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.
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.