Off with the black tights, on with the kiss-me-quick T-shirts

Court fashion
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The Independent Online
Silk stockings, as the song goes, might be represent sin-vitations in most people's lives but to the Lord Chancellor they are more likely to be just These Foolish Things.

Despite his boasted dexterity in putting on his black silk tights (a talent many women admire in a man) Lord Irvine of Lairg has decided that he wants to do away with these "ludicrous" objects as well as his full- bottomed wig, breeches and buckled shoes in favour of more casual wear. M'learned friends are in shock. They fear that dear Derry has obviously been watching Court TV too much and has decided he wants to look like Barry Scheck in the Louise Woodward case. Or, more worryingly, like Marcia Clarke in OJ.

The Lord Chancellor does have a point, however. Clothes maketh the man and if Cherie Blair can wear trousers to see the Queen, as she is said to have done, then what are the judges doing still dressed up to the nines in their 17th century garb? One news agency declaimed yesterday "To wear pants or not: problem for Mrs Blair and Lord Chancellor" (Apparently the Queen Mother was "still mortified" by Mrs Blair's decision but the Palace, eager to pour oil on troubled waters, said that the Queen often wears trousers at Balmoral).

When the suggestion was made a few years ago that judges might like to abandon their cumbersome but distinctive robes, it was met with outraged harrumphs. Lord Hailsham leapt on to the defensive at once: "I am extremely conservative on the matter of wigs and gowns," he said, obviously envisaging a change overnight from "Jarndyce and Jarndyce" to LA Law. "One cannot let professional people in court wear just what they like, otherwise they might well come in kiss-me-quick T-shirts."

Well you can see his point. If Lord Hailsham feels that unconstrained by formality he would turn up to court each day in a kiss-me-quick T-shirt then perhaps there has been a valid reason why the Law lords have been reluctant to change tradition.

But the thought of George Carmen QC arguing a libel case in cut-off denim shorts, or perhaps Michael Mansfield battling to overturn a miscarriage of justice in a turquoise shell suit is too good to be missed. Even Cherie Booth (as she is professionally known) would doubtless have more fun in Court One wearing hotpants.

Of course, those who hanker after the old times could think about reintroducing their own version of the black cap. If the foreman of the jury returns wearing the traditional Aerosmith T-shirt, the defendant knows he's had it.

The ultimate move would be for Lord Irvine to introduce the US practice of "dress down Fridays", where QCs could choose what they wear at home to wear to court. Mind you, if you believe all you read in the News of the World there will probably still be large amounts of wigs and silk stockings washing around.

You see, the real reason why the British like uniforms so much is that from the Royal Family downwards, we are absolutely hopeless at knowing what to wear and, indeed, how to wear it with style. At the moment the Prince of Wales seems to think that as long as he wears a Spice Girl on one arm he'll be seen as trendy.

And just over six months ago it made the front pages for days when our former Prime Minister John Major took his jacket off for a question and answer session. Anguished commentators worried over the significance and how Tony Blair could possibly recover the ground that the casual classless Major had gained. Well I suppose a huge majority at the general election was a small comeback.

In fact New Labour New Clothing has gone back several years to the 1992 election, when Barbara Follett persuaded the party to keep the glad rags flying. She managed to Follett several members of the Cabinet - Jack Cunningham, Harriet Harman, and, most spectacularly, Robin Cook ("Browns and oysters," chirruped Mr Cook. "I was staggered by how many people came up to me saying how well I looked."). Presumably Barbara is now advising Tessa Jowell - in the wake of this week's troubles - on how best to wear puce.

We've come a long way in the last 14 years. In 1983, Ann Mallalieu QC (now Baroness) challenged the Inland Revenue about her working wardrobe. Her extensive collection of black dresses, black suits, black shoes, flesh- coloured tights and white blouses should, she said, be tax-deductible because they were so "dull and dowdy" that she would never wear them except for her work. The then Law Lords thought differently. Ms Mallalieu's clothes, they pronounced, were "perfectly ordinary articles of apparel which many ladies wear from choice''. Er, not in my wardrobe they're not.

No, Lord Irvine obviously has got his finger on the pulse. Not only does he want to do away with the traditional garb but he's also cottoned on to the fact that people see the Bar as "old-fashioned out of touch and self-satisfied ... Lawyers are hugely unpopular ," he added. Fancy that. Next he'll be saying that they charge quite a bit as well. "[And] I have always had the view that lawyers fees were very high," he continues. Good heavens. Pass me the silk stockings, Derry - it's a revolution.

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