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  • Marija Kazlauskaite

Dress codes’ within Law Firms and the Fall of Plain Jane

The fall of Plain Jane, and the rise of flexible dress-code requirements’: do law firms impose a certain ‘dress code’ upon women, and in light of modern-day dynamics, is this being abandoned? It is 6 am GMT. You are a female trainee solicitor at a city law firm getting dressed for the day. You have two options. Option A is a black mid-length, tight-fitting dress accompanied by simple black heels. Option B is a green blouse paired with a white mini skirt alongside orange pumps. Pick your poison.

As per Virginia Lawyers Weekly, 87% of those pariticpating found high-heels an ‘appropriate’ and a ‘sensible’ choice of footwear for female attorneys, regarding flats as a ‘no-go’. Yet, what is deemed as ‘appropriate’ and ‘sensible’? After researching dress-code requirements at various top city law firms within the UK, words such as; ‘midi-skirts’, ‘no cleavage, ‘plain’ and ‘heels’ rose to the forefront to describe what female employees were ‘expected’ to wear. One may argue that such words connote a rather ‘Plain Jane’ perspective. As a point of clarification, there is absolutely nothing plain about this specific ‘dress code’, yet rather the way in which it has been conceptualised to both restrict and at the same time impose an expectation upon female professionals to dress in a certain manner. The House of Commons in their 2017 paper have noted that ‘it’s still legal in the UK for a company to require female members of staff to wear high heels at work against their will.’ So, whilst there should be a certain degree of dress requirements in a professional setting, do law firm impose an ‘out-dated and sexist’ expectation upon their female staff?

Common trends: high-heels and high standards Upon a Google search of ‘dress codes at Freshfields law firm’ we are presented with a neatly laid out PDF document describing what staff at Freshfields are ‘advised’ to wear. Whilst the ‘expectations’ are of similar nature for both men and women, ‘no patterns or stripes’, if we take a closer look at female photograph example, the model is wearing heels. So while there is no explcit mention of a footwear requirement, one may say that a requirement is largely alluded to by the photograph example. Slightly ironic? Let’s move to Law Absolute, a recruitment page. As per these recruiters, similar ‘expectations’ to those of Freshfields are sugested to young legal pofessionals. It is advised that female lawyers ought not to ‘wear high heels that you have trouble walking in’. So, while this page offers a rather humorous guide as to the ‘do’s and dont’s’ of dress-codes, it epitomizes the fundamental issue with these requirements at law firms. They are traditional, out-dated and rather patronising.

A hopeful future? Magic circle firm, Pinsent Masons, sets an example

After various lobbying, petitions and defeats, it appears major city law firms are changing their stances towards dress-code requirments to reflect modern-day dynamics. Christina Blacklaws, former President of the Law Society notes that law firms including, Slaughter and May and Pinsent Masons, have adopted the implementation of changes which allow greater flexibility in one’s choice of attire illustrating ‘a huge and positive impact on inclusion and law firm culture.’ These law firms, including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, have allowed both male and female staff to dress ‘in line with their gender identity and expression’. Therefore, while some degree of dress professionalism is still expected, these positive changes reflect the influence of the new generation on the rather ‘out-dated’, traditional and patronising dress-code requirements, and so the fall of the Plain Jane concept.


[@law_with_marija] Sources: s-code-for-law-firms poll-results/ guide-reveals-a-sexist-double-standard/

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