Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Casual Silicon Valley & the Hoodie

The public radio show Marketplace had a piece on the buzz surrounding Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wearing a hoodie during his company's pre-IPO roadshow this week (for non-finance-watchers, the "roadshow" is a series of presentations to important people on Wall Street in advance of a company's initial public offering).

Mark Zuckerberg
Zuckerberg is 28 years old. Facebook is based in Silicon Valley, California. As I've mentioned frequently, we are very casual here, especially at technology companies. Hardly anyone wears suits. It's not an exaggeration to say nobody under 30 wears suits. Even chief executive officers of companies valued over $40 billion.

Still, the guy was meeting with potential investors & big-wigs, shouldn't he show some respect? Marketplace pointed out that, just a few months ago, the hoodie was held up in America as a symbol of outsiders, marked by violence, & a TV host even victim-blamed a hoodie for the death of Treyvon Martin. Certainly a hoodie isn't appropriate clothing in the corporate world then?

Maybe it is. At least when you're being authentic to your own self by wearing it. The Atlantic Wire points out that Zuckerberg has worn hoodies & other casual clothes at various conferences & interviews, as well as in non-business settings. This article concludes: "the hoodie shows the real Zuck and therefore the real Facebook -- isn't that what investors want before buying in?"

CNBC actually went as far to say a suit would make Zuckerberg look younger, "like a teenager nervous about the prom" (which is kind of true; take a look at the photos the Wall Street Journal assembled showing that Zuckerberg does indeed wear a suit & tie sometimes).

Steve Jobs
Both the Atlantic Wire & CNBC compared the hoodie to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' typically casual wardrobe -- jeans & black turtleneck, only a few suits when he started out (& those were non-traditional with vests, bow ties, & long hair). In Silicon Valley tech culture, casual clothes can mean authenticity & credibility. You're someone who does the work, not someone who just runs the business.

Of course, I prefer a somewhat dressier style for myself at the office, even tho' I could wear jeanss, T-shirts, & hoodies. While I work at a tech company, I'm not an engineer, I'm a writer. Plus being female, I have to work a little harder to be taken seriously (c'mon, you know it's true). There's a fine line between dressing so casual that I'm seen as a nobody & too formal that I get "going for an interview?" jokes (of course, few people wear suits to interviews here, so it really is a joke!).  I certainly can't read advice from places like Corporette & dress like that without taking it down a couple big, fat notches.

But if I'm making a presentation, I'm not wearing a hoodie. A cardigan & a skirt or nice trousers, sure. Probably not a suit, tho. Not in the Valley.


  1. The shoes are what I notice first. Flip flops!? In my opinion, that's crossing the line from casual to sloppy. My thought is that he should at least put on "real" shoes when meeting with investors. I have a hard time taking a man in flip flops seriously.

  2. I noticed the flip flops as well, and even without socks!! He's a man that have the power to dress the way he want's. It's makes sense that he wouldn't look more reliable with a suit on.
    I work as an engineer and it would be more appropriate for me to dress in blue collar at work, but I prefer my lab coat and have my own clothes underneath. Some say that I looked dressed up, but comparing to you and Victorian Kitty I more dressed down. I'm so impressed how you succeed to look so professional and corporate with studded belt and bracelet. Do you hide a magic wand behind your back? :). I know it's difficult to be taken seriously in a male environment. It takes time to make them listen. I beleive many of the males are a little bit afraid of me because I always say what I think. A woman that is straight forward can be a little scary. But in that way I have gained respect from others.

  3. I work in the tech industry too (very near to you, actually! I can just about see the Yahoo campus from my office.) and I would even go so far as to say that if someone showed up for work in a suit and tie no one would take them seriously-- in fact they would very likely be met with mistrust, especially if they were coming into a position of authority.

    This industry is so totally unlike so many others out there, and I definitely find myself struggling to balance the casual comfort that is the standard with what I was raised to believe was "office appropriate", not to mention being female in a male-dominated industry and having to critically examine every hemline of every shirt and skirt I buy. Your blog is a terrific inspiration! :-)

  4. To be fair, the Zuckerberg pic with the flip-flops is just a stock photo that I found. Of course, shorts & flip-flops are *still* quite common on engineers at tech companies in Silicon Valley -- the weather here is suitable for shorts & sandals year-round.

    And it goes back to the authenticity idea. In the Valley, dressing up in a suit would be seen as being fake. Wearing jeans, hoodie, even flip-flops is being real.

  5. LOL, I sometimes wish I had a magic wand ;-) It's definitely tough for a woman in the corporate world. And in tech, we're riding that line even more so. Too dressy & you might be seen as a shallow girly-girl. Here in Silicon Valley, dressing like "one of the boys" can earn you a little credibility. And yet, if I do that, I look like a teenager & I'm not taken seriously! So actually, dressing a little bit goth *and* a bit corporate can mix it up, & I feel like I have an edge that I might not if I were just in jeans & a T-shirt.

  6. *waves "hi" from the office!* Ah yes, Silicon Valley is a funny place, isn't it? Suits are out, that's for sure. But I feel like a kid in jeans & tees, which ain't right when I'm old enough to be Mark Zuckerberg's mother (eek!). That's why I ride the line between casual & corporate, & keeping my goth edge really helps. It takes the piss out, as it were.