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For once, Mark Zuckerberg looks like what he is: a businessman. Testifying at a joint hearing before two Senate committees about his company’s role in the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal on Tuesday, the Facebook CEO wore a navy suit, pale blue tie, and crisp white shirt. He returned to the Hill on Wednesday to speak to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, wearing a navy suit, navy tie, and another crisp white shirt.
It’s a big deal for a man whose signature look is deliberately casual — hoodies, fitted T-shirts, and jeans — and who helped usher in the end of business attire in corporate workplaces.
Zuckerberg’s attire is a reminder that even in 2018, when men want to look like adults, they suit up.
Zuckerberg’s hoodies, T-shirts, and jeans are part of larger trends in how men dress
The casual tech bro look Zuckerberg normally favors has been hugely influential. He’s done for hoodies and T-shirts what Kurt Cobain did for flannel. He’s worn them so much, they’re now inextricably linked to tech culture.
Jeans are now commonplace not only in Silicon Valley businesses but in companies nationwide. The swing from business attire to business casual to plain casual has hit suits hard. According to the market research firm Euromonitor, sales of men’s suits in the US fell sharply in 2017, a trend that it has reported for years.
As suits have gone down, luxury hoodies have become a thing. Kanye West’s Yeezy line includes a selection of hoodies that cost nearly $700. Defending the overpriced sportswear featured in his Yeezy 2 collection, West told Vanity Fair in 2015, “I was so happy to just show so many sweatshirts. It’s as simple as that. I think sweatshirts are the way of the future. ... Sweatshirts are fucking important.”
Zuckerberg’s casual uniform is also part of a larger pattern of powerful men trying to make their lives easier. Wearing essentially the same ensemble day in and day out gives men one less decision to make. During a Facebook town hall in 2014, Zuckerberg said he has the same clothing on repeat because he wants to limit the time he spends on “frivolous” decisions. The following year, then-President Obama made a similar point, explaining that he didn’t want to think about what he was wearing or eating; he typically wore either a blue or gray suit. Scientists have even coined a name to describe this phenomenon: decision fatigue.
Still, Zuckerberg dresses up when he needs to
Although Zuckerberg is now known as the CEO with a penchant for hoodies, he has broken out more formal attire on numerous occasions. He wore a tie to work daily during 2009. He said:
After the start of the recession in 2008, I wanted to signal to everyone at Facebook that this was a serious year for us. Great companies thrive by investing more heavily while everyone else is cutting back during a recession. But great companies also make sure they’re financially strong and sustainable. My tie was the symbol of how serious and important a year this was, and I wore it every day to show this.
He wore a suit to his 2012 wedding to Priscilla Chan. He’s also broken out suits at his alma mater, Harvard, while accepting prizes, and to meetings with heads of state. In 2014, he incited a bout of pearl-clutching for showing up to the Breakthrough Prize awards in a navy blue tuxedo instead of black. Scandal!
Last May, Zuckerberg gave the Harvard commencement address in a midnight blue suit and dazzling periwinkle tie. Speaking at the 2016 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in Peru, he wore a slightly wrinkled black suit with a burgundy tie. And at the China Development Forum in Beijing, he skipped the tie completely. He wore a charcoal suit with a white button-down shirt. Accepting the Axel Springer Award in Germany in February 2016, he also suited up sans tie. However, when he’s met with foreign dignitaries like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Chinese President Xi Jinping, Zuckerberg has gone full-on business professional, tie and all.
While testifying before the Senate, Zuckerberg had little choice but to dress up — though there is no official dress code for committee hearings, business attire is standard in Congress. Lawmakers can’t even wear sportswear to make a political statement. When Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) symbolically wore a hoodie in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s killing, he was booted from the House floor. And last year, a woman reporter made headlines when she was turned away from the Speaker’s Lobby, near the House chamber, for wearing a sleeveless dress.
Congressional dress standards notwithstanding, it makes sense that Zuckerberg would want to dress up for his hearings. A 2015 study, “The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing,” found that dressing up can actually make a person feel like a boss.
“Putting on formal clothes makes us feel powerful, and that changes the basic way we see the world,” study author Abraham Rutchick told the Atlantic.
Feeling powerful is an emotion that may prove useful for Zuckerberg, who’s under fire following reports that the data company Cambridge Analytica collected information on 87 million unsuspecting Facebook users. But given the scandal surrounding the social media company he founded, Zuckerberg is mostly in the nation’s capital to play nice — and look it. Getting a haircut and wearing a suit gives the impression that he’s repentant. Just ask any criminal defense lawyer who’s had to make over a client before a trial.
For all the changes in corporate attire in recent years, it’s hard to shake the expectation that a suit projects authority
Zuckerberg showed up to the Senate looking exactly how you’d expect anyone testifying before our nation’s leaders would. Yet he can’t shake the conception that he never dresses up. On Monday, President Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, lashed out at the Facebook CEO’s style while speaking to a group of White House reporters.
”Is he going to behave like an adult?” Kudlow asked of Zuckerberg. “As a major corporate leader? Or give me this phony bologna, what is it, hoodies and dungarees? What does that kind of signal sell?”
Kudlow’s comments missed the mark on Zuckerberg, but they reveal just how pervasive the idea is that men need to put on a suit to be taken seriously.