Mark Zuckerberg to Jack Dorsey, how Silicon Valley style became on trend

Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter and fin-tech firm Square, sits for a portrait during an interview with Reuters in London, Britain, June 11, 2019.
PHOTO: Reuters

Just as fictional finance crook Gordon Gekko had his signature braces and gauche business shirts, and modern finance guys love their company-branded Patagonia fleece vests, so too is Silicon Valley known for its style stereotypes.

The world of tech has long been dressed in nondescript hoodies, jeans, plain T-shirts and logo-free sneakers, a look brought to the small screen in the 2014 HBO show Silicon Valley.

HBO’s Silicon Valley show brought tech fashion – or lack of it – to TV audiences.
PHOTO: HBO

The show’s costume designer, Daniel Orlandi, told Esquire that the “all-encompassing hoodie [is] the blazer of Silicon Valley”.

That style, or perceived lack of it, is for some a way of dressing to sit outside the system and yet also signal that you’re part of a tribe.

But some put their own spin on it. Take Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. He might only wear grey T-shirts, but those tees are custom-made by Italian designer Brunello Cucinelli, the “King of Cashmere”.

Zuckerberg’s pared-back wardrobe is also a calculated move – “I really want to clear my life to make it so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community,” he once said of his approach to getting dressed.

Mark Zuckerberg’s grey T-shirts are reminiscent of Steve Jobs’ signature black turtlenecks.
PHOTO: Facebook

Zuckerberg was likely inspired by the almost monastic approach to fashion of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, whose signature uniform included black turtlenecks from the Japanese designer Issey Miyake (Jobs reportedly owned hundreds of them), Levi’s jeans and New Balance sneakers.

This approach to fashion is accidentally on trend. The likes of Miuccia Prada and author Fran Lebowitz (a style icon in her own right with her custom Savile Row suits) among others have recently extolled the virtue of creating a fashion “uniform”.

But Zuckerberg clearly also understands the power of clothes to transmit messages, evidenced when he ditched his trademark look for what was dubbed his “crisis suit” when called to testify before US Congress during the 2018 data sharing scandal.

Recently, the tech industry has undergone something of a sartorial makeover. Seattle-based Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is, according to a 2018 New York Times article, a “style icon” thanks to his new-found fondness for Tom Ford tuxedos, cowboy boots and form-fitting T-shirts.

Then there’s Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, who regularly wears Dior Men and Rick Owens, a favourite among fashion insiders. Dorsey has also been spotted in the front row at fashion weeks. Women’s Wear Daily called it “broadcasting casual ‘geek’ cred, but with a premium twist”.

It’s a look that works because of its versatility, says Chris Kyvetos, buying director of menswear at luxury e-tailer MyTheresa.

“It’s always been clear that comfort and versatility play a role in [the] tech uniform and even luxury brands like Brunello Cucinelli can fit well into this,” he says.

Brunello Cucinelli sweater from MyTheresa Men.
PHOTO: MyTheresa

Those looking to emulate the look should search for pieces such as relaxed shirts, merino knits, chino pants, sneakers and loafers, Kyvetos says.

Luxury brands to look to for include Acne Studios and Loro Piana, while high street brands such as Cos and sustainable brand Everlane offer minimalist and good quality wardrobe basics.

Loro Piana zipped sweater from MyTheresa Men.
PHOTO: MyTheresa

San Francisco-based stylist Lili Henry says while the stereotype of the casually dressed tech industry remains, she has also noticed something of a style evolution.

“Comfort is still very important, but they [aspire] to be more effortlessly put together, keeping this casual appearance with a more put-together approach. Practical, casual and comfortable looks are still key to the Silicon Valley style, but not everyone wants to wear the same grey T-shirt like Zuckerberg. People working in Silicon Valley want to still fit in the low-key environment, but it does not mean they want to look sloppy,” she says.

For Henry this means working with clients to create a practical wardrobe that reflects their professional goals and, crucially, the right image at work.

“I have some clients that work at Facebook, Google and Salesforce in higher positions where they have greater responsibilities. They want me to create a wardrobe that is still casual but also shows them as leaders. Clothes are a silent language that gives a message to your work environment, and they want to send the right one,” she says.

To get it right, Henry suggests sticking to a “formula” and investing in good quality pieces.

“A casual environment does not mean it is not worth investing in your appearance. A nice pair of sneakers and dressy jeans is absolutely necessary because it is what you will wear most of the time, even when going to conferences. A sport coat for rare occasions is always good to have if you speak with a more serious crowd.

“For women, it is the same formula. Nice pair of jeans, nice pair of flats, and a nice blouse with a blazer for rare occasions.”

The evolution of Silicon Valley style can also be noted in the seemingly unstoppable success of the San Francisco-based sustainable shoe brand Allbirds . Its pared-back, machine-washable shoes have become, as Business Insider noted, “ubiquitous throughout Silicon Valley … a quintessential part of the venture-capitalist dress code.”

In October, the brand expanded into apparel – a collection of considered basics made with innovative, eco-friendly fabrics.

Allbirds sneakers.
PHOTO: Allbirds

As co-founder Tim Brown notes, the appeal of the brand goes well beyond the tech set.

“Our primary customer is the same in Shanghai or London or Chicago – urban young professionals who often work in creative fields and are increasingly focused on climate issues. They’re travellers and explorers who are curious and willing to try new things. They have high expectations around quality and design, but also think deeply about the origin and impact of the things they buy,” Brown says.

He adds that the brand has had particularly strong traction in China, with its e-commerce sales doubling in the past year.

Between the popularity of sustainable brands like Allbirds, the focus on comfortable, classic and versatile pieces (in the year of a pandemic and work from home this is particularly relevant) and the style uniform mantra, it turns out that an industry not particularly known for its fashion prowess has found itself right on trend.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.