The Meta-morphosis of Mark Zuckerberg

The Meta-morphosis of Mark Zuckerberg

By Oghale Apr24,2024

In the run-up to Meta’s first-quarter earnings report this week, a video image of Mark Zuckerberg suddenly started going viral.

Not because of the artificial intelligence assistant he was touting or because of the expected ad revenue growth, but because of the silver chain he was wearing around his neck.

“Mark Zuckerberg made an announcement about something Meta is doing with A.I., but I could not listen to or retain a second of it because when I look at the Reel of him talking, all I see is necklace,” Amy Odell wrote in her Substack, Back Row.

Later, a doctored version of the same picture with Mr. Zuckerberg sporting some scruffy facial hair got people even more excited. The 4,000-plus mostly drooling comments under an Instagram post from the celebrity news account The Shade Room included one from Gwyneth Paltrow, who compared Mr. Zuckerberg to her ex-husband, Chris Martin.

All of a sudden, it seems, people care a lot about how Mark Zuckerberg, 39, looks. At a time when the halcyon promise of technology has been cast in a darker, more suspicious light, the guy whose relentless allegiance to a gray T-shirt became synonymous with the nerd pledge to “move fast and break things” has somehow become the kinder, gentler face of technology.

“The history of Silicon Valley has always been about a carefully constructed image and narrative used to reinforce its myths,” said Venky Ganesan, a partner at the venture capital firm Menlo Ventures. But, he went on, “The playbook is changing.”

And Mr. Zuckerberg has emerged as the most visible sign yet that in the phenomenology of Silicon Valley, we are entering a post-Jobsian age.

Once upon a time, back in the days when Steve Jobs was the prophet of a better future through computing, the virtues of his approach to life seemed self-evident, including the adoption of an immutable daily uniform as the ideal form of dress. It freed the mind from the paltry concerns of such everyday choices as what color shirt goes with what socks. (So annoying!) Thus it was, too, with Mr. Zuckerberg, who went so far as to announce in a 2014 Facebook forum that he wore the same T-shirt every day because “I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible, other than how to best serve this community.”

(Admittedly, it was a luxury version of a gray T-shirt from Brunello Cucinelli, but it was still a T-shirt.)

But after multiple trips by chief executives to Washington, D.C., to testify about the controversies about anxiety and depression caused by social media pressures; after the convictions of Elizabeth Holmes (she of the Jobs-like black turtleneck) and Sam Bankman-Fried; after the cesspool of conspiracy theories and anger that has emerged on X; after all that, the story — and its heroes’ journeys and its heroes’ costumes — suddenly doesn’t look so convincing. Behold the new, looser Mr. Zuckerberg.

He has become, said Joseph Rosenfeld, an image consultant and stylist who works with executives in New York and California, “a more democratized figure.”

Arguably the seeds were planted back in 2021, when Facebook turned into Meta, and Mr. Zuckerberg’s first avatar — dressed, as he generally was IRL, in a T-shirt and jeans — turned out to have a closet of alternative outfits, including a skeleton unitard and an astronaut’s suit. The transformation picked up steam as Mr. Zuckerberg discovered the joys of mixed martial arts and started posting photographs of himself shirtless, sweaty and with various bumps and bruises. It then reached a tipping point with the introduction of the platform Threads.

Not long after Mr. Zuckerberg unveiled his “open and friendly public space for conversation,” he also unveiled his own new, friendlier look — one that focused less on an automated uniform and more on experimentation (everything being relative), as recorded via his own Instagram posts. Suddenly, it seemed as though he was having fun with fashion.

He cheerfully shared photographs of himself looking “Yellowstone”-ready in a chunky shearling coat by Overland. (It seems to be the Maverick Rancher coat, which is the sort of subconscious tell “Saturday Night Live” might embrace.) Next came snaps of himself and his wife, Priscilla Chan, at Anant Ambani’s three-day pre-wedding celebration in Gujarat, in various forms of Indian-inspired finery: a gold silk Sunderbans Tigress shirt from Rahul Mishra, a black Alexander McQueen suit embroidered with silver dragonflies and a pastel floral kurta.

And then Mr. Zuckerberg added a pic titled “jersey swap” in which he and Jensen Huang of Nvidia traded outerwear, with Mr. Zuckerberg donning one of Mr. Huang’s trademark leather jackets and Mr. Huang his shearling. By the time of his last jaunt to the capital, he had let his tightly controlled Julius Caesar haircut grow into looser curls.

He has even started sharing shopping tips. When Jen Wieczner of New York magazine wrote an article identifying a sweater Mr. Zuckerberg wore as from the ur-stealth wealth brand Loro Piana, he popped into the comments under the magazine’s Instagram post to note that the garment was actually a crew neck from Buck Mason — a Los Angeles brand that focuses on American classics — not one from an Italian luxury house owned by LVMH.

Then, when one of Mr. Zuckerberg’s followers complimented a ribbed knit cardigan he wore in a date night pick on his feed, he jumped in with a tag: “It’s @johnelliottco — I’m loving their stuff recently.”

Other brands he favors now include Blanks by Thirteen Studios (he wore its white T-shirt to an Ultimate Fighting Champion match), Todd Snyder and Vuori.

“They are kind of trendy names,” said Derek Guy, who blogs about men’s wear at Die, Workwear! “Everything has a different silhouette, like the sweatshirt with overly long sleeves or the T-shirt with dropped shoulder seams.”

Mr. Guy and Mr. Ganesan, of Menlo Ventures, said they were convinced that Mr. Zuckerberg had enlisted professional help (which is to say, a stylist) to help him develop his look. But a spokeswoman for Meta said that was not the case — at least for his day-to-day life. “Mark mostly buys clothes he finds on Instagram,” she said. “Though he does get input from time to time for formal events and occasions.”

Either way, Mr. Zuckerberg’s pivot from the luxury labels made famous by the morally bankrupt billionaires of “Succession” to more contemporary brands means that “he now has a stable of clothing that makes him an accessible figure for the world and his audience,” Mr. Rosenfeld said.

His new wardrobe also distinguishes him from rivals like Jeff Bezos — who has transformed himself into a real life version of Iron Man, with his bulging muscles, leather jackets and yachts — and Elon Musk, who seems to be channeling a sort of “Top Gun”-meets- “Goldfinger” vibe.

By contrast, Mr. Ganesan said, Mr. Zuckerberg now looks like “the buddy you want to call if you’re doing backyard construction.” Think of him as the tech dude next door. All of which matters because, Mr. Ganesan went on, “mainstream America can relate to that, and he is offering a mainstream product.”

And that, he said, is just “very good for business.”

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By Oghale

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