May 11, 2012 at 8:35 AM ET
At least Steve Jobs wore a black turtleneck.
Mark Zuckerberg's shaggy, baggy, haute-hoodie Manhattan appearance this week to launch the campaign for his company's initial public stock offering didn't induce any "likes" from Wall Streeters or fashionistas — only the kinds of catty critiques that typically season Facebook's chatter.
But some style gurus believe Zuckerberg calculatedly donned his normal dorm-frumpy garb to send New York's financiers a crisp message: "The West Coast techies truly fuel this economy, and you will now live by our rules (and our dress codes)."
"He sort of thumbed his nose at that establishment, essentially saying that high tech is now moving into Wall Street. They're young, they're hip and they're here," said Joseph Rosenfeld, a San Jose–based "image mentor," who helps rising dot-com stars and established Silicon Valley tycoons carve out personal styles.
"He's not my client, but I don't believe for a second that he didn’t purposely wear that," Rosenfeld said. Beyond signaling that it's Facebook's world and traditional corporate kings should step aside (in their shiny, black shoes), Zuckerberg dressed down for his golden moment to do some branding — both for Facebook Inc. and for Zuckerberg, the 27-year-old man. "He does not probably want to be known for his bucks. I think he wants to be known for two other B’s — brains and building."
"I could buy that argument," said Nancy Bryant, author of “The Business of Fashion,” which explores the inner workings of the apparel industry. "He has earned his place in the hierarchy, and he may feel he doesn't have to dress up to appeal to investors or to Wall Street."
A majority of msnbc.com readers apparently agree with the sentiment. A Market Day poll survey Thursday asked whether Zuckerberg should have spruced his threads for Facebook's investor 'roadshow'. More than 73 percent of readers clicked "No, his casual dress reflects the culture of Facebook," while 26 percent voted "Yes, he should wear business attire to an investor meeting."
The Facebook CEO's scrappy duds certainly reflect a wrinkled "we're-typing-code-all-night!" look common at the hustle-and-sweat startups of Silicon Valley and beyond. Other notable followers include entrepreneurs like Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist), Dennis Crowley (co-founder of Foursquare), Andrew Mason (founder of Groupon) and Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn).
The untucked look has been the high-tech fashion norm since the days when Apple co-founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak tinkered with their first prototypes in Jobs' garage. When Apple hit the big time, Jobs didn't change his look. For major launch events, he always strolled stages wearing his trademark black turtleneck and blue jeans.
"At one time, that black turtleneck was a very striking, nonconformist look," Bryant said. "But if we leap from business suit to black turtleneck to hoodie, you can easily see that Mark Zuckerberg's cohort doesn't feel that dress makes a strong statement. (Hoodies, T shirts and jeans are) just what they’re comfortable wearing. That's really become their uniform."
Yet some fashion experts say a rising number of tech leaders appear to be growing up and dressing up, led by those who work not in San Jose or South Bay but in San Francisco and who want to seamlessly close their laptops and hit the clubs after dark.
Sweats and denim are starting to fade out in pockets of the e-economy, giving way to open-collar, sleek suits.
"It’s definitely evolving," said Rosenfeld, the image consultant. "More people from Silicon Valley are opting to live in San Francisco. They still log a lot of hours in front of their flat screens. But they also have a night life, a social life. And they dress for it. Some of the San Francisco (tech) folks who enjoy that more-urban lifestyle are beginning to influence some the clothing-design choices I see showing up in the Valley and in San Jose. They are influencing their peers.
"Because, hey, everybody wants to be as chic as the next guy, right?"
Unless, of course, you head to the Big Apple, aiming to sell 337.4 million shares at $28 to $35 each. In that case, a hoodie is just fine.
Here are some other Web 2.0 executives who are rarely seen dressing up:
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