So where do YOU stand in the 'shoes off indoors' debate dividing Britain? Some insist it's insulting

20 mins read


When you get home after work do you hang up your coat, put down your bag and kick off your shoes? Or do you skip that last part, preferring to stay shod rather than get out the slippers?

Following a report by scientists proving that the soles of our shoes can carry all manner of nasty organisms into the house, this particular point of etiquette is a hotter topic than ever — especially when it comes to having guests over.

For some there’s no greater insult than being asked to de-shoe at the door, while others hate having road residue tramped through their immaculate halls, or fear a stiletto heel will damage their expensive floors.

So who is right — the shoes–off brigade or the shoes-on crowd? Five brilliant writers argue their case, and an etiquette expert gives her verdict. 

Stephen Webster (pictured) is very firm on his views on the matter and'horrified' by the thought of dirty shoes traipsing through his home

Stephen Webster (pictured) is very firm on his views on the matter and ‘horrified’ by the thought of dirty shoes traipsing through his home

Shoes off, slippers on: no discussion 

Stephen Webster, society jeweller

Should a visitor be in any doubt about what to do when they arrive at my home, there’s a rug at the door spelling it out — quite literally.

It reads ‘shoes off’ in block capitals.

That means any and all shoes: wellies, trainers, flip flops, designer heels — off.

Precious? Hardly. Along with my wife, Assia, I just happen to be baffled — I’ll admit, horrified — by the idea of people tootling about my lovely clean home in shoes that have only recently bounced through puddles, muddy verges and possibly worse.

So it’s rather cheering to learn that there is now some scientific back-up for our view that whatever is lingering on the soles of your shoes is best left at the front door.

To be fair, I arrived at this robust footwear stance later in life, although even growing up in Gravesend in the Sixties the notion of ‘shoes off’ was, if not instilled, certainly inherently understood.

And while I don’t remember my mum being a stickler for the notion, she would definitely have had something to say if she saw either me or my brother head upstairs with our plimsolls on.

Were you raised in a house that let guests wear shoes or asked to take them off? (stock image)

Were you raised in a house that let guests wear shoes or asked to take them off? (stock image)

To be honest, I didn’t give the subject much thought until I met Assia 26 years ago. She’s from Russia, where taking your shoes off is part of the culture, as I discovered when I visited the home of one of her friends and, for the first time, encountered a rack just inside the front door on which to put my shoes — and slippers alongside it by way of exchange.

Now, I’m resolute. Why would anyone ever wear their dirty outdoor shoes, indoors? It’s not fussiness, just simple hygiene.

Through my work as a bespoke jeweller, I know that this ‘shoes off’ policy is shared around the world: in most of Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, a refusal to do so is a sign of disrespect.

At the offices of my gem dealers in Thailand, I even take my shoes off on the street, lining them up alongside the others.

Here in the UK of course, the whole issue is more complicated, riven with anxieties about etiquette, class and embarrassment. I have friends who seem mortified that I have taken my shoes off inside their home, clearly wondering if I think they’re uptight. But I would do it anyway.

Besides, I see taking your shoes off as a lovely symbol of welcome, of shedding the world outside.

Either way, as our doormat makes clear, there are no concessions. Chez Webster, whether our visitors are rock stars — we’ve had members of Duran Duran, Bon Jovi and the Sex Pistols over our threshold — or women who feel incomplete without a pair of towering heels, there are no exemptions. Not even for Louboutins.

Some friends now come furnished with their own slippers — and although we have had a bit of resistance from first-time guests over the years, it only lasts as long as it takes for Assia to pop a glass of vodka in their hand and point firmly at our basket of spare slippers.

‘Make yourself at home,’ she tells them. Really, what could be a nicer welcome than that?

Esther Walker (pictured) is reasonably flexible when it comes to wearing shoes in the house, sometimes having a pair on while on the ground floor of her home but not upstairs

Esther Walker (pictured) is reasonably flexible when it comes to wearing shoes in the house, sometimes having a pair on while on the ground floor of her home but not upstairs  

Take some house booties with you . . . 

