Cardi Free.

Ayesha Vardag, who describes herself as "Britain's top divorce lawyer", has ordered staff at her firm to stop wearing cardigans and to stop looking like "pretty young things" around the office.

In a message leaked to RollOnFriday, Vardag, who set up her firm after training at Linklaters and a stint at Weil, told her lawyers they should aim to look like "the President of a significant country" instead.

She sent her requirements to all 120 staff on Monday in an email headed "Cardigans!" 

"I am seeing cardigans in the office", fumed Vardag. "Look at the dress code in the handbook. Woollies are verboten. Nothing you could get comfy in by the fire". 


Woolly alert: Vardag's husband, Director of Strategy Stephen Bence, may be in trouble.

Flowing locks around the office were also identified as a problem. "Hair should be executive and very long hair should be pinned up", continued the self-styled divorce diva. "Look like a pro, not a pretty young thing".*


Someone should tell Vardag a lot of the lawyer profiles are going to need to be reshot with hairclips.

"Take yourselves seriously, so clients do too. Every day you should look as if you're capable of being President of a significant country", said the President of Vardags. 

vardags cardigans

RollOnFriday asked Vardags for clarification, in particular:

  • what's wrong with a cardie?
  • what is "executive hair"?
  • at what length does hair become "very long hair"?

“As a top City law firm, we hold ourselves to the highest possible professional standards, extending to our dress code - to which every employee consents upon joining the business", said Stephen Bence, the firm's Director of Strategy (and Vardag's husband).

"Cardigans, while excellent for many occasions, are not compatible with our chosen style”, he said.

In fact, according to the rigorous Vardags dress code which also leaked this week, Vardag “once sent a trainee in a cardigan out of a client meeting until she could borrow or find a jacket to wear”. They often look "a bit teenaged or low-rent", advises the code, and "baggy, billowy, shapeless things are not good”.

Instead, women should aim to be “formal” (but could also be "discreetly sexy and colourful and flamboyant at the same time”), which means “a Chanel/Dior/Armani look”.

The handbook specifies that men may wear cravats, but not “super-tight trousers". Or winkle pickers. Or, obviously, cardigans.

Vardags staff can't even wear chunky knitwear and hair down to their waists by working from home. Almost immediately after the government announced on Tuesday that people should WFH where possible, Vardag emailed everyone at the firm telling them "she is not going to allow people to work from home and expects them to all continue coming into the office", said a source.

Bence told RollOnFriday that it was a decision supported by the firm. Vardags' work "is shaped by collaboration, training and mutual support", he said, and there "was a strong consensus that not only is it in the best interests of our staff to continue to work from our offices, but it is the only way we can continue fully to operate the firm".

The office environment was compliant with government guidelines, said Bence, although, "our working arrangements are under constant review and we will re-instate working from home if this becomes necessary”. Vardags really is like its own country. Thank goodness no-one had to try to enforce a 15 person limit on Bence and Vardag's exceptional wedding.

The 'dressing up dressing down' email was also sent within hours of some staff receiving letters warning them that they were in teams being considered for redundancy. Bence confirmed that Vardags may make "around 10" people redundant, although he said it was seeking to minimise the number. 

Even before Covid, Vardags' profits had decreased from £688k in 2017/18 to £367k in 2018/19, while it added 35 staff. Since the pandemic, “Demand from clients has remained strong", said Bence, but delays in the court system "have slowed down the progress of cases with many hearings adjourned. We have, therefore, very regrettably and with great sadness been forced to initiate a redundancy process".

He said the firm "delayed this decision for as long as we could because we value every member of our staff and there is no one we want to lose. But this unprecedented time has obliged us to make very difficult decisions".

A flood of ultra-high net worth couples splitting after lockdown can't come soon enough.

*Not that kind of pro.

Tip Off ROF


ShootyMcShootyface 25 September 20 07:43

They should be more concerned that Holliday Grainger appears to have infiltrated their ranks (profile pics, bottom left), doing on of her excellent "Cormoran Strike" undercover roles.

