Exclusive: The Ayesha Vardag leaked ‘dress code email’ in full

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By Thomas Connelly on


Divorce lawyer Ayesha Vardag

Legal Cheek brought you the exclusive news yesterday of how one of the country’s top divorce lawyers, Ayesha Vardag, once advised female staff to ditch their cardigans and, according to their preference, could “be discreetly sexy” in an astonishing dress code email.

The extensive guidance, circulated in the summer of 2019 to staff at Vardag’s family law firm, Vardags, urged women to aim for “a Chanel/Dior/Armani look” and “nothing homespun or homely or what you’d cosy up by the fire in”.

In light of the enthusiastic reception the story has received, and the fact that it’s a Friday, we felt it was only right that we publish the incredible email in full — yes, all 955 words! Enjoy…

Dear all,

With so many fabulous new team members, and a bit of wild tech-start-up culture developing in No 5 Old Bailey (trainers have been reported – yes, trainers!) I thought I should tell new Vardagians and remind old Vardagians that we have a few elements to the Vardags brand.

On the one hand we are the cleverest, the most intellectually creative, the highest quality, the most can-do, the most results-focussed, the most commercially savvy, the most innovative, the modern, the laser-focussed, the dynamic, the winners;

On the other hand, we are bright and beautiful, glamorous and sophisticated, utterly professional and looking, and we have a strong visual and aesthetic integrity.

This latter means we need to be looking fabulous at all times, including during the summer heat. Most of you already do.

Men are to be classic, tailored, formal, but that can still be super-chic. I don’t mind cravats, formal waistcoats, etc. Woolly jumpers or singlets (woolly vests), tweed or top-stitched trousers of any description are not formal wear. Or indeed any super-tight trousers or pointy toes. They are sternly frowned upon. Shoes should be classic, and black. NOT trainers. Never wear brown in town. It’s a Savile Row look we’re espousing. Generally, double cuffs and cuff links can transform the quality you project. Go for fewer items in your wardrobe, of quality.

Women are to be similarly formal but you can still of course be discreetly sexy and colourful and flamboyant at the same time according to your preference. It’s a Chanel/Dior/Armani look. Shoes should be elegant, not flip flops. I don’t say high-heeled, as I feel high heels have been disenfranchising and disabling women for decades, but elegant. Cardigans are almost never ok. I once sent a trainee in a cardigan out of a client meeting until she could borrow or find a jacket to wear. Nothing homespun or homely or what you’d cosy up by the fire in. Tailored jackets or formal dresses/suits are business dress.

Trousers suits are just fine (I was formally reprimanded at Linklaters by my ex-husband when he was my training principal for wearing a trouser suit so I’m particularly keen to encourage them). Scarves are good but should be silk and classic, not raggedy and sloppy or the sort of thing you might stuff in your backpack on your Gap year. Again, fewer items, quality, a la Francaise, one might say.

Stockings/tights should be sheer, black only with black or dark grey, otherwise natural, and skirts should be long enough for that to be ok. Jersey and stretchies generally are to be treated with extreme caution. Some can be classic and formal but often they look a bit teenaged or low-rent. Baggy, billowy, shapeless things are not good.

Avoid big prints and patterns, polka dots and florals, they rarely look good as business dress on large areas ( by which I mean, for example, jackets, trousers or dresses — nothing to do with size of person!) though a blouse or scarf may be fine.

Hair should always be squeaky-clean and should at least appear natural. Brush your hair!!! Check the mirror before you come out in the morning! Do not look as if you were dragged through a hedge backwards! Consider putting it up if it’s very long. It’s not a rule, but consider it. A chignon packs a lot of power punch. I can show you how to tie a scarf and set a chignon if you like. I’m that old.

Be elegant, sophisticated, classic but with glamour and style. If in doubt, just be classic. Simple and classic.

Never be tacky or tarty and at the same time never be drab. It’s a delicate balance which most of you know instinctively. The naked look, with lots of flesh, is not ok.

If nails are polished they must not be chipped and must be in (you guessed it) classic colours, not green, blue, black, etc. Clear lacquer or just oiling and filing may be safest in your busy and active lives but if you want to take on the scarlet commitment, hey.

Imagine you’re running for Prime Minister, (I mean a serious Prime Minister) or head of a major global corporation and you want to inspire awe, respect, credibility and universally slavish adoration every single day. Easy!

And keep up your health, exercise, fitness, most of all so you feel amazing and are strong and energetic, but it has the added benefit of making you look great too, as you are all gorgeous people, and looking fabulous boosts confidence like mad. I know I am in a glass house on this point. I have therefore been busy denying myself many pleasures, learning to love salad and doing the original Jane Fonda workout (still the best) daily. Which has made me drop a dress size, and that is something, though there are many more to go. And it’s definitely a good thing. Eat well, move a lot, watch what you drink, get outside as much as you can, and glow.

The other thing to note is that the firm’s colours are red, black, silver/grey and ivory. Solid colours, not stripes, spots, etc. You can wear other colours — I don’t want to exclude your peacock greens and fuchsia pinks and personally I love them- but for public events or socialising, and on reception too, I would prefer that we harmonise our clothing colours to the brand colours. It looks amazing when we dominate a room with our beautiful, brilliant people identifiable in our colours.

I have given XXXXXX the authority to speak to anyone not suitably attired.

Enjoy the sun, in fabulous Vardags branded colours and style. Be your elegant best.


Ayesha Vardag

Vardags director of strategy, Stephen Bence, told Legal Cheek:

“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. While most of our staff have a full understanding of the standards we hold ourselves to, the occasional reminder is needed.”