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

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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.”



Interesting to think about what would have happened if a man authored the same email

Chrissie Amanda

Pitchforks and flaming torches I expect.

Bel Grant

“Be overtly sexy” instead.

Alan Murray

It’s tongue firmly in cheek. Surely???


What? Not sure why you think that. Your tongue is firmly in ass it seems.

Just Anonymous

Amusing as this email is, could I just point out that Legal Cheek’s previous reporting on it was a little misleading.

Vardag did not (as alleged in the previous article) direct her female employees to be “discreetly sexy.” She directed them to be “formal”. She said that they could be “discreetly sexy” as well, if that were their preference. But she didn’t say they had to be. The full relevant text is as follows:

“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.”

Bel Grant

I am inclined to agree, although The Telegraph reports it as more like a command, which is most certainly is not. In the email, the dress code didn’t look too bad to me. Cardigans are not formal and unless they border on a very smart, virtually tailored coatigan style, the sloppy hang loose wooly garments are unlikely to look good in a legal firm. Most City firms have a similar dress code. Far better a tailored jacket.

So, dress code is not the issue, but there are other worrying aspects to this email: the implied ageism, lookism contained within it – especially as these remarks are aimed at females only. The email implies that employees are to be slim and to stay fit and ‘look gorgeous’ and to be energetic. I find those remarks far more offensive than spelling out a formal dress code in the way it did. I don’t suppose for one minute that this firm would hire a fit enough but overweight, older female who has a A star CV. The overall tone of the email suggests that young and fit is more important than ability.

That is why I would avoid them like a bargepole. Any law firm that cares more about harmonising colours at a party, whether they allow their young female employees the choice to be discreetly sexy or not, has got its priorities skewed.


Dear Bel,

Taking care of oneself, staying fit and healthy is not just for the young. In fact, it is even more important the older we get, especially to stay fit. By this time we know more and more who we are. It’s a matter of self-respect and self-care for anyone.


Nudge nudge, hint hint

The Var Dags LLP

Lmao president Ayesha, completely batsh*t insane. It’s always these two-bit small firms that pull this kind of stuff isn’t it?


Serious question/not a wind-up: does anyone know what kind of NQ whack Vardags actually pay? £50k maybe?


Would assume closer to MC/US given the profile of cases the firm handles.


Their 2 PQE salary was (a couple of years ago) c.£60k…


Christ, nannies get more than that nowadays.


Lmao I don’t think you understand how family law works mate 😀







Patrick Bateman

What a tragic individual. Insecure to the max…

US Newly Qualified

Says you?

Patrick Bateman

I need to go and return some videotapes


When you are running a cult not a law firm: “for public events or socialising, and on reception too, I would prefer that we harmonise our clothing colours to the brand colours”…


This is all rather cringe I must say. Comes across very phoney, wannabe..


And lo, the “Vardigan” was born


A quick look through the profile on the firm’s website reveals very little ‘Chanel/Dior/Armani’ . . .

Lots of red ties though, in keeping with the firm’s branding. The classic ‘high-street bank/building society’ look.


F***ing deranged


Take her to the cleaners Tommy Boy.

Kir Kla Nd N Q

We dress better over here, son.

Chambers Best Dressed Firm Award 2019!

Kirkland NQ

It doesn’t matter what you wear at the ‘land, because you’d have to try pretty hard to look bad behind the sumptuously upholstered wheel of an angry Emilia-Romagnan carbon fibre composite bull.


Back to your textbook fresher, this schtick is well tired.


I would agree with every word she said. People need to understand that when you work with super wealthy client’s, you need to look appropriately. If you are the high-class firm you high class in everything from your look to your knowledge of the law.

Grammar Nazi

Wealthy client’s what?

Greasy pipe

Hi Ayesha, nice of you to join us.


From her profile:

Ayesha is a Shehzadi of the Pashtun Lodhi dynasty which ruled India before the Mughals. She grew up in an Anglo-Scottish home in Oxford with her English mother who worked at New College, while being romanced with stories of her father: barrister, politician, alumnus of Magdalen College, and the youngest ever senator of Pakistan. Amnesty International campaigned for her father when he was repeatedly imprisoned and mistreated for making pro-democracy speeches under martial law. He faced down three assassination orders under a previous regime. Ayesha’s grandfather was exiled by the British for pro-independence politics and her grandmother grew up in the old royal style, carried everywhere in a palanquin until her marriage, then became an exiled princess in a palace in the deserts of Saudi Arabia until her husband was recalled to become Mayor of Karachi. Ayesha – (pronounced I-sha) – was named by her mother after the legendary heroine of the 19th century novels “She” and “The Return of She”, written by anthropologist and explorer Rider Haggard, dubbed “She-who-must-be-obeyed” and immortalised by Hammer films with Ursula Andress and Christopher Lee. Ayesha enjoys opera, travel, movies and dramas, and has six combined children, six dogs, six cats and twenty horses. She is a committed amateur horsewoman, eventing and showjumping, and has a small private competition yard in West Sussex competing as Vardags Equestrian. She lives in Dubai with regular time in England and has a holiday home in Southern Italy.



‘Ayesha is a Shehzadi of the Pashtun Lodhi dynasty which ruled India before the Mughals.’

Do clients really care about how their lawyer traces their ancestry to before the Mughals???

So very ‘Lord Harley’.

I presume capes and decorations are banned at the office too?


Six combined children?! Makes it sound as though she’s sent them to print room or something.


Actually makes them sound conjoined. Almost human centipede-esq.


It is so restarted that I thought it was your sarcastic fiction. It is not


“Lives in Dubai”

That’s all they needed to write. Explains everything.


“I was formally reprimanded at Linklaters by my ex-husband when he was my training principal for wearing a trouser suit” Lol that explains it all.


yeah it was all pretty standard until it got to this. this got me. there are so many layers here.


Also you may wish to name your first child, boy or girl, Ayesha, otherwise you know where the door is.

Cœlesti Luce Crescat

Congratulations to Ayesha for seeking to raise standards of dress amongst family lawyers. Sadly 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“.


Hello Ayesha! 👋

Oh come on

OK Mr Bunce, calm down.


“Resolution”, whose suggested code of practice has been famously ignored by 99% of family law firms.

Going by that, wouldn’t see much point in them having a dress code.

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