Follow me, if you will, back a few decades to the oceanfront. Areas like Atlantic City were bustling with people. It's a mix of surfer dudes, beach bunnies, energetic kiddos and tourists. Inside one of the many shops along the boardwalk, a married couple on vacation from the midwest is looking for souvenirs to take home. Shortly after, a surfer dude walks in wearing only his swimming trunks. His wet feet have dragged sand into the shop, spreading it across the floor as he goes to one corner to pick up a tube of lip balm. He glances at the couple and nods, saying, "Hey." The tourists, uncomfortable with this guy, decide that maybe they want to take their business somewhere else.
Businesses obviously don't like it when something -- or someone -- takes business away. For many small business owners, too many instances like this would cause a hardship. Eventually they might have to even close up shop forever.
To prevent such a terrible fate from occurring, these same beachfront shop owners posted "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service" (NS3) policies. They worked well, addressing any dude, bunny or kiddo who dared enter with sandy feet and/or an exposed belly. If surfer dude wanted lip balm, he'd have to put on a shirt and sandals to look a little more "decent" and keep from dragging a bunch of sand in.
That's also why the signs never say "No Pants." Shop owners apparently saw swim trunks as being okay. Throwing on a shirt apparently would cover enough of a swimsuit-wearing woman to be acceptable without making them wear shorts or pants. Because the NS3 signs still make no mention of pants, it makes me wonder if current policies are just old ways of thinking being carried over without critical analysis.
So that's where these policies began.
At some point they geographically spread far away from the coasts and can be now found in nearly every locale. Sometimes they now only say "Shoes Required" or "No Bare Feet," but the message remains the same: Your bare feet are bad for business. Business owners today, especially those not on the coasts, often don't understand where NS3 policies began and have adapted their reasoning. Instead of keeping sand off of the floors and keeping tourists in their shops, management now claims it's a safety issue. I've addressed safety a number of times on this blog, so all I'll say is that most businesses are very safe to go into barefooted. This argument holds no water...or sand.
Something that popped up along the way was the addition of statements like, "by Order of the Health Department." I don't know if there used to be actual health codes prohibiting bare feet in businesses, however there aren't any now. The good people at the Society for Barefoot Living have done a lot of research on this issue and have discovered that no state in the U.S.A. has any regulations prohibiting bare feet in business establishments. Likewise, I have not heard of any local health departments throughout the country that have such regulations.
As far as I'm concerned, current NS3 policies are outdated and not well thought out. While I completely understand that any business has the right to implement such policies because they want to, I don't think that it is right to do so. I, as a barefooter, am not going to do anything with my feet that people don't do with their shoes. In fact, I personally recommend against putting bare feet or shoes up on chairs, tables or other areas where feet aren't normally supposed to go.
I hope you've enjoyed hearing about the origin of NS3 policies. Keep an eye out around your area and see how many businesses still have posted policies that prohibit bare feet and bellies but are cool if you don't wear pants. If you really think about it, it's all very silly. I think it's high time that we responsible barefooters are allowed to bare our soles when we are out and about. We'll wear pants or shorts as a compromise, 'kay?
Photos: Barefoot couple courtesy of barefooters.org, NS3 sign taken at by me at a local McDonald's restaurant. It bears the words "No Bare Feet by Order of the Department of Health."