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Sam Bankman-Fried and Schlubby Style


The mythic figure that’s the billionaire tech genius within the nowhere man tee may finally be about to satisfy its long overdue end. The arrest of Sam Bankman-Fried, the founding father of the FTX cryptocurrency trading platform, on Monday within the Bahamas on charges of fraud, may signal not only the following stage in his downfall, but in addition a change in the worldwide image-making of Silicon Valley.

In any case, nobody took the concept a lifetime of the boundless mind was reflected in a life free of petty concerns like clothing further than Mr. Bankman-Fried (or SBF, as he is commonly called). Not for him the physical cage of a suit and tie. As an alternative, the T-shirt, cargo shorts and sneakers, often worn with white running socks scrunched down on the ankle.

And never just any T-shirt and cargo shorts, but what could appear to be the baggiest, most stretched out, most slept in, most consciously unflattering T-shirts and shorts; essentially the most unkempt bed-head. While the look could have evolved naturally, it became a signature as he rose to prominence, a glance he realized was as effective at pushing the Pavlovian buttons of the watching public (and the investing community) because the Savile Row suits and Charvet ties of Wall Street.

“It’s as conscious as incorporating within the Bahamas where there isn’t a to little regulatory oversight,” said Scott Galloway, an investor, podcasting host and professor of promoting, referring to the incontrovertible fact that FTX’s headquarters were within the Caribbean reasonably than California. “It’s the final word billionaire white boy tech flex: I’m so above convention. I’m so special I’m not subject to the identical rules and propriety as everyone else.”

It’s a picture that has its roots not a lot in Mr. Bankman-Fried’s youth in a family that embraced utilitarianism as in Albert Einstein’s unbrushed halo of hair, which became as much a logo of the physicist’s genius as E = mc2. In Steve Jobs’s jeans and black turtleneck, and in Steve Wozniak’s kitschy shirts, long, stringy hair and beard (which took three hours to recreate for the “Jobs” biopic). In, after all, Mark Zuckerberg’s Adidas flip-flops, hoodies and grey T-shirts, which gave rise to the present tech uniform of selection.

The sudden collapse of the crypto exchange has left the industry stunned.

It’s a uniform that telegraphs to the watching world anyone who doesn’t have the time to fret about what they’re wearing because they’re considering such big, world-changing thoughts. Thoughts that nobody else can possibly understand because they’re so on the market and potentially revolutionary. It plays on our general insecurity around science and the tech world; the entire idea of a language, made in code, impenetrable, that magically shrinks down all varieties of possibilities and puts them within the palm of your hand.

“On a macro level, it’s human to worship things,” Mr. Galloway said. “Tech with its mysteries is straightforward to worship. It’s the idolatry of innovators.”

Innovators who with their very being don’t just step over long established lines, but ignore them entirely. How will we recognize them if we don’t even understand what they’re proselytizing about? To paraphrase the previous Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart on obscenity, we all know them after we see them. In fact they will not be like us. In fact they don’t dress like us.

We now have, said Joseph Rosenfeld, a picture consultant and stylist in Silicon Valley, swallowed the costume theory hook, like and sinker. “When ‘tech bros’ like SBF are mid-meteoric rise in notoriety and wealth-building, the general public is willing to offer them a pass since the look is de rigueur,” Mr. Rosenfeld said. That costume has been reinforced by Hollywood, and the sheer incontrovertible fact that each time “a V.C. forks over an enormous investment to a schlubbily dressed person (almost 100% of the time male-presenting), that’s a passive type of approval.”

And a self-perpetuating one, at the very least if, as Mr. Galloway also said, you might be white, male and young. “If an individual of color or a girl or a 50-year-old showed up like that, security probably wouldn’t allow them to within the constructing,” he noted. In some ways, the dress code is one more example of the double standard rife in Silicon Valley (or those corporations we associate with Silicon Valley, even when, like FTX, they’d headquarters elsewhere) — the one which saw Sheryl Sandberg in her Facebook days wearing sleeveless power sheaths in a room of hoodies.

Or at the very least it was. Suddenly, nonetheless, Mr. Bankman-Fried has forged the entire look in a distinct light. His sloppy dress seems less a mirrored image of a better calling or of a call to devote his own funds to “effective altruism,” than a red flag a couple of sloppy approach to other people’s money. A clue that somebody who doesn’t care about showering or style is perhaps someone who doesn’t care about audits and the co-mingling of funds.

That, in reality, in Mr. Bankman-Fried’s overwhelming embrace of the dress-down mystique — one colleague, Andy Croghan, told The Latest York Times, “Sam and I’d intentionally not wear pants to meetings” — he actually missed the purpose, which was that it’s the small print and what you don’t see that matters. Mr. Jobs’s black turtlenecks were by the Japanese designer Issey Miyake, for instance; Mr. Zuckerberg’s gray T-shirts come from the Italian designer Brunello Cucinelli. They only seemed unstudied.

Mr. Bankman-Fried missed the incontrovertible fact that, as Mr. Rosenfeld said, “a few of one of the best dressed individuals in tech prefer a really low profile and don’t prefer to bring attention to themselves,” meaning they really look more business casual than simply casual. (When asked who those individuals may be, Mr. Rosenfeld name-checked Kevin Systrom, formerly of Instagram, and Evan Spiegel of Snapchat.)

And he missed that somebody who may go to jail will not be someone whose look anyone else might actually need to emulate.

Because it happens, Mr. Bankman-Fried was scheduled to testify before Congress the day after his arrest. Whether he would have donned a suit for the occasion (he did when he testified in December 2021, though famously he wore his brown lace-ups tied in such a bizarre knot that they became a meme unto themselves) we’ll never know. But provided that when he appeared in Bahamian court to be indicted, he did switch things up in a navy suit and white shirt, if no tie, he seems to grasp the role image can play in influencing judgments. Presumably, when his case makes it to court in Latest York, he’ll do the identical, perhaps even with a tie, though whether it’s going to make any difference at that time is doubtful.

His track record of schlubbiness — still on view during his mea culpa self-exoneration media tour before his arrest — is there now to assist paint an image, as Mr. Galloway said, of a “guy who has no respect for other people’s money, just as he had no respect for decorum.”

And whether it is, indeed, so used, it’s pretty likely that the sartorial schtick will exit of vogue. At the least for some time. As an alternative, perhaps, the trimmings of the person who has stepped into Mr. Bankman-Fried’s shoes as FTX chief executive to oversee its bankruptcy, John J. Ray III, who sat before the House Financial Services Committee on Tuesday in a pinstriped navy suit, light blue shirt and dusty rose tie with a discrete print.

And yet, Mr. Galloway said, “the waving of the center finger, the ‘I’m special, I’m unconventional, I’m above all that boring rule-playing’” — that ethos Mr. Bankman-Fried once symbolized?

“That can all the time be in style,” he said. Even when it does get a recent look.

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