The Facebook IPO roadshow — a crucial time for the company — is well under way, and the company’s CEO has been in the spotlight. It was no doubt expected that Mark Zuckerberg would ditch his trademark hoodie for attire more befitting the circumstances, but no. At the few events Zuckerberg has attended, including the launch event in New York, he has sported the hoodie.
By now the hoodie is perhaps something of a joke to Zuckerberg. For everything he has accomplished, one can almost hear him thinking, this is what people choose to focus on?
From that perspective, it is easy to understand why Zuckerberg continues to wear it. More interesting, and perhaps more telling, is why the hoodie has become a flash point.
Clothes Make the Man?
Clothes do mean something in the business world — sometimes perhaps beyond reason — depending on factors like generation and geographic region. There is a sizable constituency of men, especially on the East Coast, who wear a tie to work every day, for example, for no other reason than because it is expected. Ditto pantyhose and makeup for professional women, particularly in the south.
That Zuckerberg seems to think he is exempt from these “rules” may infuriate, delight or worry onlookers, depending on their perspective. That’s not just because he is a member of the Silicon Valley executive club, which has long written its own rules about business attire.
“It’s the same resentment that came from his Speedo shower shoes a couple years ago,” Marc Cenedella, CEO of TheLadders, told the E-Commerce Times. “It’s the sense that that it feels unfair for somebody who doesn’t play by any of the rules to be so successful.”
For some people, the underlying driver is not envy, but rather downright scorn — and a way to vent their feelings about Zuckerberg in a socially acceptable manner, said Todd Dewett, a professor of management at Wright State University.
“Any time we perceive character flaws, we tend to ignore them — classic conflict avoidance — or dance around them, which is a milder form of conflict avoidance,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
“Zuckerberg lacks executive presence. He sometimes exudes overconfidence and youthful vigor. These, combined with the story of the origin of Facebook — which he will never fully be able to put behind him — create a higher than normal burden to project a credible executive presence,” Dewett reasoned.
Dewett’s advice to Zuckerberg: Given all these dynamics, a hoodie simply won’t cut it. Do yourself a favor and dress like an adult. This will force your critics to more openly address what their real problem or issue is — your character and leadership abilities.
A Generation Divide
In many ways, this is a Millennial thing, said Rich Hanley, associate professor and director of the graduate journalism program at Quinnipiac University.
“The hoodie is part of the uniform-of-choice for Zuckerberg’s generation,” Hanley told the E-Commerce Times. “The first generation of Internet entrepreneurs eliminated the suit-and-tie aesthetic but still wore shirts with collars and slacks. The present generation tends to dress as they wish, because to them, there is no distinction between work and play, and thus their clothes reflect that blurred line.”
Creative vs. Conformist
The irritation some people feel also points to their inherent natures — that is, whether they are creative types or conformists, said Francis Petit, associate dean for executive MBA programs at Fordham University.
“Mark Zuckerberg, although young, is a true innovator. His innovative mindset and divergent way of thinking has allowed him to impact our world like no other individual in this century,” he said. “I can see something like a hoodie really bothering the Wall Street types who, in general, are convergent thinkers.”
Overall, convergent and divergent thinkers are not really compatible, noted Petit, and are quick to point out each other’s flaws.
A Position of Trust
Some of those who object to the fuss about the hoodie are perturbed because the more talk about what Zuckerberg is wearing, the less talk about what he is doing.
“Mark Zuckerberg’s hoodie or any other element of his wardrobe is not the issue,” Chuck Pappalardo, managing director of Trilogy Search, told the E-Commerce Times.
“The crux of the problem is that he’s not delivering what he says he’s delivering,” Pappalardo maintained. “Facebook hopes to profit widely on the use of people’s personal information, but his message regarding transparency and personal data usage is becoming increasingly hollow, and the reaction is becoming increasingly negative.”
Facebook declined to comment for this story.