Mark Zuckerberg has committed a big business-fashion faux-pas, say the very fashionable suits of Wall Street, who are chastising the nerd-turned-billionaire for wearing his hoodie on day one of his big IPO road-show.
The hoodie, they argue, shows his immaturity and lack of seriousness. It's disrespectful! Zuckerberg's defenders have countered back with a resounding "who cares." This is an IPO roadshow, not the Oscars, one techie named Wess Miller tweeted. But actually we think this hoodie matters very much. We doubt Zuckerberg can succeed without it. To remove it would symbolically kill him and since he is Facebook both financially (he has set himself up to own a majority stake) and spiritually (his hacker way and connecting the world philosophy drives the company forward) a Zuckerberg- and hoodie-less Facebook would lack all that "growth potential" investors want to know more about.
Zuckerberg didn't get where he is today by trading in his signature look for something that looks more CEO friendly. He built the Facebook magic wearing a hoodie -- at least according to The Social Network. At the very least he did it in a place where hoodies are fashion-appropriate. Since then he has worn the hoodie. And also since then, Facebook has grown and he's made lots of money. Coincidence? Maybe. But Zuckerberg clearly doesn't think so. He rarely takes it off and when he does he either gets very sweaty and awkward—which looks worse on CEO than hoodie—or is doing something less business oriented. The Wall Street Journal has a rundown of the various times Zuckerberg slipped out of his uniform -- all the instances involve political photo-ops. We also remember seeing pics of him sans hoodie while on vacation, again, in a non-business setting.
But the moment where we learned most about Zuckerberg and his relationship with the casual garment came at the infamous AllThingsD conference, when the CEO got all sweaty and awkward on camera. In an already painful interview, Kara Swisher asks a very steamy (in the not sexy way) Zuckerberg to remove his hoodie. In a move not thought possible, he gets even more awkward just thinking about that prospect, saying "I never take it off." Then, he freezes, as you can see below.
But then something about Zuckerberg's presence changes -- for the better. Zuckerberg gets asked a tough question by Walt Mossberg and he decides to remove the hoodie, which then becomes the topic of conversation, as it has a (magical??) official Facebook symbol sewn on its insides. Zuckerberg looks comfortable for the first time all night. It's as if the hoodie provided some source of strength for him. Maybe he got it from that possibly mystical symbol, which you can see better in the photo below via Flickr user Esthr. (TechCrunch's Alexia Tsotsis, writing for SF Weekly at the time, has an explainer of the corporate meaning behind the the symbol.) Or maybe he cooled off, stopped sweating and therefore regained some confidence. We want to believe the magical powers argument.
Even if you don't believe in magic, Zuckerberg's hoodie gives him confidence -- an important trait for a CEO, arguably more important than fashion sense. He believes in the hoodies and that's all that really matters.
Plus, the hoodie shows the real Zuck and therefore the real Facebook -- isn't that what investors want before buying in? Like the barefooted CEOs of the dot-com years, it gives the impression of a different, more modern businessman, sure. But that's the type of company Facebook is. It's all hip and 21st Century. And, as we've seen with other hoodie wearing icons, people, which in this case means users, can love someone more for their laid-back style. It shows Zuckerberg cares more about the product than fitting some sort of uncomfortable fashion-norm.
Oh, and by the way, investors, the poster child for the barefoot Internet CEO crowd, was then Netscape CEO Marc Andreessen, the now very successful, very rich investor. Also, we let Steve Jobs have his signature outfit, and look how well that turned out. The hoodie is power.
Update 2:30 p.m.: The initiator of hoodie-gate has responded, after loads of criticism, defending his position. He is not anti-hood, per se, just anti-hooding while asking people for money, he told TPM's Carl Franzen.
There are many commenters who say ‘he’s built a fantastic company, he can wear whatever he wants. I don’t disagree that this is true in almost any circumstance. However, when he fails to conform to established standards of behavior, he will be judged by some as being immature. I’m one of those who believes that it is appropriate to wear a jacket and not a hoodie when asking people for money. The commenters are free to disagree…I never made a blanket statement that EVERYBODY thinks he’s immature; rather, I said that I think he displayed immaturity. It’s my view, and while it may be a minority view, it is a reasonable one.
And we still stand by our pro-hoodie position.