A sociologist friend of mine was quite surprised to witness the spectacle of political scientists parading around the Palmer House Hilton in suits—apparently, sociologists don’t dress up for conferences, but political scientists (for whatever reason) do. I tend to think the suit is best reserved for special occasions; I wouldn’t dream of teaching in a suit on a regular basis (and, in fact, have only done it once—when I had a job interview immediately after class—although I’ll be teaching in a suit tomorrow as well), and if I were the churchgoing sort, I probably wouldn’t wear a suit to church either. On the other hand, I like my suit, and I don’t even mind wearing a shirt and tie on a semi-regular basis (and I have been known to wear a shirt and tie when teaching). Plus my suit actually manages to make me look halfway respectable, which is no minor feat.
As for Ms. Butler’s complaints about footwear, I can empathize—finding comfortable dress shoes is something of a challenge for me, given my rather wide feet, although my recent pair of SAS leather shoes are remarkably comfortable (my mother swears by SAS). I honestly don’t pay much attention to the footwear that female political scientists wear at conferences, though they do tend to dress more casually than the men, so I suspect many eschew heels in favor of more comfortable footwear, a decision I wholeheartedly support.
I am also rather convinced that the only people, aside from those with various fetishes, who care what shoes women wear are other women. Not being a sociologist, though, I can’t explain why this would be the case or how this might affect one’s strategies in making more comfortable footwear acceptable for women’s business attire.