Few women can resist the allure of a pair of high heels – and few men can ignore the results. By throwing the pelvis forward, the bottom backward, tightening the calf muscles and making the legs look longer and sleeker, heels accentuate a woman's natural curves – and that's before she even starts walking.
However, the appeal of stilettos appears to be lost on delegates at the Trades Union Congress, who demanded yesterday that employers take a stand against the risks of wearing high heels in the workplace.
Speakers at the TUC conference in Liverpool labelled the style sexist, saying the shoes caused women serious health problems and cost the economy millions in lost working days. They said employers should be compelled to carry out risk assessments on heels, and they "should be replaced with sensible and comfortable shoes" where they posed a risk.
However, the TUC was criticised by businesswomen and politicians for tabling the motion. Karren Brady, the director of Birmingham City Football Club, said she would rather have her laptop taken away than her high heels.
Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for for Mid-Bedfordshire, said the unions were discussing trivial matters. "I'm 5ft 3in and need every inch of my Louboutin heels to look my male colleagues in the eye," she added. "If high heels were banned in Westminster, no one would be able to find me."
The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists (SCP), which is leading the campaign, said it was not trying to outlaw stilettos at work. "This motion is not about telling women what to do. It is about choice," said its spokesman Lorraine Jones. "What about the women who don't have a choice, such as shop workers, cabin crew? [They are] women who are on their feet all day and are required by their employers to wear high heels as part of their dress code."
She added: "This is not a trivial problem. We are not trying to ban high heels – they are good for glamming up but not good for the workplace. Women should have a choice of wearing healthier, more comfortable shoes."
According to chiropodists, high heels increase pressure on the balls of the feet, the hips and the knees. As they age, women go through twice as many arthritic changes in their knee joints as men. Heels can cause such annoying ailments as trapped nerves, corns and heel pain, and are linked to longer-term damage such as hammer toes, knee and back pain, shortened Achilles tendons and bunions.
In an SCP survey released last week, four out of 10 women admitted to wearing shoes they knew did not fit properly simply because they were fashionable. Mary Turner, of the GMB union, said the TUC had discussed a "meaningful issue" about women's rights, and criticised Ms Dorries for suggesting that women needed sexy shoes to get noticed. "I feel sorry for [her]," she said. "Is anyone in any doubt that if shorter men were made to wear platforms to work every day there would be a public outcry? This is about the right to choose."
The criticism provoked a swift riposte from Ms Dorries, who posted pictures of her two latest pairs of high-heeled shoes on her internet blog.
"I applaud the SCP for pointing out the dangers," she said. "However, I now respectfully ask them to leave it to me and every other woman in the land to decide whether or not we wear high heels [to work].
"Men have the killer instinct; we have the killer heels. If you want to know how that works, try taking them off us."