Last year, I went to a Christmas party wearing a festive dress with tights. When I arrived, most guests had their shoes off, but I kept mine on. Why? Because my outfit just wasn’t complete without my adorable half-boots below, that’s why.
The host—a good friend—never asked me to take off my shoes, but she did give me serious side-eye, as did some envious sock-clad guests. But I stand by my decision. This was a holiday cocktail party. And everyone looked so nice … except when my gaze traveled down to their sad socks and in some cases, cold, bare feet. So even though I take my shoes off in my own home, I would never host a party for 40 shoeless people. I’d let them keep their boots, high heels, and party shoes on.
Is it rude to ask guests to take off their shoes? Or rude for guests to leave them on? According to a poll of 1,000 Americans conducted for realtor.com® on behalf of Branded Research, partygoers by and large are willing to kick off their shoes in someone else’s house. About one-third said they always take off their shoes when visiting a home, regardless of the occasion; another third said they’d do so if the host asked (or implied this was preferred by the mountain of shoes by the front door).
Meanwhile, a brazen minority—16%—said that they’d leave their shoes on. And I’m one of them! Before you judge me too harshly, allow me to explain why.
Are shoes indoors really that bad?
Ask most people about the shoes on vs. off debate and Team Off cites preventing dirt from being tracked into a home as the main reason for ditching footwear at the door. And living in New York City, I’m not going to debate the cleanliness of the streets. All kinds of nastiness could get stuck to our soles, from pizza crumbs to pet feces. And yes, that filth could make its way into your living room. Except …
“In general, the concern with shoes ‘tracking germs’ is very misplaced,” says Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a board-certified infectious disease physician at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. This is largely in part due to the icky fact that our home and very bodies are already crawling with germs and microbes.
“There may be aesthetic reasons to remove shoes if they’re soiled with mud or animal feces, but there are just as many bacteria on socks or bare feet,” adds Adalja.
So if you ask your guests to take off their shoes to keep your home clean, their shoeless feet are still spreading bacteria. And their feet will also be collecting bacteria from your floors to bring back to their home. Yup, it goes both ways!
At least give party people a heads up
I get that despite this eloquent scientific argument that shoes off won’t keep your house any cleaner, hosts may still want guests to ditch their kicks. Fine. But no one likes to be caught off guard. Especially if they’ve put on fancy duds and arrived at a party only to find that a crucial piece of their wardrobe—shoes—is going to be cast off in a mudroom or hallway.
“One friend from my own Latin American culture firmly insists that it’s rude to ask guests to remove their shoes,” says Alex Escobar of Optimus Realty Group in Chicago. His friend was invited to the home of a big shot at her company … and was horrified when she was unexpectedly asked to remove her shoes. “Her toes were not ready to be on display!” says Escobar.
To avoid getting a party off on the wrong foot, so to speak, a host should always tell guests ahead of time about a no-shoes policy. That way they can bring along some slippers, indoor-only shoes, or a pair of socks that don’t have any holes.
Another idea is to keep a basket near the entrance with slippers or socks for guests, says Sophie Kaemmerle, communications manager for NeighborWho.com. Also include seating, so people don’t have to balance on one foot to remove shoes.
The bottom line: Shoes on or off?
I will always respect someone’s cultural wishes—in most Asian cultures, it’s traditional to remove shoes at the door. And if someone has a hard-to-clean carpet, I’ll leave my shoes by the front door. But otherwise, a cocktail dress with floppy gym socks is just not that appealing.
Stephanie Booth contributed to this story.
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