Over at Women Lawyers Back On Track, there's an interesting post on something I admit I never even considered: is it unprofessional to wear shoes that show "toe cleavage"? As reported by the Memphis Daily News, a group of 16 judges and attorneys met at the Tennessee Supreme Court to discuss a dress code for attorneys. The meeting "included an impromptu modeling of shoes to determine if either pair represented 'cocktail shoes,' and if they did, whether they were inappropriate or disrespectful to the courts.
The meeting resulted in this proposed dress code: “All attorneys should wear appropriate attire. Men shall wear coats, ties, slacks and appropriate footwear, which does not include athletic shoes or shoes without socks. Women shall wear professional and conservative attire, such as dresses with jackets, suits or pantsuits (with appropriate tops), and appropriate footwear, which does not include cocktail shoes or sandals or athletic shoes.” Nicole Black pointed out that her "favorite part of the rule is that the attire for women is specifically described as 'conservative.' For some reason, men need not dress 'conservatively'. Presumably 1970's style leisure suits would be perfectly appropriate for men to wear court."
For those not in the know, toe cleavage occurs when the front cover of a shoe is low enough that the beginning ends of the toes are visible, generally to the first toe joint. Personally, I avoid this kind of shoe because it ends up putting more pressure on my toes when I walk than is comfortable. But I'm not sure how "disrespectful" wearing a shoe exposing the tops of the toes is. It's accepted in most professions with more conservative attitudes, such as the law, peep-toe shoes are definitely out. Sling backs are questionable.
In some ways, these male-dictated dress codes are akin to the edicts on women's dress in conservative Muslim countries, on a smaller scale. Think of the purpose of the burqua or headscarf. They are designed to cover any part of a woman that a man might be attracted to. This is because men can only visualize women as sexual objects should they be subjected to a wisp of hair. How much different is it when men say women must wear nylons or closed toe shoes or not show any arm above the elbow? Obviously, these men can't control themselves when they see a little toe cleavage.
Professional dress from women is a difficult genre to decipher. There are so many clothing companies who cater to the latest trend and women must wade through the racks in search of something "suitable." Shoes are no exception; it can be extremely frustrating searching for shoes that fit the conservative mold.