Tech’s New Dress Code Is Subtly Coming Online


In 1984, a young Steve Jobs posed for a photo:Opens a new window  He’s leaning over one of the original Apple desktop computers. His long brown hair is brushed to the side and he’s sporting a dark tweed suit jacket, a white, button-down shirt and green bow tie.

Two decades later, his look had changed. In a similar photoOpens a new window from 2008, his wardrobe has been completely altered: a dark grey mock turtleneck that became his sartorial signature, and a symbol both of Apple’s ascendance and its values.

It also ushered in a new ethos of dressing that, while clearly descended from Jobs’ sensibilities, has not yet made its effect – or lesson – known to workers who don’t occupy the chief executive office.

For those who follow in Jobs’ footsteps, the lessons have been clear. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg famously maintainedOpens a new window a uniform for years, citing his signature choice of a gray t-shirt and jeans as a way to eliminate the need to make a decision and potentially detract from the intellectual reserves necessary for more important things.

Snapchat’s chief executive Evan Spiegel has a trademark brand of white sneakersOpens a new window that he, too, has worn for years.

The casual takeover of the boardroom hasn’t generally extended to female leaders, and some of tech’s most powerful women still wear the kind of business attire you might expect from a banker or a politician: Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg favors dress and suit coat sets, while YouTube’s chief executive, Susan Wojcicki, and Apple senior VP Angela Ahrendts both consistently choose suiting – although both have appeared in slightly less formal jackets as well.

In general, though, the cliché of the ragamuffin tech business leader has been linked mainly to men. There was a moment when it almost seemed like dressing casually was a signal of power – to be in a position to shirk the traditional expectations of business attire was to signal a sense of being a certain brand of iconoclastic maverick.

That was a look that dovetailed well with tech’s delight in ‘disrupting’ industries with digitally-driven modernization.

The unraveling of that new paradigm began with Zuckerberg’s departure from t-shirts for his appearance in front of U.S. Senate committees to testify about his company’s role in the massive Cambridge Analytica data breach. Zuckerberg, who is deeply attunedOpens a new window to the message sent by a wardrobe, appeared on Capitol Hill in a dark navy suit and a complementary tie.

Two weeks ago, another blow was delivered to the unkempt sartorial paradigm of male tech executives: Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey, appearing at TED 2019, became the target of a certain kind of vitriol that critics say his platform represents and enables.

While Dorsey was on stage, in a hoodie and a black hat, the event organizers asked people watching to tweet questions for Dorsey with a specific hashtag. The questions appeared on a screen behind him, but they were so critical that they were taken downOpens a new window .

In other words, Dorsey got trolled. Most of the criticism was directed at the proliferation of abuse and extremist views that dominates his platform, but more than few tweetsOpens a new window were directed at his wardrobe choices.

That’s the thing about power: It’s powerful and thus capable of disrupting. But it also implies a certain level of responsibility

It may be time for the next iteration of the next, next tech wardrobe. With an increasing awareness of the role that platforms like Facebook and Twitter play in issues that dramatically influence people’s lives, the novelty of the insouciant young executive has started to seem a bit outdated.

It’s business, after all.