Doughty Street Chambers’ very own criminal barrister Karlia Lykourgou has founded ‘Ivy & Normanton’, the first legal outfitter for female court wear. The company takes its name from Ivy Williams and Helena Normanton, the first and second women to be called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1922. Ninety-eight years later, the outfitter triumphs a brand which not only highlights the inherent historic masculinity of the bar, but empowers women through presenting its range of fitted tunic shirts, collarettes and bands, offering comfortable alternatives to straight-fit male shirts and ill-fitting collarettes.
Ms Lykourgou revealed that her family had worked in the dress-making industry. This experience meant that she understood the art of fitting. She was therefore shocked that, when she went to buy her first tunic shirt during her pupillage, it was designed for a male. Straight-fitting shirts with little accommodation for a waist, hips or breasts may mean that women have to size up or down to fit their curves. Such expensive male shirts can result in not only an uncomfortable fit for women, but an oddly-shaped one!
Karlia hopes to change this. She asserts that her tunic shirts are better tailored for female curves whilst longer bottoms prevent them from riding up. Ivy & Normanton’s range of collars and collarettes are also designed to prevent snagging on long hair. After overhearing complaints of the velcro catching on hair and stories of women using safety pins to hold their collarettes in place, Ms Lykourgou created collarettes that are fixed in position by poppers and ties at the side.
These adjustments may appear simple and minor, but represent a venture into unchartered territories for the legal profession. The Bar prides itself on its long-standing history and esteemed tradition and unfortunately, this has often stunted progression towards gender equality. Over 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which permitted women to work in the legal profession, today only 33.5% self-employed barristers are women whilst only 13% of QCs are female.
Despite a dilution of men and women at the Bar, the evolution of gender equality has been drawn out and there is still a long way to go. Male-fitted court wear is a mere reflection of the historically masculine profession. Thus, Ivy & Normanton’s female court wear represents a new wave of empowering women at the Bar. At the same time, the ethos of embracing curves and promoting comfortable dress for women has shone another glaring spotlight upon gender issues at the Bar.
The launch of Ivy & Normanton has, for the most part, been hailed as a roaring success. Women have ditched their safety pins and flocked to the site to buy the new collection. Many have enquired as to whether the company will be producing suits, and Ms Lykourgou is open to the idea of expanding her business and clothing lines.
However, the appraisals have also been met with reactionary remarks, with comments mocking the potential for ‘female horsehair wigs’ next and others asserting that ‘the world has grown too soft’. It has also reared the debate as to whether robing is necessary altogether. Whilst the robing debate has fuelled some interesting arguments, the reactionary scrutiny garnered from the launch of Ivy & Normanton has displayed the prejudices that women face at the Bar. Male complaints of female court wear demonstrates a lack of empathy for female struggles and the discomfort that women encounter within the profession.
However, with the ladies of Ivy & Normanton marching forward with fitted shirts galore, the future looks bright for women at the Bar.
Ivy & Normanton’s impressive clothing line of court wear for women marks another moment in history for women in the legal profession. Whilst traditional robing companies have expanded their limited ranges to accommodate women in the past, Ms Lykourgou’s company is the first to be dedicated to women. The pioneering enterprise not only seeks to make female clerks, advocates and judges more comfortable, but also more welcome in a profession that is dominated by men. Almost one hundred years after Ivy Williams and Helena Normanton were first called to the Bar, Karlia Lykourgou follows in their footsteps, championing women at the bar and making waves for future generations of female lawyers. We certainly look forward to watching Ivy & Normanton develop in the future.