The world of business fashion has greatly evolved since the days of Gordon Gekko and John Gotti, who served as sartorial models for the male populace in the 1980’s. The wave of fashion amongst male moguls has recently shifted to hoodies, turtlenecks and untucked shirts. John Gotti, otherwise known as “Dapper Don,” was as famous for his $2,000 Brioni suits and $400 handpainted floral ties, as he was for ordering the executions of numerous mafiosos. Gordon Gekko aka Michael Douglas, made the “Gekko shirt,” a blue shirt with white contrast collars and cuffs, a popular fad in the financial district crowd. During the 1980’s, a mover and shaker was defined by the thread count of his suit, whereas in the 2000’s it is determined by the color of your jeans. The shift from sartorial splendor to “hoodie chic” is hard to explain, yet the forerunners of this trend have strongly impacted fashion and changed the notion of what constitutes “dressing for success.”
There is an argument to be made that those who dress casually, with little heed to their attire achieve greater success, because they are concerned primarily with the fortunes of their company. Dressing down has become the ultimate status symbol, manifesting that either you are too busy and lofty to concern yourself with fashion; or that you are so revered that your fashion choices are trivial in comparison to your business acumen. When you are changing the course of history, such as Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates have, you are a paradigm of efficiency and content without tending to the triflings of window dressing and fashion. The shunning of three-piece suits and $500 ties has created confusion in the professional world with executives questioning whether they can afford to don casual attire akin to these technology giants. Recently, Silvia Bellaza, Francesca Gino and Anat Keinan, three professors at Harvard Business School, found that scholars who dressed down at a business conference had stronger research records than their fancy counterparts. The positive correlation between financial success and nonconformity might be one explanation for the success of these anti-fashionistas. However, upon further review, it becomes apparent that choice of fashion attire may not be as inconsequential as it appears.
Steve Jobs, was not only considered a revolutionary in the computer world, but was also a fashion iconoclast, wearing his chosen uniform of a black turtleneck, blue jeans and New Balance sneakers. The sameness of his attire indicated he was too busy to choose an outfit when he could be contemplating how to change the course of communication. Steve Jobs idea for a uniform can be traced to his Sony Japan visit in the 1980’s where he was surprised to find everyone in the company wearing the same thing. When he tried to implement a uniform among the employees of Apple he was booed off the stage and required to drop the idea. But the concept of a uniform stuck with him and he purchased hundreds of black turtlenecks with enough of this signature attire to last a lifetime. In February 2011 Jobs and Zuckerberg met President Obama with Steve wearing his trademark turtleneck and jeans while Zuckerberg was decked out in a sports jacket – even for an engagement with the commander-in-chief Jobs remained informal. Tim Cook, the successor and CEO at Apple, has recently been criticized for consistently wearing slightly wrinkled, untucked button-down shirts with Nike sneakers.
While Jobs look was “shabby chic” Cook’s fashion choices are just plain shabby, and surprising considering Apple’s recent foray into fashion. Mark Zuckerberg, king of the hoodies and Adidas slide-on sandles received scathing criticism in 2012 when he attended investor meetings for his initial public offering in this casual attire. Michael Pachter, a renowned securities analyst, said “this was a mark of immaturity” and showed a lack of seriousness. However, since then his net worth has jumped to $34.7 billion so it is clear purchasing hoodies was a good investment. Moreover, Zuckerberg’s repetitive wardrobe finds him in good company with Albert Einstein, who purchased several versions of the same grey suit so as not to waste brainpower on choosing an outfit each morning. The success of these legendary men may not be directly attributable to their wardrobe choices; however, it may be indicative of their single-minded focus on substantive issues with little need to con people with fancy attire. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, continue to dress like used car salesmen, while their companies thrive despite recessions and economic upheavals.
In contrast to these plain-suited titans we have Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, a couture lover who sat down for a Vogue interview in September 2013. This interview in which she posed seductively in a blue Michael Kors dress and showed off her vast cashmere sweater collection stirred great controversy, calling in question her level of professionalism. Mayer has become as famous for her fashion choices, as she is for her business savvy and some have questioned her dedication to the company. In the recent Alibaba IPO, Yahoo’s stock fell 8.2% and investors are disappointed with the company’s performance and failed turnaround. Similarly, it is no secret that basketball player Amare Stoudemire is fond of fashion. He co-designed a line with Rachel Roy and has become a front-row fixture at numerous fashion events. Amar’es 5-year 99.7 million dollar contract proved deleterious to the Knicks bid for a championship, and they are now trying to shop him around. His age, injuries and distractions have made him a liability to the team and it has been difficult to trade him. However, no worries for Amar’e, there is a career in fashion waiting for him.
LeBron James, and Dwayne Wade, some fellow basketball sartorialists, also made incredible fashion choices this year (thanks to a group of stylists); however, their game playing was extremely disappointing, and failed to live up to expectations. Gianni Agnelli, the CEO of Fiat, was another fashion devotee who was considered one of the most stylish men of the 20th century. He wore only the finest handmade suits, watches over the cuff of his handmade shirts, and high-top hiking boots, a bold fashion choice in any time period. He is one of the greatest influencers of men’s fashion and a respected businessman. However, towards the end of his life in 2003, Fiat was in a bad way – with losses of 1.5 billion per year and talks of bankruptcy mounting. All of these fashion standouts, have had major career letdowns calling into question the old notion of “dressing the part.”
There are a small group of professionals whose job requires them to be fashion superstars, and they are known as celebrities and models. Every article of clothing they wear is dissected and analyzed via numerous lists such as do’s and dont’s or who wore it better. For them stylists are as pivotal to their career as managers and agents, and they become as famous for their apparel choices as they are for their acting parts. Surprisingly, fashion designers are not included in this group whose success is determined by their choice of apparel. Numerous designers maintain casual or uniform like attire. Alexander Wang, who is in charge of 3 design labels, recently gave an interview to Bazaar where he claimed he could sleepwalk into his closet which was exclusively filled with black jeans, shirts and sneakers. Karl Lagerfeld, with his trademark skinny suits and dark sunglasses, and Vera Wang with her omnipresent leggings, recognize the convenience and usefulness of a fashion uniform. Moreover, Carolina Herrera with her white button down shirt and Michael Kors with his blazer and jeans have lent gravitas to these monolithic looks. All of these designers have achieved insurmountable success in their careers, despite their limited fashion wardrobes.
Tom Wolfe, who has worn a white suit since 1962, is a fashion trailblazer with his uniform choice, and it is a trend that is quickly gaining traction in myriad fields and professions. The uniqueness associated with a trademark look makes a personality instantly recognizable and capable of being branded. Zuckerberg and Jobs are almost as well known for their attire as for they are for their superior products; a signature look enables them to achieve instant notoriety-attaching an individual to his high quality creation. While purchasing a hoodie or turtleneck may not guarantee success – it should not be an impediment to those that have the talent to triumph.