The mythical figure of the ubiquitous billionaire tech genius may finally be seeing his long-overdue end. The arrest of Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the FTX cryptocurrency trading platform, in the Bahamas on Monday on fraud charges could herald not only the next stage in his downfall but the global turmoil of Silicon. Image shaping will change valley.
After all, no one has gone further than Mr. Bankman-Fried (or SBF, as he was often called) to believe that a life of unbridled freedom is reflected in a life free from petty matters such as clothing. For him, it’s not the physical cage of a suit and tie. In its place are T-shirts, cargo shorts and sneakers, often paired with white running socks that gather at the ankle.
Not just any t-shirt and cargo shorts, but the ones that look the most baggy, stretched, snug, and consciously unflattering; the messiest headboards. While the look may have evolved naturally, it became an icon as his fame rose, a look he realized was just as effective at driving the viewing public (and the investment community) as the Savile Row suit and Wall’s Charvet tie. ) of Pavlovian Button Street.
“It’s as conscious as registering in the Bahamas, where there is very little regulation,” said Scott Galloway, an investor, podcast host and marketing professor, referring to FTX’s Caribbean headquarters. Sea area, not California. “It’s the ultimate billionaire white boy tech resilience: I’m so beyond convention. I’m so special, I’m not bound by the same rules and etiquette as everyone else.”
The image does not have its roots in the family in which Mr. Bankman-Fried was a young man utilitarianism Like Einstein’s halo of uncombed hair, it became as emblematic of a physicist’s genius as E = mc2. Dressed in Steve Jobs jeans and a black turtleneck, and a tacky Steve Wozniak shirt, with long hair and a beard (for “Work“biographical film”). And, of course, Mark Zuckerberg’s adidas flip flops, hoodie and gray T-shirt, which is the tech uniform of choice these days.
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It’s a uniform that signals to people watching the world that they don’t have time to worry about what they’re wearing because they’re thinking about such a grand, world-changing idea. Ideas that no one else is likely to understand because they are so common and potentially revolutionary. It taps into our pervasive insecurities about the world of science and technology; the whole concept of a language, written in code, impenetrable, that magically narrows down possibilities and puts them in the palm of your hand.
“On a macro level, it’s human to worship things,” Mr Galloway said. “Mystical technology is easily worshipped. It’s the idolatry of innovators.”
Innovators don’t just straddle well-established lines, they ignore them entirely. How can we recognize them if we don’t even understand what they are preaching? To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart about obscenity, we know them when we see them. Of course they are not like us. Of course they don’t dress like us.
We’ve swallowed the hooks, likes and sinkers of clothing theory, says Silicon Valley image consultant and stylist Joseph Rosenfeld. “When ‘tech bros’ like SBF rise rapidly in the midst of notoriety and wealth, the public is willing to let them go because they look hip” Mr Rosenfeld said. Hollywood reinforces this attire, and every time “a VC firm hands out a huge investment to a scruffy-dressed guy (almost 100 percent of the time male), it’s a passive form of endorsement.”
A self-perpetuating person, at least if, as Mr Galloway also said, you are white, male and young. “If people of color, women, or people in their 50s showed up like that, security might not let them into the building,” he noted. In many ways, the dress code is yet another example of the double standard that prevails in Silicon Valley (or those companies we associate with Silicon Valley, even if, like FTX, they have headquarters elsewhere) – see Shirley on her Facebook Sandberg’s day wearing a sleeveless power jacket in the hoodie room.
Or at least it is. Suddenly, however, Mr. Bankman-Fried had a different take on the whole image. His scruffy attire seems less a higher calling or a decision to commit his finances to “effective altruism” than a red flag of sloppy approach to other people’s money. A clue that a guy who doesn’t care about showers or style might be someone who doesn’t care about audits and money mixing.
In fact, in Mr. Bankman-Fried’s overwhelming advocacy of casual mysticism—a colleague, Andy Croghan, told The New York Times, “Sam and I purposely went to meetings without pants”—he actually The above misses the point, which is that details and what you can’t see matter.For example, Jobs’ black turtleneck is by Japanese designer Issey Miyake; Mr. Zuckerberg’s gray T-shirt is by Italian designer Brunello Cuccinelli. They just seem to be unstudied.
Mr. Bankman-Fried ignores the fact that, as Mr. Rosenfeld says, “some of the best dressed people in tech like to be very low-key and don’t like to draw attention to themselves,” meaning they actually look more casual than business casual. (When asked who those people might be, Mr. Rosenfeld mentioned ex-Instagram’s Kevin Systrom and Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel.)
He’s missing a guy who might end up in jail and isn’t someone anyone else might actually want to emulate.
As it happens, Mr. Bankman-Fried was scheduled to testify before Congress the day after his arrest.Will he wear a suit for the occasion (when he does testify December 2021, despite being known to wear brown lace-up shoes a strange knot They themselves became memes) We will never know. Presumably, when his case actually goes to court, he’ll trade the shorts and T-shirt for a conservative jacket and maybe even a tie, though it’s doubtful it’ll make any difference by then.
As Mr Galloway puts it, his sloppy record — still visible in a media tour of his guilty pleas before his arrest — now helps paint a picture of “people who don’t respect other people’s money like he doesn’t.” Same as respect etiquette.
If it is indeed used as such, the tailoring style will likely go out of style. At least for a while. In his place may be John J. Ray III, the man who replaced Mr. Bankman-Fried as FTX CEO to oversee its bankruptcy, wearing pinstripes on Tuesday. Navy suit for House Financial Services Committee meeting, light blue shirt and gray rose tie with separate print.
Yet, says Mr. Galloway, “a wave of the middle finger, ‘I’m special, I’m unconventional, I’m above all those boring rules games'” – the spirit that Mr Bankman-Fried once symbolized?
“That will always be in fashion,” he said. Even if it does have a new look.