Classic styles or casual dress
3 May 1996
The concept of 'Dress down Fridays' was imported into the UK by US corporations. The policy allowed employees to dress in more casual clothing, such as open-necked shirts and casual trousers, in the run-up to the weekend.
City law firm DJ Freeman has issued guidelines on dress which include a ruling that male employees should not wear "ear-rings, nose rings and similar" and hair should be short.
It continues: "All male fee earners should wear a suit - preferably in grey or navy - with a suitable tie and shirt. Blazers, sports jackets, leather jackets and flannels are not acceptable." The code also stipulates a dress or suit for women but trousers are acceptable if they are tailored.
Generally, there is no ruling about colours, but the tendency is for lawyers to be, as one observer describes them, "lawyer-ish", sticking to the classic colours of black and white, or dark grey and navy blue.
That reversion to classic styles has also been noted in a smaller way by Hermes, which produces one of the most popular tie choices for lawyers. Its fun design animal ties were the norm during the 1970s and 1980s but these are now being superseded by the more classic graphic prints, such as snaffles.
Ties are one of the few accessories where male lawyers can be more individual. Larry Nathan, a senior assistant solicitor in Mishcon De Reya's commercial department, admits to owning and wearing a bright yellow tie with Donald Duck emblazoned on it, as well as occasionally wearing cufflinks ranging from replicas of taps to treasury tags.
He says: "Anyone who calls themselves a 'media lawyer' almost has a duty to dress differently to distinguish them from lawyers in other areas of practice, usually (but not always) to identify with their clients."
Gill Johnson, business affairs manager at London Weekend Television, says that although the company's in-house lawyers always wear dark-coloured suits with ties, and there is a tendency for the women to wear dark trousers most of the time, they definitely dress differently from private practice lawyers, but in an "indefinable way".
And surprisingly, programme lawyer at Live TV Neil Pepin says that for a period he was the only person on the 24th floor at Canary Wharf to wear a suit. More recently, he adds, others have also started wearing suits rather than 'going casual'.
Although law firms, and particularly those in the City, have always encouraged conservative dressing, there is still a little room for individuality to show itself.
At Manchester firm Vaudreys, for example, the head of the commercial property department Mark Pattison occasionally wears his hair in a ponytail at weekends, but in the office it is usually long enough to cover his collar.
He says he grew his hair about five years ago when one of his daughter's friends described him as a "skinhead in a leather jacket".
Pattison adds that the length of his hair has tended to elicit amused comments from fellow property lawyers and disappointed ones from clients' wives who, having heard comments about his hair, expect it to be much longer.
Most firms' dress codes are for guidance only. At Taylor Joynson Garrett it is stressed that the firm considers it important for individuals to retain their own style.
In its dress guidelines the practice has made every effort "to allow a degree of freedom", but not to the extent of allowing jeans, leggings, ski pants or shorts.
But one place where they do have 'Dress down Saturday' is Hong Kong, where the banks and professional practices work on Saturday mornings.
Because of the climate, the norm is to wear short-sleeved polo shirts into the office but even in this area there is a certain uniformity with designer casual wear such as Ralph Lauren being worn.
And one lawyer working for an international firm in Hong Kong recalls being told that during the week, acceptable business dress in Hong Kong for men includes a safari suit - he adds that he has yet to meet a lawyer in a safari suit, but that form of attire definitely would be 'dressing badly'.