Crewneck tees, Adidas sandals, and hoodies have become the startup uniform in Silicon Valley as noted by Northern California designers reported in the Men’s Journal. Higher production standards have had a subtle influence on the Silicon Valley aesthetic with Champion sweatshirts and Target t-shirts being replaced with structured hoodies, raw denim, and recycled t-shirts. In turn, dress is still casual but more tailored to ease the transition from meetings with investors to happy hours.
“It’s not just nerdy, 23-year-old programmers anymore,” says Orondava Mumford, the design director of Alternative (formerly known as Alternative Apparel), which specializes in basic tees and knits, told the Men’s Journal. “That guy is in his thirties now; he’s grown up a bit. The clothes are still casual, but they’re more conscious.”
There is a growing sense of camaraderie between Internet and fashion startups. As more people flock to Silicon Valley for a shot at success, the hoodie has become a badge of honor. “It’s like, yeah, I started in a coffee shop with a hoodie and a dream and now I’m getting millions of dollars from investors,” Mumford adds.
While the hoodie may represent entrepreneurial success in Silicon Valley—think Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, it is associated with criminal intent among minorities. Think Trayvon Martin. The Florida teen was murdered in 2012 by former neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman because the black youth “looked suspicious.”
Fox News host Geraldo Rivera provoked outrage at the time when he stated the slain teenager was partially responsible for his death because he was wearing a hoodie. Rivera maintained that he was not blaming the victim but called it “common sense” for minorities to avoid wearing hoodies. He said that he was “reminding minority parents of the risk that comes with being a kid of color in America.”
Even more recently, billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban sparked controversy when he used the hoodie as an example to point out racism and bias in this country. While discussing NBA LA Clippers Owner Donald Sterling at a conference in Nashville, Cuban said, “If I see a black kid in a hoodie on my side of the street, I’ll move to the other side of the street. If I see a white guy with a shaved head and tattoos (on the side he now is on), I’ll move back to the other side of the street. None of us have pure thoughts; we all live in glass houses.”
Indeed, much research shows how one’s appearance can lead to perceptions and judgments about success, trustworthiness, and criminality. The hooded sweatshirt is a piece of clothing with a practical purpose that has gone through an evolution of symbolism since it was introduced in the ‘30s and worn by laborers, embraced by hip-hop culture in the ‘90s, and a decade later associated with nerds and skateboarders.
As more high profile African Americans represent in the tech world, creating and selling multimillion dollar companies like Michael Siebel, Paul Judge, Chinedu Echeruo, and Clarence Wooten, then a black youth wearing a hoodie may one day be looked upon as a techie, coder, and future serial entrepreneur.