No Brown In Town – It’s Not The Law Firm, Nor Partner, Which Decides These Things

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A useful example of a societal misconception here. It’s not the partners in a law firm which decide what the sartorial rules in The City are. Or anywhere else of course. Those are decided by the wider society. For example, it is not the Mayor of Cannes who decides that women may go topless on the beach but should be rather more covered when walking down the main street. This is something decided by that wider society of those who go to and live in Cannes. What is it that is the accepted local mores?

Sure, Les Plod might be the enforcers, the Mayor could be the person who encodes, but the source is the wider milieu in which things are happening. This is true of both moral and sartorial codes. Once we grasp that we can understand what is going wrong here:

The ‘no brown in town’ adage has been the subject of scorn, sneers and scandal in City pubs for more than 100 years. Yet despite an increasing awareness of social mobility and social taboos, one top city law firm appears to have shunned such progress. An unnamed partner has reportedly passed on some controversial sartorial advice to aspiring young lawyers. Speaking at Thomson Reuters’ ‘Transforming Women’s Leadership in the Law’ conference at London’s Hilton Tower Bridge hotel last week, the unnamed partner was reported to have told juniors: “Don’t wear brown shoes with a blue suit”.

Lawyers in the City are hired hands. One of the things they have to do is gain, long term, their own client base. Dress codes are thus what the wider City sees as appropriate. Mankinis are not worn to meetings. This is not because the Senior Partner is a stuffy old git but because that wider society of half a million professionals sees that as not quite the done thing. One doing it is an outsider, one perhaps not to be quite trusted. If they can’t grasp clothing then do they, could they even, grasp word is bond, we’re in a repeated iteration game theory world here – tit for tat is the correct strategy not rapine as in a single iteration world – and so on?

Ms Baksi told The Telegraph that the comments were made within the context of helping people from non-traditional backgrounds who would not know “unspoken dress code rules” about blue suits and brown shoes. “But then as other people quite rightly said,” Ms Baksi added, “it’s for the dress code law to change” and not the candidates. The comments immediately sparked a backlash on social media, with lawyers saying that the comments were “a step too far”. “This is silly,” Matthew Richardson, a family law barrister at Coram Chambers said, while another user wrote, “sounds like lack in sense or fashion; or quite possibly both. People should wear what they want. The partner should get out of others’ wardrobes, or just get out more. People see an expert for his/her expertise, not for their dress sense”.

Barristers are not solicitors, their place in the business pecking order is quite different. They are, as they always have been, outsiders anyway. And family law is hardly City now, is it?

The bit these complaints are missing is that this unnamed partner is not saying “this is the way things should be” nor even “I insist that you do this”. Rather, this wider society that you’re joining has this set of rules. Best you know about them.

And as to the rules having to change not the juniors’ dress sense, well, when everyone has changed their minds then it will have changed. And not before.

Now, who is going to have the courage to tell these people that no brown in town also means no brown suits? Even, for the slightly more archaic, no green either? Them’s for the country, d’ye see?

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