You can be barefoot at most state and county fairs

Going barefoot at most state and county fairs is usually not a problem; though some, especially state fairs, do have “official” dress codes that include shoes being required. Whether that rule is actually enforced or not depends on which fair it is.

Some fairs have dress codes, some don’t

I recently reviewed the websites of 45 state fairs and 2 large county fairs, and I found that only 12 had any posted “rules and regulations” for visitors on their sites, with only 9 of those rules specifically including a shoe requirement.

As to the fairs that had no specific rules for visitors’ attire on their sites, I sent each of them an inquiry as to whether or not they had official dress codes. I did not specifically mention “shoes” in my question. I received responses from 5 state fairs saying that shoes were required, and 12 responses stating that they had no dress code at all for visitors. As of right now, my inquiries to 15 other fairs have not been answered yet.

The fairs that say they require shoes, either on their websites or in an email response, are these:

California – website
Delaware – email
Indiana – email
Louisiana – website
North Carolina (Mountain State Fair only) – website
New Hampshire (Hopkinton State Fair) – website
New York – website
Ohio – email
San Diego County (Calif.) – website
South Dakota – website
Tennessee – website
Virginia – email
Vermont – email
Wisconsin – website

Fairs that either have no official dress code for visitors or have no specific shoe requirements are these:

Alabama (North)
Alaska
Arizona
Colorado
Illinois
Iowa
Kentucky
Minnesota
Missouri
North Carolina
Nebraska
New Jersey
New Mexico
Orange County (Calif.)
South Carolina
Texas
Utah

The above lists will be updated as I receive any new information.

Inquiring about dress codes may not yield accurate or useful answers

Of course, as many of us barefooters have learned over the years, asking a business or similar entity if they have a dress code is fraught with risk and uncertainty as to receiving accurate and unbiased answers.

As to specifically asking if shoes are required or if it’s “OK” to be barefoot, a very wise rule of thumb is, “Never ask in advance.” The majority of businesses and similar entities have never given a “shoe policy” any thought at all, because there was never any issue or need to. But putting an owner, manager, or other spokesperson on the spot with such a direct question as to some sort of barefoot policy is almost assuredly going to get a “better safe than sorry” response.

I was careful in my inquiries to fairs not to mention “shoes” or “bare feet” to try to avoid any knee-jerk negative reaction. Even mentioning “dress codes” when none were already stated on the websites may in many cases have caused the “better safe than sorry” response of “shoes and shirts are required,” when in fact, there may have been no such official policy.

Dress codes may exist only in the minds of the one employee who responds to inquiries

For example, this interesting response was received from the New Jersey State Fair, which has no dress code posted on its website:

“Good afternoon,
Thank you for your interest in the NJ State Fair. There is no specific dress code, just the basics: shirt, pants/shorts, shoes. As long as what needs to be covered is covered in a taste full way. I hope this helps.
Warmest Regards…”

I responded back to them:

“Thanks for getting back to me. But I’m a little confused. You said there was no specific dress code, but then listed one. Of course being clothed within the law to avoid indecent exposure would be obvious and doesn’t need a specific dress code. However, shoes or shirts (for males) as customers or patrons of any business are not requirements of any law or health code. So, are those items formally required at the fair by a stated dress code, or not?”

Their response:

“Not that I’m aware of. Sorry for the confusion.”

So, does the New Jersey fair require shoes or not as an official dress code? Probably not. Their initial response was the knee-jerk reaction that I mentioned above.

So, the lists and information above may not need to be taken as “gospel,” but only somewhat general guidelines to be aware of. In fact, I have read anecdotal accounts of barefooters going to some of the “shoes required” fairs barefoot and having no problems from anyone while there.

The N.C. Mountain State Fair put up a ‘Shirt and Shoes Required’ sign to keep out topless women

There is an interesting situation in North Carolina. They have two official state fairs. The regular one held in Raleigh, and a smaller one held near Asheville, NC, called the North Carolina Mountain State Fair. That fair opened in 1994, and from 1994 through 2010, they had no dress code whatsoever. During that period, I attended that fair many times, always barefoot, and never a problem.

When I attended in 2011, I was shocked to see a large new sign that had been installed at the gate reading, “Shirt and Shoes Required.” I was barefoot as usual and entered the gate without an issue from anyone, where I spent the day barefoot with no hassles.

I later emailed the fair director to see what was going on. He called me later and left a voice mail message in which he stated that since there had been a female “Go-Topless” rally in Asheville a few weeks before, they were concerned about women showing up at the fair with bare breasts.

