From ‘Back Hair’ to Go-Go Boots: Fashion and the Female Barrister, 1921-1967

From the Belfast News-Letter, 21 January 1922, this account of an interview with Frances Kyle, Ireland’s (technically) first woman barrister, having been called a couple of minutes or so before her colleague Averil Deverell:

“‘How do you like the wig,’ I asked as the short winter afternoon closed in, and we rose to say ‘good-bye.’ ‘Oh, not at all,’ said Miss Kyle, ‘It is so hot and heavy, and both Miss Deverell and I fought against wearing it, and petitioned the Lord Chief Justice that it might be dispensed with in our case, but he was adamant and would not hear of such a thing.’  Each counsel has his (or her) wig made specially to order ‘and women require a larger size, not that our brains are larger, but our back hair needs more room than the closely-cropped male head.’”

The substitution of shingles and bobs for the early 20th century pompadour coiffure may have required some subsequent wig re-sizing!

The Bar of England and Wales imposed similar rules to Lord Chief Justice Moloney above, with the added requirements that the wig totally cover the hair, and that hem lengths be no shorter than the length of the gown. Widespread breaches by English female barristers led to a revised diktat being issued in that jurisdiction in 1967, permitting a rise in skirts to knee length but specifically prohibiting the wearing of go-go boots.

Were similar measures taken in Ireland? There is no newspaper record, but short skirts remained in vogue among Irish women generally until well into the 1970s. Perhaps one of that magnificent band of Irish female barristers who commenced practice then or earlier might be in a position to comment as to whether or not the same approach was adopted in this jurisdiction?

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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