Does the suit and tie matter? Well, this site wouldn’t exist if it didn’t. When and where we choose to care about these types of sartorial choices is where this topic gets more interesting. Take, for instance, the workplace. Although it is increasingly unlikely that this ‘place’ exists in one location (i.e. many of us work anywhere with a wifi connection), raising the formality of our attire while in the presence of other professionals is still important. However, there is one industry that seems to lean toward the subversive side. Who else but techies? In their nap room and foosball-centric offices, the only type of coding going on has nothing to do with a formal dress code.
Billionaire and all, Mark Zuckerberg’s infamous sartorial choices are seen as abominations by enough people to prompt the creation of a spoof fashion label, consisting of all of the things you wish your Grandma didn’t get you for Christmas:
He isn’t the only one. GQ, Details magazine, and Gawker have all published articles mocking “The Silicon Valley Style Crisis.” (Note: none of these articles address females in the tech industry -- their under-representation OR their crisis in self-presentation.)
Dennis Crowley, Founder of Foursquare
Of course, appropriate attire is all relative to the industry. It’s worth taking a step back from swiftly labeling the guys who shape the digital world we live in as horrible dressers to take a closer look at how their attire may or may not reflect their work.
Contextually, the ‘hacker-centric’ culture of the tech scene still underscores the originality of tech companies. In Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, author Steven Levy devotes a chapter to breaking down the ins and outs of “The Hacker Ethic.” According to Levy, the computing that early hackers were partaking in began to naturally create, “a new way of life, with a philosophy, an ethic, and a dream.” Essentially, hackers see problems and seek solutions, insistently questioning systems and especially those of authority. They are open, creative, and share in a Utopian quality of being unselfish with their resources in attempts to make endless improvements that work toward building perfectly operating programs.
These values remain prevalent in the practices of today’s tech giants, where Facebook’s “like” button came about as a result of one of their infamous ‘hackathons.’ At Google, employees mix work and play courtesy of the company’s 20% rule, which allows them one day of the work week (hence the 20%) to take on these work-related passion projects. In fact, we owe Gmail to this 20% rule.
Tech professionals are in the business of producing and selling innovation, where value is placed on intellect and ingenuity. Human capital is much more heavily weighed on a great mind rather than a great suit. The ‘do what you want, wear what you want’ attitude stays loyal to a meritocracy in which the notion that the more cutting edge and creative one is, the bigger office (or bean bag) he’ll have. In Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, number 4 of the 7 basic principles of hacking reads, “HACKERS SHOULD BE JUDGED BY THEIR HACKING, NOT BOGUS CRITERIA SUCH AS DEGREES, AGE, RACE, OR POSITION.”
The men of tech may not look good according to idealized standards. We all respond to tailored clothing and nice materials, and these ideals may still have a place amongst the hacker hoodies. But the tech world has invented its own idea of what a professional might look like.
Despite behemoth companies like Apple, Facebook, and Google, the tech world’s history still skews more subculture than mainstream. The jeans and hoodie look may just be an embodiment of the subversive force of technology. Sometimes an industry’s anti-fashion aesthetic is about reminding onlookers of its non-sartorial prowess. Which can be just as powerful as a custom suit.
Largely attributed to the Internet and technological innovation, personal freedom in the workplace -- or lack thereof -- is more apparent than ever before. Want to learn more about the past and present ‘hacker’ culture that helps design our current means of working, communicating, and advancing?
Past: See how Apple founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs played practical jokes while conducting the first form of hacking. Phone ‘phreaking’ was performed on the nation’s telephone system.
Present: The word ‘hacker’ gets a bad rap, but the idea of a hack has crossed over to the good guy side more often than you think. Learn about ‘hacktivism’ and the difference between a ‘white hat hacker’ and a ‘black hat hacker’ with the stories of 10 famous hackers & hacks found here.
Future: The EyeWriter
An ongoing project to empower people suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) via creative technologies and outlets. By using open source software and any commercially available eye tracking device, paralyzed graffiti artists and writers can create using only their eyes. This video depicts legendary LA graffiti artist TEMPT One, who suffers from ALS, using the device to draw. At the end of the video, the project calls for hackers to contribute to the project.
(Author’s full disclosure: I work at AOL, where shorts are not shunned and the office is fully equipped with Coca-Cola Freestyle machines, foosball, ping pong, nap rooms, and happy hour Thursdays. Facebook is currently in the process of moving into the same building.)