FAQ – Q21

Q21: How did “No Shoes, No Service” signs get started in the U.S.?

The reason many in the U.S. have a negative attitude toward bare feet in public is due to the proliferation of various forms of “no bare feet” signs, which began sometime in the early 1970s. So, as of the current day in the U.S., generations have grown up seeing these signs and being convinced there has to be something inherently bad about bare feet. Otherwise “why would there be signs?” And the signs that also include some reference to the “health department” convince them that bare feet are unhealthy as well.

But it wasn’t a negative attitude against bare feet that started the signs; it was the signs that started the negative attitude against bare feet. From about the mid 1960s through the early 1970s, two important social and political changes were taking place in the United States. An anti-establishment sub-culture of mostly young people known as “hippies” began to develop, whose alternative lifestyles and manner of dress, which sometimes included bare feet, were generally polar opposites of what mainstream America had been up to that point. Some conservative Americans viewed these people with a great deal of disdain, mainly because of their attire. In addition, about the same time, the U.S. was engaged in a war that was becoming increasingly unpopular. Hippies in general were strongly opposed to the Vietnam War and many became politically active in that opposition.

From the Wikipedia article “Hippie” (Scroll down to “Politics”):

In addition to non-violent political demonstrations, hippie opposition to the Vietnam War included organizing political action groups to oppose the war, refusal to serve in the military and conducting “teach-ins” on college campuses that covered Vietnamese history and the larger political context of the war.

The signs started as a way to keep these people out of many businesses,  not only because of their bare feet or other non-conformist attire, but due to their anti-establishment lifestyles as well as outspoken political views. They were considered un-American by many conservative business owners.

Attacking their mode of dress and using that as a means of exclusion was easy to do if you were a business owner. Bare feet or no shirts in public places, though not necessarily commonplace before that period, were nonetheless never an issue of health or cleanliness or any reason to ban anyone from entering a business. However, as it became apparent that the hated hippies quite often went barefoot, and perhaps shirtless as well on occasion, this unconventional manner of dress gave many conservative thinking businesses an easy way to identify, isolate, and ostracize what many felt was a dangerous social and political movement.

The idea of banning these undesirables based on their attire caught on, and at some point somebody came up with a “cleverly” worded sign using the word “NO” in large letters to cover two instances of unconventional attire that would result in not being served. It’s interesting that “shoes,” “shirt,” and “service” all begin with the same letter, and placing the same word in front of each results in a succinct and cleverly alliterative discriminatory dress code. They probably would rather have used “no entry” or “no admittance” instead of “no service,” but that just wouldn’t have rolled off the tongue quite as well.

So, in other words, those signs and those attitudes started out more as political statements, not dress codes based on any reason that may be claimed today, such as health, laws, liability, etc. People of today’s generation have no clue as to how or why they got started. They just assume that’s the way it’s always been and always should be, without even giving it a second thought – and that’s a shame.

It’s interesting that during that period, though the hippie movement spread to other parts of the world, no other country seemed to experience the same political upheaval and enmity that took place in the U.S. during that period.  So, apparently for that reason, no other country began posting signs; so other parts of the world never got brainwashed into believing that bare feet are a bad thing.

That’s how it all got started in the U.S.