Facebook’s upcoming IPO looks set to be the listing event of the year. In the tech world, it is easily the most anticipated public offering since Google back in 2004, when Facebook was but a tiny, Harvard-only online network. Analysts are divided over the $96bn valuation, with some suggesting this is an extravagant price in any market, let alone that of 2012, while others have stated that people said the same of Google – which is now almost ten times its 2004 listing value. However, that’s not all that divides them. Some are concerned about boy-genius Mark Zuckerberg’s business nous, his extravagant billion-dollar purchase of Instagram and, most curiously of all, his personal style which has, in some quarters, been charitably referred to as ‘informal’ and ‘relaxed’ and in other quarters, decried as ‘slovenly’ and, worst of all, ‘disrespectful.’
The Zuckerberg motif is that of a hoodie-wearing social network wizard, a denim-and-trainers Daddy Warbucks: a Silicon Valley success story and sartorial stereotype. The investor motif is that of a bespoke suit wearing, bespectacled-and-balding businessman: the Wall Street success story – and, yet again, sartorial stereotype. The objections raised on behalf of the latter group against the sartorial demeanour of the former are indicative of the diversity of the modern business world. The ‘uniform’ of the City of London has always held a fascination for those not connected with it; why do people wear suits to work when they can’t wait to get out of them at home? Why do people strangle themselves with ties and then loosen them as soon as they step into the lift at the end of the day, breathing a heavy sigh?
The answer, of course, is that they are expected to. Most people wear to work not what they want, but what they are required to wear. Though even the business world is now more casual, many companies (including my own) stipulate that a suit and tie must be worn at all client meetings. The majority are dissatisfied with this circumstance. I have yet to meet someone in the work environment as enthusiastic about smartness of dress as I. Colleagues sit there in suits as though in strait jackets; uncomfortable, grim of face, pulling at their tie knots, wishing they were at home in their hooded jumper and jeans. They gaze out of the window and dream of the day they can do a Zuckerberg; walk into a meeting of suits wearing – in true mid-life crisis style – a printed t-shirt and a pair of All Stars, kick back in the Chairman’s chair and rabble on about their vision for the future.
Sadly for them, most will never reach such giddy heights. However they cannot, and should not, fail to see that as they are playing a role with which they are uncomfortable, wearing clothes to work which do not reflect their character or their interests, their assumption that Zuckerberg’s collegiate wardrobe is entirely the whim of a California-based twenty-something billionaire is presumptuous. Facebook is a product of a different kind of businessman, but it is still a product. Zuckerberg introduced himself as an Ivy League, frat-house whiz kid wearing precisely what he wanted to wear. This has become his uniform. He is as imprisoned in that as a lowly clerk in his polyester suit and clip-on tie.
Should Zuckerberg put on a suit for the investors? He has done recently, and he looked dreadful. However, even if he looked magnificent, that isn’t really what the investors are in it to buy. Zuckerberg isn’t a style icon and Facebook isn’t a suit and tie company. It’s a young company; a company for the future. It even has its own agenda for how it will change the future. Conforming to the ancient uniform of the investment world’s coterie is merely deferential. I will always encourage people to take an interest in clothing, cultivate it and develop their own personal style but the crucial thing about style is that it has to be just that – personal. Putting on something the old-timers recognise is not going to fool any of them; Zuckerberg and Facebook are one, and the product investors are clamouring to buy isn’t being sold short because the young chief hasn’t played dress-up. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.