His exact words were (saved from my answering machine recording),

Actually, the reason we put those signs there, I had many concerned parents after the demonstration that we had in Asheville a couple of weeks ago with the women going shirtless, and we do consider this a family event, and we had people concerned about that.

What???

I found that justification so ridiculous it’s almost laughable. First, the “demonstration” he spoke about was a one-time thing that took place simultaneously with similar rallies in 11 other cities around the country, sponsored by the GoTopless.org organization, which holds these rallies in various cities around the country every year at about the same time. The chances of something similar taking place a few weeks later and at the fair were practically zero.

Second, if their concern was fear of women taking their tops off at the fair, why didn’t the sign read, “Women required to keep their tops on at all times”? Or simply, “Shirts required”? What do shoes have to do with it? Wearing shoes or not wearing shoes has absolutely nothing to do with wearing or not wearing a shirt or top. And wearing shoes had never been a rule or an issue at the fair before.

And third, did they really think that if another topless demonstration were to be organized around there and if they decided to do it at the fair, the mere presence of a sign would stop them? Not likely.

Over the next few days, the fair director and I exchanged several emails in discussion of the matter. I asked him if anyone in the prior 17 years the fair had been in operation had reported an injury to a bare foot. He told me no one had, but that recently someone had been injured when their flip-flop got caught in something. I suggested that perhaps he should then just ban flip-flops from the fair, not bare feet, for which there was no history of any problems at all. He had no answer for that.

He told me that even though he wasn’t authorized to remove the sign, I was welcome to go barefoot at the fair anyway, which I did of course in 2011, and also in 2012, and 2013.

In 2012, I was stopped at the gate by security guards telling me I had to have on shoes to enter. I showed them a copy of my email from the director giving me permission to be there barefoot, and they left me alone. In 2013, I don’t recall for sure, but I don’t remember anyone saying anything to me as I entered barefoot.

Sign put up at NC Mountain State Fair in 2011 - photo taken 2013.
Unwelcoming sign at N.C. Mountain State Fair put up in 2011. Photo taken in 2013.

I requested the N.C. Mountain State Fair unwelcoming sign be removed

I didn’t care for being an exception so much, and really wanted that sign removed. So later in 2013, I sent the fair director another email asking him once again to remove the sign, or if he couldn’t remove it, who could? He told me to contact the attorney for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, which has control over fairs in North Carolina, and gave me her name and email address.

I contacted her, and her response was rather curt; basically saying the sign would remain and be enforced.

In 2014, I decided to send a letter directly to the N.C. Commissioner of Agriculture, which I have copied below. (Note, all email quoted in the letter included the following statement, “E-mail correspondence to and from this address may be subject to the North Carolina Public Records Law and may be disclosed to third parties,” thus giving me permission to copy it here.)

February 3, 2014

Dear Commissioner Troxler:

I am writing to you to request your assistance in resolving an issue that began two and a half years ago at the North Carolina Mountain State Fair. I have been in contact with Matt Buchanan, the fair director, on several occasions regarding this matter, and recently he referred me to Tina Hlabse, to whom I sent an email several months ago. Unfortunately, her response was rather curt and disrespectful, and she has ignored my request for reconsideration.

The issue is that in 2011, the fair installed a large, very unwelcoming sign at its entrance gate declaring that fair goers must now be dressed in a certain way in order to be welcome and be admitted, “Shirt and Shoes Required.” Such a discriminatory sign never existed for the eighteen years the fair had been in existence prior to that, and I attended the fair for many of those years, each time while barefoot, which is normal mode of dress. After I retired in 2003, I decided, due to many medical issues I had with my feet caused by years of shoe wearing, to stop wearing shoes altogether. Since making that decision, not only have the medical and health issues with my feet disappeared, I have discovered a unique spiritual nature that can come only with direct contact with the earth and all that exists on it, and I will never wear shoes again.

However, this issue is not and should not be just about me. Not only does such a sign and such a policy keep me or anyone else who may happen to choose the same lifestyle that I have chosen away, the worst part is that the thousands of other people who are not directly affected by the sign see it every time they walk through the gate, and the myth that bare feet are somehow a “bad” thing gets constantly reinforced in the minds of everyone who sees it.

