Sam Bankman-Fried and Schlubby Style
The mythical figure that is the billionaire tech genius in the Nowhere Man may finally be about to meet his long-awaited end. The arrest of Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of cryptocurrency trading platform FTX, on Monday in the Bahamas for fraud, could signal not only the next stage of his downfall, but also a change in the global image of silicon. . Valley.
After all, no one has taken the idea further than Mr. Bankman-Fried (or SBF, as he is often called) that a life of unlimited mind is reflected in a life free from little cares like life. ‘clothing. Not for him the physical cage of a suit and tie. Instead, the t-shirt, cargo shorts, and sneakers, often worn with white crinkle ankle running socks.
And not just any t-shirt and cargo shorts, but what might appear to be the loosest, most elongated, sleepy, most self-consciously unflattering t-shirt and shorts; the most overlooked headboard. While the look may have evolved naturally, becoming a signature one as he rose to prominence, a look he achieved was as effective in pushing the Pavlovian buttons of the viewing audience (and the investment community) than Savile Row suits and Charvet ties on Wall Rue.
“It’s as conscious as incorporating in the Bahamas where there’s little or no regulatory oversight,” said Scott Galloway, investor, podcast host and marketing professor, referring to the fact that the corporate office of FTX was in the Caribbean rather than California. “It’s the ultimate billionaire white boy technical flex: I’m so above convention. I’m so special that I’m not subject to the same rules and proprieties as everyone else.
It’s an image that has its roots not so much in Mr. Bankman-Fried’s youth in a family that embraced utilitarianism as in Albert Einstein’s halo of unbrushed hair, which became as much a symbol of the genius of the physicist that E = mc2. In Steve Jobs’ jeans and black turtleneck, and in Steve Wozniak’s kitsch shirts, long, stringy hair and beard (which took three hours to recreate for the “Jobs” biopic). In, of course, Adidas flip-flops, hoodies and Mark Zuckerberg’s gray t-shirts, which gave rise to today’s technical uniform of choice.
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It’s a uniform that telegraphs to the world watching someone who doesn’t have time to worry about what they’re wearing because they have such big, world-changing thoughts. Thoughts that no one else can understand because they are so present and potentially revolutionary. This plays on our general insecurity around science and the world of technology; the whole idea of a language, made of code, impenetrable, that magically shrinks all kinds of possibilities and puts them in the palm of your hand.
“On a macro level, it’s human to worship things,” Galloway said. “Technology with its mysteries is easy to worship. It is the idolatry of innovators.
Innovators who, by their very being, do not just cross long-established lines, but ignore them entirely. How can we recognize them if we don’t even understand what they proselytize? To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart on obscenity, we know them when we see them. Of course, they are not like us. Of course, they don’t dress like us.
We have, said Joseph Rosenfeld, an image consultant and stylist in Silicon Valley, swallowed the hook, line and sinker of costume theory. “When ‘tech bros’ like SBF experience a meteoric rise in notoriety and wealth creation, the public is ready to give them a pass because the look is de rigueur.“, said Mr. Rosenfeld. This costume has been bolstered by Hollywood, and the simple fact that anytime “a VC shells out a massive investment for a poorly dressed person (almost 100% of the time featuring a male), it’s a passive form of approval”.
And a self-perpetuation, at least if, as Mr. Galloway also said, you are white, male and young. “If a person of color or a 50-year-old woman or man showed up like that, security probably wouldn’t let them into the building,” he noted. In many ways, the dress code is another example of the double standards that plague Silicon Valley (or those companies we associate with Silicon Valley, even though, like FTX, they were headquartered elsewhere) – whoever saw Sheryl Sandberg in her Facebook days wearing sleeveless power jackets in one piece hoodies.
Or at least it was. Suddenly, however, Mr. Bankman-Fried cast the whole look in a different light. Her sloppy dress seems less a reflection of a higher calling or a decision to dedicate her own finances to “effective altruism”, than a red flag about a sloppy approach to other people’s money. A hint that someone who doesn’t care about showering or style may be someone who doesn’t care about audits and mixing funds.
That in fact, in Mr. Bankman-Fried’s overwhelming embrace of the attire mystique – a colleague, Andy Croghan, told The New York Times, “Sam and I would intentionally not wear pants to meetings” – he actually missed the point, i.e. it’s the details and what you don’t see that matters. Mr. Jobs’ black turtlenecks were by Japanese designer Issey Miyake, for example; Mr. Zuckerberg’s gray T-shirts are from Italian designer Brunello Cucinelli. They just seemed unstudied.
Mr. Bankman-Fried missed the fact that, as Mr. Rosenfeld said, “some of the best-dressed people in tech prefer a very low profile and don’t prefer drawing attention to themselves. “, which means that they actually look more casual than professional. just occasional. (When asked who those people might be, Mr. Rosenfeld checked the names of Kevin Systrom, formerly of Instagram, and Evan Spiegel of Snapchat.)
And he missed the fact that someone who can go to jail isn’t someone whose looks anyone else might really want to emulate.
It just so happened that Mr. Bankman-Fried was scheduled to testify before Congress the day after his arrest. If he would have donned a suit for the occasion (he did when he testified in December 2021, despite wearing his brown lace-up shoes tied in such a way a weird knot that they became a meme unto themselves), we’ll never know. But given that when he appeared in court in the Bahamas to be charged, he changed things into a navy blue suit and white shirt, if there’s no tie, he seems to understand the role that the image can play to influence judgments. Presumably when his case comes to court in New York he will do the same, perhaps even with a tie, although that will make a difference at this stage is doubtful.
His record of schlubbiness – still visible during his mea culpa self-exoneration media tour before his arrest – is now there to help paint a picture, as Mr Galloway put it, of a “guy who doesn’t has no respect for other people’s money, just as he had no respect for decorum.
And if it is, indeed, so used, then most likely the sartorial schtick is out of fashion. At least for a moment. In his place, perhaps, are the trappings of the man who took Mr. Bankman-Fried’s place as FTX’s chief executive to oversee its bankruptcy, John J. Ray III, who sat before the House Financial Services Committee in a striped navy. suit, light blue shirt and old pink tie with a discreet print.
And yet, Mr Galloway said, ‘the middle finger hustle, the ‘I’m special, I’m unconventional, I’m above all this boring ruleset’ – that ethos that Mr Bankman-Fried once symbolized ?
“It will always be in style,” he said. Even if it’s getting a makeover.
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