News that the head of law firm Vardags has instructed staff to ditch the suits and channel Annabel’s, the exclusive Mayfair nightclub, when selecting their outfits has raised some eyebrows.
But transferring the dress code of a members club to a workplace has some sense behind it. As with Annabel’s, hotpants or dirty trainers would probably not feature in most people’s idea of a professional outfit, and “smart, elegant attire” – the aim of the dress code for the Mayfair club – works as an overarching rule of thumb for work too.
Annabel’s say linen is OK if pressed, jeans are permitted if “a solid colour” and a round-neck T-shirt can be worn if with a tailored jacket. They also ban “gym wear” and flip-flops. These all seem fairly reasonable for a place of work – especially in a conservative sector like law.
The details of the dress code is where it is perhaps less transferrable. A ban on a “excessive displays of skin” feels a bit subjective, and could lead to employees being singled out for what they wear. Men being banned from wearing shorts in the office feels a bit unfair for the summer months, ditto the specification that they must wear a jacket after 6pm. And the rules around hats – trilby allowed, caps banned – are frankly unfashionable in a moment where the baseball cap is the statement accessory.
It’s cheering to hear Ayesha Vardag, the firm’s founder and president, encouraging her staff to “bring their personality to work”, and to “be as wildly fabulous as you feel”. For too long, sectors like law and finance have lagged behind wider trends towards a more casual way of dressing, with suits and shirts still dominating. If the rise of the tech industry over the last 20 years has popularised an equally dull uniform of nondescript hoodies and jeans, the idea of staff members being encouraged to express themselves through clothes feels progressive. “If you fancy an electric-blue sequined jacket and gold leather trousers, if you want pink hair or scarlet DMs, if you want a purple velvet jacket, that’s all good,” the memo reads. It also specifies that, tech staff aside, a “hoody-techy” look is not allowed.
Whether or not Vardag’s employees will actually take her up on the offer remains to be seen. Most lawyers probably remain hardwired to adhere to a formalwear dress code. The fact that Vardag’s email comes with the caveat that suits are still required for days in court suggests we’re still a while away from a completely “anything goes” approach to fashion at work.