The ironic thing is that the sign that was put up was never originally intended to ban bare feet. It was put up only as a reaction to a female “topless rally” that had been held in Asheville a few weeks before. Mr. Buchanan in fact told me exactly that. It was some attempt to try to prevent, or at least have some legal ground to not allow, any women attending the fair from removing their tops in order to further demonstrate their topless “rights.” The fact that “shoes” was added to the sign was obviously based only on the irrational notion that a “shirt” requirement sign or rule must always include some kind of “shoe” requirement – even if there was never any circumstance, incident, or logical reason to institute such a rule.

To give you further details of why this sign is unneeded and inappropriate for a state fair, I am copying below the recent email correspondence I’ve had with Ms. Hlabse.

9/16/2013 email to Ms. Hlabse:

Hello Ms. Hlabse,

First, I do not want to in any way appear to diminish my gratitude for Mr. Buchanan’s understanding and respect for my unique situation and accommodating my entry into the fair with no problems.

The problem with the sign, however, is not about me at all. It is about human and civil rights; and it is about sending a wrong message to all the fair-goers and the public in general.

I know, and Mr. Buchanan knows, that the ONLY reason that sign was ever erected was due to the “Go Topless Day” rally they had in Asheville in 2011 and fears that some women might attempt to remove their tops while at the fair. He told me as much in his phone message to me after I contacted him about the new sign two years ago. That would have been a highly unlikely scenario, and as I’ve said before in other correspondence, if that was the concern, why didn’t the sign read, “Women required to keep tops on at all times”? Or, if the fair didn’t want to be that gender specific, why didn’t the sign read simply, “Shirts required”? Wearing shoes or not wearing shoes has absolutely nothing to do with wearing or not wearing a shirt or top.

Now, I realize Mr. Buchanan has strongly tried to justify the “shoes” part by claiming liability issues with bare feet. But apparently that was never a concern or issue at all in the eighteen or so years the fair existed before the female topless issue came up, and I freely entered, walked around and enjoyed the fair for many years while barefoot with never a problem or complaint from anyone. Was there suddenly a spate of barefoot injuries and claims the year before? Or was it simply the fact that someone thought if you ban shirtlessness (to stop those topless women), you certainly must also ban shoelessness, because they just “go together”? Such reasoning is just not logical or rational.

It would seem incredibly odd and inconsistent that any business, fair, or other public or private facility would require shoes due to “safety” or “liability” concerns, yet would freely allow certain types of footwear, such as flip-flops or other flimsy sandals, as well as high heels, for which there is documented proof as to their hazardous nature. Bare feet certainly pose no more risk than some of the types of footwear that the fair allows and that many fair-goers wear regularly.

To declare that “shoes” are required just seems fundamentally flawed, without defining exactly what is meant by the term “shoes.” Almost anything attached to or held on by feet nowadays is accepted as “shoes,” including flip-flops and other flimsy sandals. And there is clear documented proof on record that flip-flops are extremely hazardous, based on hundreds of claims and court cases on record (I have a list of those if you would care to see it). Even Mr. Buchanan cited a case of a flip-flop wearer getting his foot injured at the fair a few years ago. Yet I don’t believe you can cite a single case of anyone ever getting a bare foot injured at the fair. In fact, in spite of unfounded fears and assumptions to the contrary, there are practically NO court cases on record anywhere in the U.S. involving a barefoot injury in a store, fair, or other business where being barefoot is not otherwise the norm (such as a swimming pool).

But even if someone barefoot in a store or other business, or while attending a fair, were to sustain some injury to his or her foot, there is little to no likelihood in this state that the business or fair would be held liable for such an injury. That is because, as I’m sure you are aware, Ms. Hlabse, North Carolina follows a pure contributory negligence law system (unlike some other states whose laws are based on a comparative negligence system). That means that in North Carolina, and a few other states, if the injured party were responsible for the injury in ANY way – even 1% – no damages would be awarded. Therefore, the chances of a barefoot person prevailing in such a claim are practically nil, especially in this state. That’s because someone making a free will choice to actually enter a store, fairground, or other business while barefoot and then sustaining an injury would, in all likelihood, be seen as the party at fault – for simply being barefoot in the first place – and therefore responsible for that injury. Even a small part of the blame would render him or her ineligible to recover any damages. No lawyer would even take such a case, with no real chance of winning. I am not a lawyer, but I’ve done extensive research into these areas, and can see no reason, other than what can only be speculation, for the N.C. Mountain State Fair to have any concerns over this issue.

