I hear a man strolling by the Original Stitch pop-up stand on San Francisco’s 4th and Townsend nonchalantly say, “That’s a nice shirt.”
He’s eyeing two button-ups neatly folded on a table, next to a giant Goodwill donation bin. The pop-up stand is part of last week’s #DitchTheHoodie event by Original Stitch, the startup where people can design and order their own custom dress shirts. The startup’s goal for the day? To have the good people of San Francisco donate their hoodies to Goodwill in exchange for a free button-up shirt.
The “button-ups for techies” idea is not entirely novel. A whole slew of startups are attempting to monetize the stereotype of Silicon Valley’s fashion-challenged males. The latest buzz around men’s fashion in San Francisco’s tech set is Black V Club, a startup that sells only black v-necks for the entrepreneur who is too busy to be bothered to pick out an outfit each day. Throw on a black v-neck, and you’re good to go.
An image driven by mainstream media like The Social Network movie and HBO’s Silicon Valley, and reinforced by real-life San Francisco techies, the hoodie has come to represent tech culture’s sartorial weapon of choice for the lazy coding nerd.
Not to be bothered with fleeting trends and style choices, the stereotypical programmer pulls on a company tee and hoodie in the morning and scooters into work.
Many agree that fashion in tech could step up a notch. While the hoodie in its physical form—perfect in its light fabric and soft versatility—will never go away, the hoodie as metaphor and everything it has come to represent in Silicon Valley, is being thrown away.
I inquired those who were donating hoodies about their thoughts of other San Francisco hoodie-wearing brethren.
Brothers Richard Sim and Matt Sim agree that Silicon Valley needs to get some style. They see fashion startups gaining traction.
Matt, a customer operations specialist at Google, tells me about a friend who is renting out suits on a monthly basis. “There’s a large market for fashion in Silicon Valley,” he says.
I ask Richard, a technical sourcer at Duran HCP, what the fashion landscape looks like in Silicon Valley.
“Or lack thereof,” Richard replies. “You can tell who is in marketing and who is in engineering—you could point it out if you see them walking on the street. A lot of engineers look like college students who have just rolled out of bed; they wear whatever their companies give them. Let me just say this—if it’s fitted, then they’re probably not an engineer.”
Alan Fineberg, an iOS engineer at Square, is actually an engineer with some fitted clothing. Surprisingly, he tells me he doesn’t think too much about his style choices, but that everyone at his company is just constantly on point in terms of fashion.
“People at Square are very well dressed,” says Alan, “I have even been asked if Square has a dress code. Everyone is just really design conscious and that comes out in their aesthetic and style choices.”
“Fashion in Silicon Valley is pretty terrible,” Liam Hausmann tells me. An associate at PR firm Bateman group, Liam believes that the tech fashion sense is being glorified by certain individuals—the Zuckerbergs of the world.
“Everyone is playing into this certain aesthetic, but it’s based on something less than awesome,” says Liam, “There’s a hive mind in men’s tech fashion. There are expectations that people should be dressing a certain way. People can definitely spice their wardrobes up—its easy to dress nice.”
Jason Park, working the Original Stitch stand, believes that with tech companies and startups expanding and going global, sooner or later people will have to start dressing better.
“Traditionally speaking, engineers don’t dress very well and we are in a city full of engineers,” says Jason, “Tech is so much a part of our society that it’s not a niche space anymore. Engineers have to talk to more people, they have more meetings, they work with more businesses. You have to learn how to dress up and stand out. But it’s not just a necessity, it’s cool to feel good.”
Images by Stephanie Chan