with its role in the suburban lifestyle, the sandal also appeared as part of California surfer culture. “Out of all this, the flip-flop emerges as a symbol of leisure, youth, vacation and play,” says Semmelhack. And it stayed at the beach and in backyards for decades . . . until the 1990s and the rise of casual Fridays.

With the relaxation of dress codes on Fridays, flip-flops followed the path of sneakers, shorts and T-shirts into offices everywhere. The result has been a rapid decline in the formality of office wear throughout the workweek. With summer a precious commodity in Canada, Semmelhack figures the office flip-flop is a way for wearers to squeeze maximum enjoyment out of too few warm months, and to make a personal statement about their commitment to leisure off-hours.

But regardless of a wearer’s intent, Semmelhack, who has written several books on the societal significance of shoes, says the office sandal sends an unmistakable message to everyone else. “Flip-flops say you’re not fully engaged in the business environment,” she observes. “You’ve got one foot in the office and one foot on the beach. It makes a very loud statement about casualness.” Very loud indeed. “There’s also the aggravating noise they make—flip-flop-flip-flop—and that can be very distracting,” she adds.

There is some recent evidence of a fight back in the name of formality. Last year, Renfrew County in Ontario declared its offices a flip-flop-free zone to improve the municipality’s image. Major League Baseball did the same thing beginning this season, banning flip-flop-wearing reporters from the press box. And in a survey released by human resources firm Adecco Staffing, flip-flops were identified as the number one “summer wardrobe offender” for men and women, with 71 per cent of respondents saying they’re inappropriate for the workplace. Finally, while IBM abandoned its famously strict dark-suit-and-white-shirt dress code in 1995, flip-flops remain forbidden at its offices, and those of countless other firms adhering to any reasonable definition of “business casual.”

Besides the threat to workplace seriousness, flip-flops also entail significant health risks. In a blog post this month, Dr. Steven Weinfeld, chief of foot and ankle surgery at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, warned that flip-flops can become your foot’s arch-enemy. “They don’t offer your foot any support or protection, so it’s like you’re walking barefoot, which can lead to sore arches.” Further, gripping the thong with your toes disrupts your foot’s natural stride, leading to strained hips, knees and ankles. Not to mention stubbing your toes on the filing cabinet.

Then again, some employers seem to welcome the slacker image associated with flip-flops. Last month, for example, Chicago-based online recruiter CareerBuilder was rated second on a list of the 100 best places to work in information technology. In bragging about this achievement, the firm sent out a press release touting its “casual dress code where flip-flops and shorts are the norm.”

So is the flip-flop really appropriate workwear? Sure. If you happen to work in a cabana, or at some rebellious, hipster high-tech firm. Otherwise, do yourself and everyone else a favour and slip on something a bit less comfortable.

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Flip-flops at the office?

  1. No!

  2. If you’ve got an aversion to flip-flops, don’t ever take a job with the federal government. All I heard at the office all day was slap-slap-slap-slap-slap-slap. Though there may have been times that it was my head hitting the keyboard as I nodded off.

  3. Cut it out with these anti-casual articles! Casual dress is the best thing that ever happened to office work. Let people wear what they want… shorts, flipflops, t-shirts, jeans. Work shouldn’t be about overpriced uncomfortable clothes that require dry cleaning. The software development industry learned this – in fact you won’t attract the best technical staff with a dress code. In the small town where I live, even lawyers meeting clients wear shorts in the summer.

  4. When I was in Australia, it seemed like everyone wore flip flops, all the time, work or play. So if it’s not okay to wear flip flops to the office in summer — is it okay to wear thigh high boots around the office in winter? Seems to send a non-serious work message to me.

  5. Seriously, this is what you are upset about? I wear flip-flops to work – and I don’t feel as though I am dressing down whatsoever. I wear pretty sundresses and matching flip flops. I find regular sandals slip off and I need the thong piece to keep my shoes on my feet. Your editors need to visit a modern shoe store and realize that there are many types of flip-flops available…some dressy, some casual.

    I do not find the “flip-flop” sound any more annoying than, let’s say, the woman in my office who insists upon wearing 5 inch heels that “clomp-clomp-clomp” on the non-carpeted floors. In fact, I would dare say my colleagues on the floor below me prefer my flip-flops to the high heels.

    Get into the 21st century MacLeans…I am a professional who has been working full-time for over 30 years and I do not plan to go back to the days of pantyhose and old-lady sandals anytime soon. Perhaps when men start having to wear some of the restrictive clothing women “should” wear to look professional, they will ease up on their aversion to flip-flops.

  6. Leave it to white-collar jobs to have a problem with dress codes… tradespeople rarely have such issues. (Then again, Workplace Health and Safety would have all kinds of conniptions if something like this were attempted in the trades…)

  7. There are flip-flops and then there are flip-flops. Many ladies’ (and men’s) sandals are thong designed but constructed of leather, fabric and other materials. These are not “beachy” and as long as there are no safety concerns about open-toed footwear, I think they are as acceptable as any other sandal. Rubber & sponge flip-flops, even if they have jewels or pink flowers on the thong that match your capri pants, are not appropriate for the office.

  8. hey I have no problem donnig the appropriate business attore or business casual, but flip-flops for me well they are the norm. so when I don the elegant stiletto boy does that get attention, however just so you know I rarely enter a professional office these days.