As I said, the sign is not about me or about how it may apply to me personally on any given occasion related to my own entry into the fair. Displaying such a sign raises much larger issues than the obvious unwarranted discrimination against certain people based on how they are dressed. Signs stating “shoes required” or “no bare feet” continue to reinforce the myth that bare feet are somehow bad. Many people erroneously even believe that requiring shoes (and/or shirts) is mandated by law or required by the health department. Nothing could be further from the truth. But such signs continue to cause this myth to be perpetuated. That’s the issue I have with the sign itself, notwithstanding the irrational assumptions upon which it’s based.

I hope you will consider what I have written above and be able to understand why, all things considered, this very unwelcoming sign should be removed.

As I mentioned in an earlier email to Mr. Buchanan, Mission Hospital in Asheville recently agreed to remove the same type of signs that were on two of their entrances. They realized that these types of signs are unwelcoming, arbitrarily discriminatory, and unnecessary. I hope you will be able to see this issue in the same light.

Looking forward to hearing back from you soon.

Kind regards,

Kriss Sands

10/14/2013 email answer from Ms. Hlabse:

Mr. Sands,

Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention.  I appreciate the arguments in support of your position; however, being barefoot is not a protected class.  Moreover, it is in the Department’s and the public’s best interest to require fairgoers who choose to attend the fair to wear shoes.  In the future, this policy will be strictly enforced.

Thank you,

Tina L. Hlabse

10/18/2013 email answer to Ms. Hlabse:

Dear Ms. Hlabse:

Of course, being barefoot is not a protected class. Your implication would seem to be that the fair would be free and justified to discriminate against anyone based on such things as race, age, gender, religion, or other attributes at will, were those classes not specifically protected by law. Not being a protected class is certainly no reason to discriminate against those who would choose to dress differently from the majority, when there is no documented proof that that difference has ever done any harm to anyone or would do any harm to anyone.

Best interest is a very subjective and vague term. Could you please explain in more specific terms exactly what events took place two years ago which caused a decision to be made to erect the sign, specifically as it relates to the shoe requirement?

The sign should be removed for the following reasons:

              1. There has never been a case or a claim related to a barefoot person injuring his or her foot in the 20-year history of the N.C. Mountain State Fair.
              1. There are practically no documented court cases within the entire United States in which an injury to a bare foot is claimed in a place where bare feet are not the norm. And of those few cases, none were adjudicated in favor of the barefoot plaintiff.
              1. Even if a barefoot person got his or her foot injured at the fair, North Carolina’s pure contributory negligence laws would prevent the fair from being held liable.
              1. Since the chances of a person with a barefoot injury at the fair prevailing in a lawsuit are practically nil, no personal injury attorney would likely ever even take such a case.
              1. In this day and age, for all practical purposes, nobody goes barefoot in public. If the purpose of the sign is to keep barefoot people out, it is simply a waste of resources.
              1. Since practically no one actually goes barefoot in public, especially to a fair, and since the fair would not be held liable for some potential barefoot injury, such signs have no real practical value whatsoever related to their ostensible purpose, and serve only to perpetuate the commonly believed myth that bare feet are bad and probably illegal.
              1. If safety and liability are cited as the reasons to ban bare feet, it is completely inconsistent and illogical to not also ban certain types of footwear that have indeed been proven to be hazardous and accident prone, such as flip-flops and high heels.
              1. Where a business requires shoes – as opposed to a neutral policy in which it does not concern itself in any way with customers’ attire – there is reason to believe that the business or other entity (such as a fair) is in effect accepting total responsibility for any mishap that may be caused by those shoes that the business required the customer to wear.
              1. The sign was never erected for the purpose of banning bare feet. It was erected only as an attempt to prevent women from removing their tops at the fair in reaction to the “Go Topless Day” that was held a few weeks before in Asheville.
              1. Since the original purpose of the sign was to ensure that tops or shirts would not be removed, adding a “shoes” requirement was nothing more than blindly following a popular cliché related to always including “shoes” when shirts were mentioned.
              1. If the fair really feels the shirt requirement is important and a useful way to help prevent female topless demonstrations (or young men from removing their shirts on a hot day to the “shock” of other fairgoers), it could simply change the sign to read, “Shirts required.”
              1. There is no law or health department requirement whatsoever, either federal, state, or local, in North Carolina that shoes or other footwear must be worn by a customer or patron in any private or public facility.
              1. There are no medical facts that would suggest that bare feet touching only the ground or a floor are in any way less healthy or more likely to catch or spread any infection than any other part of the body. In fact, bare hands are the most likely to spread infection and disease.
              1. I am not aware of any other fair, state or local, that has a similar sign posted at its entrance telling fairgoers how they must dress in order to be welcome.
              1. In addition to all the other reasons the sign is not appropriate and should be removed, such signs are simply blatantly unwelcoming and disrespectful to the general public.

