An adage about business suits goes: you buy your first off-the-rail at 17, have one fitted at 40, then on retirement you get to burn the lot.
But what if you could, if not burn necessarily, but ditch the suit and instead opt for something a little more comfortable?
For staff at the London office of Baker McKenzie, that chance has now come – albeit limited to smart jeans. In a memo sent last month, and confirmed by the firm, the guidelines make clear that leggings, shorts and trainers are no-nos, while staff should dress appropriately ‘to reflect our working commitments on any given day’. No denim when that key client is in the building, in other words.
The death of the suit will be mourned by some, who may fear the high professional standards of this sector are bound up with how we look. Others may simply like wearing a suit (and let’s face it, which mere mortals among us can resist T.M. Lewin's current ‘four shirts for £100’ offer?).
Good on them. More power to your pinstripe.
For those who feel stymied by the suit, this comes as a blessed relief. Suits – particularly the cheap ones I buy – are a nuisance. A stifling, itchy straitjacket, which invariably requires a trip to the dry cleaners after every lunchtime trip to Itsu.
But is there more to this relaxed approach than simply goodwill to staff? The dress code demands of the modern worker feed into a wider craving for a more relaxed working environment. The new breed of solicitors want flexibility in how and where they work: remote working is no longer an option but a requirement. Witness the migration of lawyers from the traditional firm to the new wave of ‘virtual’ outfits, where practitioners keep a chunk of their billings and run every other aspect of their work.
Law firms must respond but are limited in how much they can cater for these needs. Many will have systems that do not accommodate remote working, while others will be constrained by their buildings.
Competition for talent is intense – not just from upstart law firms, but from other sectors such as technology and finance. All must battle for the best young recruits at a time when graduates are no longer wedded to the notion of a vocational career for life.
If jeans can help tap into the demands of this new generation, this could be a marginal gain for the traditional legal sector. Anything that causes resentment in the workplace would be a serious wardrobe malfunction.