Nicola Thorp: Woman Who Was Sent Home for Wearing Flats Sparks Change in the UK

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In May 2016, Nicola Thorp arrived at accounting firm PwC in London for her first day as a temporary receptionist. But the first thing her temp supervisor said was that her shoes–a pair of black ballerina flats–were unacceptable, and she would have to get a pair with at least two inch heels. When she refused, she was sent home without pay.

Thorp said that she asked whether the same rules applied to her male colleagues, but the supervisor just laughed at her. The company couldn’t give her a single reason when she asked how wearing heels would improve her work. “I was expected to do a nine-hour shift on my feet escorting clients to meeting rooms. I said ‘I just won’t be able to do that in heels,'” she said.

Five months after the incident, Thorp created an online petition that quickly collected more than 150,000 signatures. Dozens of women tweeted photos about wearing flats to work in protest. It prompted an inquiry by two British parliamentary committees. On Wednesday, the committees released a report on the issue and concluded that the outsourcing firm, Portico, had broken the law.

This may seem like a petty matter, but for women fighting for professional equality, it is a big step. Aside from the fact that this rule is blatantly old-fashioned and sexist, Thorp also cited public health concerns, as high heels can be damaging to women’s feet. Why should women suffer through wearing them if it doesn’t improve their work, and the same uncomfortable rules don’t apply to men? During their investigation, the committees came across hundreds of cases of women who had been ordered to dye their hair blonde, wear more revealing clothes, or constantly reapply makeup.

The shoes that got Thorp sent home from work are already famous.

The parliamentary report stated that the law needs to be tightened to combat sexism in the workplace. “Discriminatory dress codes remain widespread,” the report said, and reiterated concern for workers who are affected by them, “many of whom are young women in insecure jobs who already feel vulnerable in the workplace.” Even though the dress code that the company imposed on Thorp was unlawful, many companies still require their female employees to wear heels. The government expects companies to research and follow the law voluntarily, but this is not enough, according to the report.

Thorp herself pointed out that now, more than ever, with a U.S. president who brags about grabbing women, it is important for women to speak up about this kind of discrimination. She said:

I refused to work for a company that expected women to wear makeup, heels and a skirt. This is unacceptable in 2017. People say sexism is not an issue anymore. But when a man who has admitted publicly to sexually harassing women is the leader of the free world, it is more crucial than ever to have laws that protect women.

The outsourcing company Thorp was working for, Portico, has said it has rewritten its appearance guidelines. It used to include warnings against greasy hair or flower accessories, and demanded heels two to four inches high, makeup “worn at all times” and “regularly reapplied,” with a minimum of lipstick, mascara, and eye shadow. Representatives for the company she was sent to work for, PwC, emphasized that the heels requirement was not in their guidelines and that they are committed to gender equality.

Emma Von Zeipel
Emma Von Zeipel is a staff writer at Law Street Media. She is originally from one of the islands of Stockholm, Sweden. After working for Democratic Voice of Burma in Thailand, she ended up in New York City. She has a BA in journalism from Stockholm University and is passionate about human rights, good books, horses, and European chocolate. Contact Emma at



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