Bobbly, fleecy and shamelessly practical. Cardigans may not be the most glamorous of sartorial attire, yet one businesswoman has taken her umbrage with the garments to new levels – by banning them from her office entirely.
Ayesha Vardag, who has been dubbed "Britain's top divorce lawyer" – an accolade she has used to describe herself on her website – has ordered all staff at her firm to cease and desist wearing cardigans and to stop looking like "pretty young things" around the office.
Instead, employees at her firm, Vardags, were told to aim to look “executive” and like "the president of a significant country".
Her comments were sent in an email to all 120 staff on Monday, with the subject heading "Cardigans!" The email, which has since been widely circulated on social media, was then promptly leaked. And mocked.
Ms Vardag, 52, who has also been referred to as “the Diva of Divorce”, rose to fame following her role in the landmark Supreme Court case of Radmacher v Granatino in 2010, which changed the law to make prenuptial agreements legally enforceable in the UK.
Katrin Radmacher, a German heiress, won a ruling holding that the prenup drawn up to protect her £100 million fortune from her French-born husband, Nicolas Granatino, was legally binding.
Ms Vardag acted for Radmacher during the the Supreme Court hearing. Farrer & Co, solicitors to the Queen, were then instructed to take over the case, dealing with implementation.
Since then she has specialised in high-net-worth divorce cases, often with an international or celebrity element.
In 2017, she acted for Pauline Chai, a former Malaysian beauty queen whose tycoon husband and non-executive chair of Laura Ashley Holdings, Khoo Kay Peng, wanted the case heard in their original homeland of Malaysia instead of the UK.
The High Court decided in favour of her client, awarding a sum of £64 million —one of the largest ever family law settlements in the UK.
'Woollies are verboten'
‘No brown in town’ may be a more well-known adage among professionals keen to dress the part, yet Ms Vardag’s latest comments have sparked controversy. Her latest fashion directive came in the form of an email to staff, which was sent on September 21, and leaked to the legal website RollOnFriday.
"I am seeing cardigans in the office,” she said. “Look at the dress code in the handbook. Woollies are verboten. Nothing you could get comfy in by the fire".
She also identified untied hair as cause for alarm. "Hair should be executive and very long hair should be pinned up", she continued. "Look like a pro, not a pretty young thing".
"Take yourselves seriously, so clients do too. Every day you should look as if you're capable of being president of a significant country", she said.
The email has drawn mockery among legal circles and on social media. Marjorie Creek, a private client solicitor based in the West Country, tweeted: “I guess my fleece, hiking trousers and [boots] wouldn’t quite cut the mustard in the big city and that’s ok, each to their own and all that malarkey #dartmoorlife.”
Another lawyer tweeted: “Really shocked that this person would focus on style and imagined prestige over substance. Really not in character”, while a law student added: “So can we presume from this, if you weren’t good looking enough you didn’t get the job?”
“Presumably the NQ's and other juniors will be provided with a wardrobe allowance?” another critic said.
Woman can be 'discreetly sexy'
Ms Vardag’s comments came as the rigorous and comprehensive Vardags dress code - which was circulated in summer 2019 was also leaked this week.
In the extensive 955-word guidance, Ms Vardag said women could be "discreetly sexy and colourful and flamboyant at the same time”, which translates as “a Chanel/Dior/Armani look” - and “nothing homespun or homely or what you’d cosy up by the fire in”.
“Cardigans are almost never ok,” she added. In fact, according to the guidance, Ms 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”.
She concluded by urging her employers to opt for “fewer items, quality, a la Francaise, one might say”.
In response to the leaked emails, Stephen Bence, the firm's Director of Strategy (and Vardag's husband), said: “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.
"Cardigans, while excellent for many occasions, are not compatible with our chosen style.”
Emma Gill, Director of Divorce and Family Law and Head of Vardags Manchester, added: “As a top law firm, our clients demand high standards of professionalism and this is reflected in our dress code policy.
“Alongside providing a sense of collegiality across our several offices, our dress code also demonstrates to our clients the attention to detail and the exceptional level of service we provide.
“It provides them with reassurance that we take ourselves seriously and therefore we take them and their needs seriously.
“While this is embraced by staff, the occasional reminder is in order to make sure we maintain our high standards.”