March 27, 2024 - 10:00am

An explosion of mushroom-cloud hair. The mangy, unshaven face, with its pursed, smirky lips. The baggy, flickering eyes, usually the tell-tale of an Xbox all-nighter. Sam Bankman-Fried will reappear in court this week as he is sentenced for multi-billion dollar fraud, facing up to a century in jail.

Upon examination, FTX’s Rumpelstiltskin accounts rendered a much-anticipated court drama open-shut. But for the ordinary onlooker, one question will remain: who would have bought anything off such a wreck in the first place, let alone trusted him with their money? The answer is that SBF represents both the culmination and the demise of a particular era of anti-haute couture: the age of the elite slob.

As the 2000s became the 2010s, a new silhouette emerged to mine the internet for its millions. It was thin, pale, gawky and casual. It threw out the fat ties and double-breasts of Patrick Bateman-era Wall Street, and threw on t-shirts, Allbird sneakers and polo necks. If there’s one individual to blame, it’s Steve Jobs, who not only established the look but also the broader mythos behind it. First: “Genius is in hurry; it has not time to fiddle with buttons.” And second: “I’m not like those other guys who sell you stuff at your door or in the store. I’m not even a salesman at all — I’m an artist.”

Though they always claimed it was a question of ease and comfort, soon all wannabe tech wunderkinds were imitating Jobs’s attitude, even hiring fashion consultants to achieve the calibrated poise of stylish yet slovenly. Jack Dorsey, Tim Cook and Evan Spiegel got in on the act; Mark Zuckerberg implausibly claimed that his wardrobe consisted of 20 identical grey t-shirts. Soon they were even in Downing Street: first Steve Hilton, pacing the corridors barefoot, then Dominic Cummings, with what Vogue accurately called “a masterclass in eff-off dressing”.

In the years since, this uniform has even found a sponsor: the clones of Silicon Valley now reportedly all don a Huel-branded black tee. Genius doesn’t only have no time to dress — it has no time to eat. So when SBF rose to prominence there was nothing striking about him. One in three Congress members took money from the guy. He was exactly how you’d expect a trustworthy if eccentric tech prodigy to look.

But, with his imprisonment, the high-water mark of this style has definitively been reached. The decline and fall began when Zuckerberg and then his contemporaries became regulars at Congressional hearings, forced into jackets and ties like first-day sixth formers.

Yet Zuckerberg’s general wardrobe has undergone a vibe shift, as the Wall Street Journal reported this week, expanding to take in ribbed cardigans and designer blazers. Dressing down “is so played out”, said one Valley style consultant. And to replace it a new form of maximalism has arisen. Observe for instance Elon Musk’s white-tie tuxedos, or Jeff Bezos and his fiancĂ©e Lauren SĂĄnchez, who increasingly look like they’d be more at home in the Goodfellas Bamboo Lounge than Amazon HQ.

Perhaps this is just a question of Silicon Valley boys becoming men. But it symbolises how the sector as a whole is trying to tame the excesses of its adolescence. The Apple revolution and Zuckerberg’s “move fast and break things” mentality have a different resonance in a world terrified of smartphones and Big Tech overreach.

And noticeably the tech gods aren’t returning to pure office traditionalism, but instead graduating to the Succession-chic of brands such as Loro Piana. As ever, the elite is regenerating its look to distinguish itself — and leaving the silhouette that made and unmade the 2010s behind.


Nicholas Harris is a Commissioning Editor at UnHerd.

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