Esther Walker, writer

My mum, who is an artist, thought that dirt was healthy, so I grew up in a pretty messy house.

She had no rules about shoes off or shoes on, you did what you liked.

In my own house, while I’m more fastidious than my mum (I think it’s good for you, but only up to a point), I can’t say I can bring myself to mind too much about shoes.

My children automatically take theirs off as soon as they get home, flinging them in opposite corners of the hallway or kicking them under the sofa.

I take mine off before I go upstairs but, yes, I probably wear my shoes around the ground floor. Is that terrible?

I’ve never had to consider whether I want, say, a plumber to remove their boots before they go upstairs to fix the boiler, because I’ve never met one who didn’t immediately take them off without being asked.

But I do think there is something very odd about arriving for a party, then being asked to take off your party shoes. They’re part of the outfit!

At the very least, they should warn you when they issue the invitation.

If they don’t, you could take your lead from my friend who always travels with a pair of house booties, ‘just in case’.

Claudia Connell (pictured) likes to keep her home clean but could'never dream' of asking guests to take their shoes off

Claudia Connell (pictured) likes to keep her home clean but could ‘never dream’ of asking guests to take their shoes off

Hot, sticky, bare feet disgust me 

Claudia Connell, writer

A week of meal replacement shakes meant my little black dress zipped up first time. My newly highlighted hair had been blowdried and I applied my make-up with extra care.

To complete my sophisticated cocktail party look, I sported bare feet with week-old chipped nail polish and heels in desperate need of an aggressive session with a pumice stone.

That wasn’t my plan, of course. I left my house wearing black Russell & Bromley heels, but they were confiscated at the door. Why? Because the party hostess was one of those wretched people who insists that guests remove their footwear before they cross her threshold.

‘It’s to protect the wooden floors. You don’t mind, do you?’ I did mind (and the floors were laminate). But everyone else was shoe-less and I didn’t want to make a scene. I was wearing nude shoe-liners but they’d have looked even more ridiculous had I kept them on.

Sipping champagne in my bare feet while making small talk was awkward and embarrassing. I didn’t stay long as I didn’t want to have to use the bathroom. Who wants to be barefoot in someone else’s loo?

Being asked to take your shoes off when you visit someone is becoming increasingly common, with house-proud homeowners caring more about their flooring than the comfort of their guests.

It’s all very well, but when I visit people’s homes I’ve generally walked from my door to the car and then to their door. No traipsing through muddy fields and cow pats. I always wipe my feet carefully and if I honestly thought my shoes were filthy, then I would slip them off.

Some even offer guests slippers to put on at the door. But unless they’re buying a brand-new pair for every visitor then the idea turns my stomach. How many other hot, sticky feet have been in those slippers before me?

It hasn’t happened to me yet, but there are some hosts who allow people to keep their shoes on — provided they slip those plastic covers that look like shower caps over them. Hang on a minute. Am I having a cup of tea, a biscuit and a gossip . . . or appearing in an episode of Silent Witness?

I’m always amused when the ‘shoes off’ homes have pet dogs. Dogs dribble and moult and drag their bottoms across the floor. I don’t. What do they imagine their dogs are walking in when they let them off the lead? I can guarantee my soles are more hygienic than their mutts’ paws.

There was one dinner party where the hosts had gone to great trouble with the food and table decoration. But I couldn’t take any of it in, because all I could focus on was my feet not coming into contact with the bare feet of the person sitting next to me.

When it comes to my own home, I’m obsessively clean and tidy. But I’d never dream of telling guests to take their shoes off. If mud gets on the wooden floor, I’ll wipe it off. If it gets on the stair carpet then I’ll let it dry and whip out the Dyson.

If you care more about your carpet then your visitor’s comfort, then don’t have people over. Feet are ugly. Stains can be removed from flooring but I can’t wipe clean the image of someone’s hairy toes and yellow nails from my mind.