I ask you to please reconsider, and have the sign removed, so the fair can go back to being the friendly, accepting place it was for many years before 2011.

Kind regards,

Kriss Sands

To date, no response to my last email has been received.

Mr. Troxler, having reviewed your record of excellent service to the people of North Carolina, it is my hope and belief that you will look carefully into this matter, judge the facts fairly, and make a decision based on the importance and priority of our American ideals and values of human rights and personal freedom, as opposed to restrictions and exclusions of certain people, where such restrictions and exclusions have no logical basis in fact or compelling need.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon. If you’d care to, you may call me at [xxx-xxx-xxxx].

Sincerely yours,

(Mr.) Kriss Sands

Commissioner Troxler responded with a respectfully worded letter, but saying they could not remove the sign.

Later in the year, I sent him another letter asking him to reconsider, and again he refused.

I have not attended that fair since 2013. The sign remains there, as far as I know, and since the Department of Agriculture attorney stated the sign will be “strictly enforced,” the fair director later told me that since I’d “made an issue” out of the sign, he now had no choice but to enforce it without exception.

The decision to no longer let me attend with my normal bare feet being based ONLY on the fact that I asked them to remove the unwelcoming sign (“made an issue”) is an example of nothing short of petty vindictiveness, not logic.

The regular, larger N.C. Fair in Raleigh has no dress code

Ironically, the much larger regular state fair of North Carolina, held in Raleigh each year, has no such sign, nor any dress code banning barefoot attendees. And it’s under the control of the same Department of Agriculture.

Many large fairs around the country treat their visitors with respect regardless of how they choose to dress

The N.C. Mountain State Fair is not the only fair I’ve attended many times while barefoot with no problem from anyone. One of the larger fairs in the country is the Orange County Fair held each year in Costa Mesa, CA. It lasts approximately four weeks, and the 2018 attendance was 1.5 million. They do not have a dress code (confirmed by email in my recent research), and during the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, I attended many times, always barefoot (and sometimes shirtless), with no problem at all. It has a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere that is respectful to all fair visitors, regardless of how they choose to dress.

(I guess there’s no imminent danger of topless women invading that fair which would necessitate that everyone wear shoes, as is the case with the N.C. Mountain State Fair.)

Why do some fairs have dress codes or unwelcoming signs at their gates?

As with stores and other businesses, the reasons fair managements decide to create dress codes and/or install rude and unwelcoming signs at their gates vary. But almost always it’s based on some combination of misinformation or misunderstanding of liability issues and ingrained personal bigotry against the free will choices of certain people who may choose to dress in an unusual or non-standard way.

Often, these dress codes or policies against bare feet are there only as a just-in-case legal protection. If someone were to injure his or her bare foot, the business or fair could then say, “We’re not responsible, because we warned you that shoes were required.”

Of course, they wouldn’t have been responsible anyway, as a barefoot person entering any business facility would always be deemed to have personally  accepted responsibility and risk, simply by having made that personal free will choice. The business or fair usually does not realize that requiring shoes is in effect accepting the responsibility themselves for any potential injuries that the shoes they required may cause. And note, they always consider flip-flops – the most hazardous and accident-prone footwear on record – to be “shoes.”

How does anybody know for sure if a fair will welcome them barefoot or turn them away?

Many fairs that actually have official dress codes requiring shoes may not say a word to a barefoot person. I know that from anecdotal Fun at fairs - no shoes needed.accounts I’ve read from various barefooters around the country. On the other hand, some fairs may have guards standing right inside the gates ready to immediately reject the entry of someone not wearing shoes, or may confront you later if you manage to make it in without being questioned.

If you’ve never attended some particular fair and are not familiar with their attitudes/friendliness toward their attendees, check first to see if they have an official dress code requiring shoes (see lists above). If they do, on the chance that they may enforce that, you may want to bring some kind of easy-on/easy-off shoes with you, like flip-flops, stashed away out of sight, just in case you are confronted and really do not want to leave the fair. Or just take your chances and be prepared to leave if you’re forced to.

If the fair has no dress code shoe requirement of record, it’s unlikely anyone will hassle you for being barefoot. Just go barefoot, and don’t worry about it. You’ll most likely have no problems and can enjoy the fair in comfort.


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