No High Heels, No Cannes Do: Women Are Giving a Festival Dress Code the Boot

The hashtag #showmeyourflats is one way people are fighting back against a reported ban on functional footwear.

Emily Blunt. (Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

May 19, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

It was set to be a historic year for women at the Cannes Film Festival. The annual cinema celebration launched its first "Women in Motion" program to honor female filmmakers, French filmmaker Agnès Varda became the first woman to receive an honorary Palme d'Or, and for the first time since 1987, a movie directed by a woman was selected to kick off the 11-day event.

Despite being dubbed "Year of la Femme" for its purported emphasis on women, the 2015 festival may have taken a major stumble. Several women were reportedly turned away from a screening of Todd Haynes' 1950s-set same-sex romance Carol last Sunday night because they were not wearing high heels, Screen Daily reported Tuesday. According to the industry website, "Multiple guests, some older with medical conditions, were denied access to the anticipated world-premiere screening for wearing rhinestone flats."

Cannes Director Thierry Frémaux took to Twitter to deny reports that the dress code explicitly bans flat shoes, but the controversy has sparked a backlash from actors at the festival such as Emily Blunt and Benicio del Toro, and it has spawned international social media protests via the hashtags #flatgate and #showmeyourflats.

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Blunt expressed her dismay over "flatgate" at a Sicario press conference at Cannes; she plays an FBI agent in the upcoming action movie even though the screenwriter reportedly was asked to rewrite the role for a man.

"That's very disappointing, just when you kind of think there are these new waves of equality," she said, according to The Guardian. Blunt's costars del Toro and Josh Brolin suggested they'd protest the dress code by wearing high heels to the premiere.

Outside Cannes, women all over the world are tweeting photos of their functional, comfortable flat-heeled shoes. London-based beer writer and sommelier Melissa Cole, who's written about sexism in the alcohol industry—her blog's tagline is "Taking the beard out of beer since 2007"—has catapulted the hashtag #showmeyourflats by retweeting photos of women's shoes to her more than 22,000 followers.

Reached via email after having just run for a train in the hail wearing a pair of flats, Cole said she felt a responsibility to "stand up to this nonsense," especially considering her sizable social media presence. "I spend a lot of time fighting against the small but insidious amount of sexism in my little corner of the world, which is the beer industry, and when I saw this it struck me that there are so many wonderful women doing amazing things in all walks of life," she said, acknowledging the pun, "and it really annoyed me that this was how women were being judged as worthy to attend what is, after all, a professional event."

The dozens of shoe photos on Cole's feed show flats, boots, sneakers, and slippers, all intended to defy a suggested double standard for men's and women's dress codes.

Men have also been reportedly turned away from Cannes screenings for improper footwear, suggesting that sneakers or loafers would have been inappropriate for festival attendees to wear, regardless of the gender of the wearer. The dress code policy doesn't seem to have been enforced uniformly, nor does it ban flat-heeled shoes outright—but even the latest direction from festival officials seems pretty unclear.

According to a press statement obtained by BuzzFeed, a Cannes Film Festival spokesperson said: "Regarding the dress code for the red carpet screenings, rules have not changed throughout the years (Tuxedo, formal dress for Gala screenings) and there is no specific mention about the height of the women's heels as well as for men's. Thus, in order to make sure that this rule is respected, the Festival's hosts and hostesses were reminded of it."