As Internet and technology entrepreneurs have become celebrities, fashion and IT have danced an odd tango.
In 2010, Foursquare founders Dennis Crowley and Naveen Selvadurai modeled for GAP. Last year, the founder of blogging platform Tumblr, David Karp, modeled for fashion brand Uniqlo. Crowley and Selvadurai were seen in “chunky” and zip-up cardigans, respectively, while Karp sported a crewneck sweater.
And it is not only a matter of collaborative promotions. IT entrepreneurs have slowly but steadily changed the businesswear paradigm, especially menswear. Earlier this year, The New York Times wrote that colored and patterned socks were a fun staple for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, somewhat shocking to the adherents of conventions that dictate dark- or neutral-colored suits and socks.
If punks channel the message of their societal nonconformity through distinctive hairstyles, studded shoes and ripped jeans, it seems that IT entrepreneurs stay true to their youthful roots by dressing down in the basic trappings of a college student. The most prominent icon of rebellion in this category is Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.
He might have swapped his trademark hoodie for a suit over the weekend when he married his longtime girlfriend, but when his giant social networking company issued its IPO last week, he chose to go casual — as he usually does.
Recent videos from CNN showed Zuckerberg being mobbed by press while he looked on quite comfortably and confidently in his dark navy hoodie. An analyst for Wedbush Securities, Michael Pachter, told Bloomberg TV that Zuckerberg’s hoodie was a sign of immaturity.
“Mark and his signature hoodie, he’s actually showing investors he doesn’t care that much; he’s going to be him. I think that’s a mark of immaturity,” Pachter said.
People in suits may disapprove of Zuckerberg’s sartorial style, but it is useful to remember that while analysts began their first day at work in a collared shirt and tie, IT entrepreneurs have always settled on T-shirts and hoodies. The ensemble speaks to the college spirit, a time when one is still foolish, inexperienced and yes, maybe even immature, yet creative and highly productive and still bold enough to pursue one’s dreams.
The liberation of dressing down might be traced back to Apple founder Steve Jobs, whose black turtleneck sweaters became iconic. Jobs’ signature style is proof that a hard-working person, no matter what their position in the corporate hierarchy, does not always need to come packaged in a formal three-piece suit.
For the gatekeepers of the fashion world, such as men’s style and fashion magazine GQ, dressing down is a big no. The magazine has sharply criticized tech entrepreneurs for making public appearances in jeans, sneakers and suits that are poorly fitted. In August 2011, they released a list of the 15 worst-dressed men of Silicon Valley. The top three were, in ranking order, Zuckerberg, Jobs and Bill Gates; three of the biggest names in the tech industry.
If the history of Coco Chanel teaches us anything, it is that practicality, when mixed with elegance, is a winner. Before World War I, corsets and petticoats dominated women’s wear. After the war, Chanel presented chic yet practical wear for women, like tweed jackets and jersey suits, and she became one of the most recognized designers.
It is difficult for designers today to break ground the way Chanel did, but these young IT entrepreneurs may change the rules of fashion. A few fashion lines have already addressed the need for something casual yet suitably formal.
Kristen Slowe, the wife of Reddit co-founder Christopher Slowe, saw first-hand how IT executives cared little for fashion conventions, and so she created men’s clothing line Saboteur. She designs stylish yet versatile attire, like plaid shirts with French cuffs and slim suit-like jackets. Saboteur aims to be the go-to clothier for Silicon Valley executives. She names her items according to the ranks that employees might have in startups, such as the “Founder’s Jacket” or “Vice Shirt.”
San Francisco-based online store Betabrand created an executive pinstripe hoodie, which looks like a pinstripe suit except for the hood, and dress-pant sweatpants resembling formal trousers.
Zuckerberg’s existence as billionaire geek in a T-shirt also inspired a mock fashion line “Mark by Mark Zuckerberg,” a parody of the high-end brand “Marc by Marc Jacobs” and proof that the attention to his dress code is real. The online store sells T-shirts, hoodies and a tote bag called the “Goldman Sack.”
As their products go global, some Silicon Valley types have received more attention than most celebrities, and their ability to influence the fashion zeitgeist could indeed be commensurately greater.
Indonesian IT entrepreneurs have not, it seems, changed the fashion scene on the same scale. At gatherings of local startups, most can be seen in semi-formal attire, sporting a combination of suits and polished shoes. And seeing the looks coming out of recent shows, Indonesian designers are still skeptical of the hoodie’s fashionability.
On a global scale, however, IT entrepreneurs have meddled with the fashion world, with implications that are not yet understood. The Pachters out there will one day have to accept the “immaturity” of coworkers, or maybe even adopt the style with pride.