Wearing sandals in the office still means treading a fine line between respectability and frivolity, and only the best feet should be put forward.

Business women are not encouraged to bare their feet in public. Having bare toes, much less painted toe nails, is a sure sign of frivolity. No matter how tempting the summer's crop of strappy sandals, any woman wanting to be taken seriously should keep her feet covered during office hours, secure in the knowledge that they are fashionably smooth and buffed for all the frivolous weekend sandal liberation the summer will allow.

The idea of men walking around the office with a pair of open-toed sandals on their moist, sweaty bare feet is not a pretty thought, either, and even less acceptable than for women. Men are expected to wear shoes and socks at all times.

"I suppose Jesus wore sandals, but then he wasn't working in insurance at the time," said a human resources manager at insurance brokers Swire Blanche in the City.

She was not dead against the wearing of sandals and bare feet to work, although she would not be too impressed if someone turned up at a job interview in strappy sandals.

"Whilst I'd like to say it is allowed," she said, "in this day and age, we'd have to allow it for men as well as women. While women are allowed to wear shorts suits to work, it would be frowned upon if a man did the same, and the same goes for sandals.

"Our dress code is pretty flexible. It says business-like attire. But sandals would not be business-like. We have had ladies wear shoes without covered toes." She herself was wearing stockings and slingbacks with covered toes, so showing a bit of ankle is certainly not completely off- limits.

Don't even think about revealing your feet unless they are in perfect condition. Nobody likes even the briefest glimpse of somebody else's corns, cracked nails and horny heels. And feet that spend most of the year languishing unattended in shoes, socks or tights are likely to suffer from all three.

"A lot of people don't like their feet," says Janeen Taylor, a beauty therapist at The Gentry in Canary Wharf. "I'm fascinated by feet," she adds. "The first thing I look at in a guy is their feet." She advises a pedicure once a month and a good rub with a pumice stone every night. If feet are in a very bad state, Ms Taylor will advise a visit to a chiropodist. "Pedicure is not a very popular treatment, which is a shame because you see people's feet on the escalator all the time with hard skin. Sandals are so bare this summer."

The chances are, if you have pounds 20 to spend on a pamper session, you'll opt for a facial, or a haircut, or even a manicure. Feet seem such a waste of time. They are somehow altogether too embarrassing - take your shoes and socks off in public and you never know what unpleasantness you might unleash. And besides, like Janeen Taylor's, feet can be a very sensitive and ticklish part of the body.

Attitudes are set to change, however. The footcare company Scholl has recognised the demand for more than just verruca and bunion treatment. Last week, the company opened the first Scholl Total Footcare Centre in Watford, a concept it is describing as a "paradise retreat for feet". The centre moves foot treatments away from the beauty parlour and offers a specialist sports-injury clinic to treat lower leg and foot problems, as well as total pedi-pampering. Weary feet can enjoy a half hour's aromatherapy massage for pounds 15, or a pre-holiday package which involves a foot bath, rough skin removal, paraffin wax treatment (imagine the pleasure of dipping your feet into warm, gloopy paraffin wax), a foot and leg massage and nail varnish in a colour of your choice. The cost is pounds 30, but the treatment lasts for one hour and not only will your feet be left soft and glowing, but you will be de-stressed and feel as though your feet don't touch the ground for days after. A pair of barely-there, strappy sandals will be just the thing to show off your newly revitalised tootsies - in your free time, at least.

Since the centre opened last week, Deborah Lochrie, general manager and chiropodist, has been busy massaging, trimming and pumicing strange feet. "I could go into the gory details," she says. "Usually, the person who says they have lovely feet has the most awful feet in the world. I've seen thickened horny nails, scaly skin, and big wedges of dead skin." Aromatherapy has been most popular with women, but men are becoming more interested too. "Men aren't as embarrassed about their feet as they used to be." Nevertheless, they are still, according to Scholl's recent research, more likely to have smelly feet than women. The average foot loses around a quarter of an egg cup of fluid per day.

For anyone who can't wait for a Scholl Total Footcare Centre to open locally, invest in a DIY Scholl Pamper Pack which includes a pumice brush, exfoliating foot cream and soothing foot bath. With or without sandals, your poor, punished, aching feet deserve itn

Scholl Total Footcare Centre, Harlequin Centre, Watford. For inquiries, ring 01582 443 300

Top 10: strappy sandals

PVC flat thong in black, white or brown, pounds 15, Warehouse, 19-21 Argyle Street, London W1 and branches nationwide, inquiries 0171-278 3491

Nubuck thong sandals in blue/beige, pounds 26.99, sizes 3-8, Ravel, 184-188 Oxford Street, W1, mail-order inquiries 0171-637 0224

Ethnic embroidered thong sandal with wooden sole, pounds 38, Red or Dead, 1 Sloane Street, London SW1 and branches nationwide

Jelly thong sandals, pounds 45, Patrick Cox, 8 Symons Street, London SW3, inquiries 0171-730 6504; also available at Wannabe, 129 Sloane Street, London SW1, inquiries 0171-730 8886

"Sparta" leather toe-post sandal, (top) pounds 56.95, sizes 35-43, available in white or black, Birkenstock, 37 Neal Street, London WC2, 0171-240 2783, also available by mail order, inquiries 0800 132 194

``Egypt", delicate toe-post sandal with back-strap in brown or cream suede, pounds 59, Pied A Terre, 19 South Molton Street, London W1 and branches nationwide, inquiries 0171-629 1362

Flat leather thong sandal in camel, chocolate or black, pounds 65, Red or Dead, 1 Sloane Street, London SW1 and branches nationwide

Floral toe-post mule (below) in black/white/camel leather, pounds 70, Jones the Bootmaker, 15 Foubert's Place, London W1 and branches nationwide, inquiries 0800 163 519

Suede thong sandals (centre) in a variety of styles and colours, from pounds 109, Emma Hope, 33 Amwell Street, London EC1 and 12 Symons Street, London SW1

"Bigat" flat thong sandal with ankle ties, available in hand-woven leather in olive/black/gold or coral/brown/cream, pounds 150, Stephane Kelian, 48 Sloane Street, London SW1, inquiries 0171-235 9459

Cat Green

All prices quoted are pre-sale

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