Onanymous 25 September 20 08:00

Nothing wrong with that email. The last sentence is awkward, but does not warrant an article.

Lydia 25 September 20 08:15

Her hair isn't up in the first photo and looks a bit messy. However she is right that some work cannot be done from home and it has certainly been and remains lawful to have staff in the office if required. Also she is right about looking smart for client meetings. Clients tend not to pay us to look too relaxed.

Anonymous 25 September 20 08:19

Imagine if the diktat email was sent by a male boss.  Should have the same outrage here.

milady 25 September 20 08:49

I have to agree with her.  Dress standards have really slipped amongst young women in the law.  Wearing a cardigan to a client meeting is not ok.  

Anon 25 September 20 08:56

If it was a male partner requiring that women employees aim to be "discreety sexy" he would be burned at the stake

broodmoth 25 September 20 09:09

Can any employment lawyers out there give us their thoughts on a staff handbook that requires female lawyers to be "sexy"?

Anonymous 25 September 20 09:28


"..., women should aim to be "discreetly sexy and colourful and flamboyant at the same time”, which means “a Chanel/Dior/Armani look”."

Anonymous 25 September 20 09:35

Classic small firm, small mind mentality. One nutty partner wanting to implement the “standards” they learnt during their training contract at a magic circle firm thirty years ago, ignoring the fact that the magic circle no longer impose those same requirements.

There’s also a pretty big difference between wearing a cardigan in the office and wearing one to a client meeting. Most men (and women) keep a suit / jacket cupboard in the office to change for client meetings.

Surprised there haven’t been more comments about forcing people into the office. I am seeing a number of small firms (largely in the family / private client space) taking this tack when it is clearly inconsistent with the spirit of the government guidance. Hardly acting with integrity.

Anonymous 25 September 20 09:39

Isn’t this the crazy iPad lady who lives in and works from the UAE and has a mobile robot with an iPad attached roaming the office to monitor staff?

Anonymous 25 September 20 09:42

“discreetly sexy and colourful and flamboyant at the same time” Wtf? That can’t really be in a dress policy at a Law Firm, can it?!

Wig jockey 25 September 20 09:43

Agree with other comments.  Nothing wrong with a firm not allowing cardis, especially if it's actually in the dress code.  But requiring women to be "discreetly sexy" is pretty incredible in this day and age.

Stayathomesol 25 September 20 10:26

Sorry but I haven’t been able to take this woman seriously since that wedding website. Once seen, never forgotten. Shudder. 

Such a shame it’s been taken down! 


Anonymous 25 September 20 10:27

“Demand from clients has remained strong", said Bence, but delays in the court system "have slowed down the progress of cases with many hearings adjourned. We have, therefore, very regrettably and with great sadness been forced to initiate a redundancy process".

Sounds like BS Bence

Anonymous 25 September 20 10:28

If I wanted legal advice, there is no way I would take the fake tanned red suit shoes on sofa one seriously.  Unless I wanted cheap legal advice or residential conveyancing and I didnt have a choice 

Anon 25 September 20 10:39

@Anonymous at 08:00

I just checked the website to see if this was an unrepresentative sample. It's not. That is comfortably the least diverse firm I've seen in London. 

unknown rider 25 September 20 11:18

Mr Bence charges on matters at the firm at an eye watering hourly rate... for his "consultancy advice".



Anonymous 25 September 20 11:30

@ 10:39 an all female workforce is by definition 100% diverse. 

It's 2020. There's no need for firms to hold back female careers by packing their staff with useless white men with firsts from Oxbridge. That kind of outdated 'academic achievement' approach just holds back proper representation of vulnerable minority groups.

You should be celebrating these womens' success. Not trying to drag them down just for refusing to hire men.

Anonymous 25 September 20 11:45

I want to know which countries she thinks are insignificant. And how she thinks their presidents dress.

Anonymous 25 September 20 11:47

"Discreetly sexy" isn't new. One of the Jones Day associates I worked work told me that she had won a client by slipping off her shoes and sliding her foot up his calf under the table - which might explain why he insisted on working with her.