Libby Purves (pictured) is of the belief that the declining popularity of doormats is leading to more people asking guests to take their shoes off

Libby Purves (pictured) is of the belief that the declining popularity of doormats is leading to more people asking guests to take their shoes off

Buy yourself a doormat (or two) 

Libby Purves, broadcaster

Of all the investments you make in your home, among the greatest is the doormat. Ideally, two doormats, a tough bristly one outside (in the hallway if it’s a flat), with a metal bootscraper in the country. Then a miraculously absorbent one beyond, to suck out all remaining moisture (Turtle Mats are great, and no, I have never had a free one, this is honest journalism).

On top of that provision, one vital lesson to instil in children — and, if necessary, partners and regular friends — is the art of wiping your feet. Not a quick, token dancefloor shuffle, but fierce, pressurised movement back and forth on the outer bristles. Then a swish on the Turtle.

Within the sacred domestic space you should be almost able to eat your dinner off the soles of everyone’s shoes.

Frankly, I blame the decline of the British doormat for this fashion for demanding that every visitor goes shoeless beyond the hall, as if in an Eastern temple. Taking wellington boots off is reasonable, though it is polite to offer slippers instead.

Any decent soul will comply with the anxiety of those householders who do insist on ordinary street shoes being removed, fiddly laces and all, but it is not a hospitable necessity. And can lead to embarrassing sock-hole-toe moments, or very cold bare feet.

If you have acres of white fluffy carpet in one room, just keep the dirty-beast visitors out of it if you must.

If you have a baby crawling everywhere, remember what our grannies would say: you eat a peck of dirt before you die (a peck, by the way, is about 16 pints).

Kathy Lette  asks her guests to take their shoes off, but not only for'physical comfort' but also for the'social ease'

Kathy Lette  asks her guests to take their shoes off, but not only for ‘physical comfort’ but also for the ‘social ease’

Put your barest foot forward 

Kathy Lette, novelist

Men are so much luckier than women. Not only do they not have to give birth, but they only require three pairs of shoes for their whole adult lives.

During a recent spring-clean I was amazed to discover that I own 58 pairs of shoes — and as I’m only 5ft 3in, most of the heels are high.

I was once invited to a party to honour Al Pacino. Desperate to impress, I wore my highest shoes.

But the razor-thin heel kept catching in the thick shag pile carpet, meaning I was reduced to walking like a dressage horse so as not to trip over.

The Hollywood star was already casting dubious looks in my direction when I suddenly succumbed to gravity and toppled face-forward onto the floor before him.

So this current trend for hostesses encouraging guests to remove their shoes is a blessed relief for me.

Not just for the physical comfort, but also for the social ease.

Kicking off shoes lowers the tone. Staid women suddenly start dancing, as barefoot bopping won’t lead to bunions.

Toffs who normally send their shirts out to be stuffed casually stretch bare tootsies across coffee tables.

It’s also interesting anthropologically. What I’ve noticed is that the better dressed a man is, the more holes in his socks, while more humble fellas’ hosiery is clean and pristine.

The same goes for women. The more posh the frock — the more flaky the pedicure; the more plain the smock, the more polished the toes.

I’m now suggesting all my guests cast off their shoes and just put their best feet forward.

The etiquette expert’s verdict

Liz Wyse, editor of Debrett’s Etiquette

If you’re too proud of your wall-to-wall white carpet or polished boards to allow shoes inside, send a subtle signal by greeting guests in slippers or socked feet.

A reasonably observant guest should note the prevailing shoes-free culture and volunteer to remove their own footwear.

If your guest remains oblivious, you can always soften the blow with a rueful apology: ‘I’m sorry, I know I’m completely obsessed with the carpet (rugs/floor), but would you mind taking off your shoes? I make everyone do it!’

As for guests: always be prepared to remove your shoes in other people’s houses.

That means ensuring that your feet are shod in respectable-looking socks or tights (no holes visible), that are clean and sweet-smelling.

If you are appalled by the idea of spending an evening in an unshod state, why not slip a pair of fold-up slippers or delicate ballet flats into your handbag?


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