Clothes don’t make the man.
Apparently, Wall Street investors prefer that disruption be applied to business and not to fashion.
When Mark Zuckerberg, cofounder of Facebook, began his IPO tour to persuade Wall Street investors to purchase stock in his company, he showed up in his iconic hoodie. In doing so, he continued a tradition of technology CEOs who shun formality, especially when it comes to dress. That’s right, no million-dollar R. Jewels Diamond suit for Zuckerberg, whose über-casual garb often shocks the stodgy business types.
Interestingly, Zuckerberg’s alleged lack of fashion sense was perceived as a not-so-subtle slight to the New York City financial world, where a Brooks Brothers suit and a Rolex are the acceptable uniform and “successory.” Analysts were all agog. In fact, Wedbush’s managing director Michael Pachter, an analyst, commented, “I’m not sure [Zuckerberg] is the right guy to run a corporation.” He also said,
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. I think that he has to realize he’s bringing investors in as a new constituency right now, and I think he’s got to show them the respect that they deserve because he’s asking them for their money.
These senseless comments, in addition to causing a whirlwind of backlash from the Silicon Valley faction and its casually clothed followers, affirm a basic point that I have always believed: Your worth should be a function of your aptitude, not your apparel. People like Pachter believe that the clothes make the man. This notion is ludicrous, and Zuckerberg, whose company at the time was worth nearly $100 billion, is the living antithesis of this corporate canon. Perhaps Pachter should try wearing a hoodie, so that he can loosen up and focus on what really matters—respecting the money and the man who generated it.
When it comes to what is acceptable to wear when doing business, conventional wisdom demands that you dress to impress, that you project the most professional image. However, my experience has been that the “suits,” as they are affectionately known in Silicon Valley, are no more substantive than the “hoodies.” In fact, the hoodies are often less concerned with social norms and more concerned about developing the best product possible or monetizing their inventions.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not condoning that you dress to the point of being offensive. For example, when his company was young, Steve Jobs, the cofounder of Apple, was notorious for his counterculture dress, long hair, and body odor (only to be outdone in his mature years by a black turtleneck, loose-fit jeans, and running shoes). His coworkers constantly complained that he smelled bad because of his vegan diet and that he would begin picking at his feet during important meetings. Now that’s just bizarre no matter how much of a genius you are.
Without going beyond the extremes of ridiculousness, wear what is comfortable to you to perform your best. Respectable and comfortable are not mutually exclusive. If a person cannot see past the irrelevancy of your clothing to assess the relevancy of your idea, perhaps you should move on. Cultural norms are changing for the better such that ideas are more important than if you’re wearing Izod.
Ironically, Zuckerberg’s bold move to wear a hoodie during his IPO road show says much more about his confidence than if he were to don the most expensive designer suit in the world. Besides, he owns a majority of his company, so what we think about what he wears doesn’t really matter, and that supports what I have always believed. Beyond the patina of pretense that is fashion, there exists something much more important: the value of your ideas. The reality is that with or without a hoodie Mark Zuckerberg is still worth billions of dollars. That should be the end of discussion.
During Facebook’s historic IPO, I got my wish: Zuckerberg wore a hoodie and sandals when he rang in the bell on the first day of trading for his company. I wasn’t surprised. (Let’s not forget that his business card reads, “I’m CEO, bitch.”) That monumental dress-down day was the ultimate proof that what you wear isn’t what you’re worth.