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‘More like Annabel’s’: London law firm seeks to redress dress code

Vardags advises staff to be ‘wildly fabulous and express yourselves to the full’ with their office attire

A patron at Annabel’s. The divorce and family law firm Vardags told staff to bring their ‘personality to work’ and adopt the dress code of the private members’ club. Photograph: Richard Young/Rex/Shutterstock

An electric blue sequined jacket and gold leather trousers topped with a funky pink hairdo may be a fashion connoisseur’s outfit of choice for a glitzy night on the town. At the legal firm Vardags, however, it is seen as appropriate office attire.

The divorce and family law firm suggested to its 120 staff they could shun the cufflinks and business suits associated with “bankers and estate agents” and wear these items instead.

It is part of a new dress code that is “more like Annabel’s”, the exclusive private members club in Mayfair which counts Lady Gaga, Naomi Campbell and Anna Wintour as patrons.

In a memo sent on Wednesday, staff were told “you can all be as wildly fabulous as you feel like, and express yourselves to the full” and to bring their “personality to work”. There are some caveats, however.

Ayesha Vardag, founder of the law firm, wrote to employees in 2019 telling them to look ‘executive’ and advised male staff: ‘It’s a Savile Row look we’re espousing.’ Photograph: Antonio Olmos

Suits will probably be needed for court “more or less” and attire has to be “formal, still absolutely top-end and appropriate to the luxury market with which we engage, not undermining your gravitas as a professional”.

Peter York, the writer and style commentator, called the new dress code “high publicity and low thought”.

“If you as a client were going to a mainstream law firm, do you want them to be chock full of personality? I think it’s out of date and there’s not very much substance to it,” York said.

He also questioned how many employees of the law firm, which is based in London but also has offices in Manchester and Cambridge, had actually been to the exclusive club.

“They should dress like they’re going to Annabel’s? How many of those people have actually been to Annabel’s?”

Lady Gaga, famous for her fashion wardrobe, is a patron of Annabel’s. Vardags wants staff to shun cufflinks and business suits associated with ‘bankers and estate agents’. Photograph: Andrew H Walker/Rex/Shutterstock for SAG Awards

The view on Savile Row on Thursday afternoon was mixed and suggests the muted suits associated with lawyers and other top-tier professions may be on the wane.

Patrick Grant, fashion designer and director of Savile Row-based Norton and Sons, said: “Grey and navy suits have definitely declined in number but more interesting colours like browns and greens and jackets are taking their place.

“In the last 10 years we have made more jackets and trousers than we have made suits. The people we tend to make outfits for have adopted a different uniform for work which is much less suit-oriented. We now make a lot more suits for people outside work. As a result we make more interesting suits.”

A sales manager on Savile Row who did not want to be named said: “You want someone to look presentable and smart, you would expect a lawyer to be.

“We’ve had the bankers switch but then it comes back around again because when people start turning up in pyjamas or something that doesn’t look smart then they’ll go back to wearing suits again.”

Shops on Savile Row. Patrick Grant, director of Savile Row-based Norton and Sons said clients in the last 10 years have ‘adopted a different uniform for work which is much less suit-oriented’. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

The new dress code suggests a U-turn from Ayesha Vardag, founder and president of the law firm, who in 2019 sent a memo to staff telling them to look “executive”. Regarding male employees, the memo said: “It’s a Savile Row look we’re espousing.”

The new dress code comes a month after a LinkedIn post by Vardag, 54, where she announced she had gotten a nose pin so she could “start to live as the person I really am”. She described the pin as “like a badge of my Pathan ethnic and cultural heritage, which I long to know and feel more”.

Annabel’s’ dress code, according to its website, is “intended to encourage individuality and fabulous party dressing”. The club’s dress code says patrons can wear jeans “if in a solid colour” and that trainers in “good repair” are permitted while men cannot wear shorts and excessive displays of skin are not permitted.

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