Anonymous 25 September 20 11:50

@11:30 packing your firm with a bunch of female white poshos doesn’t make you diverse. Have you seen their website? Scarcely a BAME person to be seen. It’s like an alumni album for a Swiss finishing school

Anonymous 25 September 20 11:59

Every 'pretty young thing' in the photos above looks far more professional than Vardag, who looks like she owns an estate agents in Rochdale.

anonymous 25 September 20 12:01

If I was an employee at Vardags I would be slightly more concerned with the £3.5M of fees being charged by 'related parties' operating out of Dubai for management consultancy services than an e mail telling me to tie up my hair and take off a cardigan


Anonymous 25 September 20 12:17

@11:50 a female workforce is a diverse workforce. End of.

Stop trying to erase female success by adding arbitrary criteria that only women need to fulfil. They don't need your approval to be diverse and to be represented. 

Also, I note that you wouldn't criticise a BAME man for being too 'posh', you only do it for women to try and hold them back (no doubt you also think they're "bossy" and "strident" and "horsey"). Basically, this is yet another example of women being made to work four times as hard as men for the same success.

If you really want to see more BAME representation in the legal profession then white men need to Step Aside and give up their jobs and careers to enable that access. Stop using that fact as an excuse to try and exclude even more women from the law.

Anonymous 25 September 20 12:29

Not sure if you’re joking, but it’s not an all-female workforce, they clearly have male lawyers. And they’re all white too. 

Anonymous 25 September 20 13:25

@12:29 yes, Vardags is not yet an entirely diverse firm. 


But they're clearly making excellent progress in the right direction, and that needs to be applauded.

Leftwellout 25 September 20 14:59

Women should not be solicitors. Simple as that. I don't know what the world is coming to.When did this happen? I have been in the colonies for a while.

Of course, we do not want to be unreasonable. There may be vacancies for war widows in solicitors offices as cleaners and receptionists. And some of those typist type thingies. Bus conductors (if there is another war on.)

Otherwise, outside the home, women should only be seen in clubs, (of various sorts.) Or selling cigarettes in movie theatres. Perhaps as shop assistants. Check those ones can count to at least the number 10. Otherwise that is a job for a man. Dear God. 

Cœlesti Luce Crescat 25 September 20 19:31

Congratulations to Ayesha for seeking to raise standards of dress amongst family lawyers. Sadly the Resolution, the family lawyers organisation, provides no guidance in relation to dress and, in family law, at least, the Vicky Pollard school of dress sense has gained ground over these last few years (walking through the throngs at family Law conference has become something akin to a stroll through Wallmart). How can well dressed clients Possibly want be represented by rather grubby and shoddily clod lawyers? Ayesha, the UK’s top divorce lawyer, quite rightly, recognises that something has to be done. 

Ayesha is a colourful beacon of hope for those of us who wish to remain “Legally Stylish“. 

Anon 25 September 20 19:55

Who does she think she is? I thought we were moving in to a free, dress-down world? Maybe the dinosaurs might realise they don’t own their staff??

Anonymous 25 September 20 20:14

Instead, women should aim to be “formal” (but could also be "discreetly sexy and colourful and flamboyant at the same time”), which means “a Chanel/Dior/Armani look”.


Why do you want to dress like a trophy wife when you can be in a YSL power suit?! 

Anonymous 26 September 20 11:33

@Leftwellout - it is sexual harassment to suggest that women should be doing anything than 100% of jobs in law. No proof of this sexual harassment is needed, in fact asking for any proof of sexual harassment is misogynistic. End of.

Alexander de Pfeffel Johnson 27 September 20 23:42

You should see me in my red trysers.

Makes the women melt.

Bit like my reputation really.

Lady Penelope 29 September 20 12:00

Her own hair looks pretty disheveled and why has she got her shoes up on the sofa? Get it together, Ayesha.

Anonymous 01 October 20 12:26

I used to work here and this is only a fraction of the hell we used to get from her. A truly awful place to work with truly awful management. 

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