In Congress, Tech CEOs Perfect Billionaire Invisibility

Rachel Tashjian

Two summers ago, when Mark Zuckerberg went to testify before Congress, many Americans saw the Facebook overlord in a suit for the first time. (Remember, even in The Social Network, he attended depositions in a hoodie and flip flops, while the fashion police, aka the Winklevoss twins, withered on the other side of the table in their Savile Row finest.) Zuckerberg’s suit, Washington Post fashion critic Robin Givhan noted at the time, was ill-fitting, with the jacket a little too large, the shirt collar too big, and the tie too loose—all evidence of the hoodie icon’s unfamiliarity with tailored clothing. (Or maybe it was carefully calculated slovenly-lite, meant to show he just isn’t comfortable playing the corporate honcho. Who’s to say whether Zuckerberg is capable of the three-dimensional chess that is fashion diplomacy.)

<div class="caption"> Jeff Bezos testifies before a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, July 29, 2020. </div> <cite class="credit">Bloomberg / Getty Images</cite>
Jeff Bezos testifies before a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, July 29, 2020.
Bloomberg / Getty Images

Zuckerberg looked much more ready to do business, if not to answer for his company’s shady practices, when he appeared before Congress on Wednesday along with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Google and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, and Apple CEO Tim Cook to discuss claims that they have engaged in anti-competitive conduct. In fact, for all the noise that the tech world has made with its ultra-casual uniform—fleece vests, T-shirts, hoodies, and other whocarescore basics—the four titans, some of the world’s wealthiest men (and in fact one, Bezos, who is the richest), were all just...wearing suits. They seemed to fit fine! (Of course, with Zoom framing being what it is, who knows whether they were wearing pants, though one imagines they might be necessary at least for psychological effect: “make sure to wear pants lol” one imagines a friend, or a robot butler, might have texted.) The only curious deviations were extreme spread collars on Bezos and Zuckerberg—the former, because he’s been boning up his fashion credentials lately, and the latter, because, well, once you’ve been literally dressed down by Robin Givhan, you tend to learn your lesson.

<div class="caption"> Tim Cook testifies before a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, July 29, 2020. </div> <cite class="credit">Graeme Jennings / Getty Images</cite>
Tim Cook testifies before a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, July 29, 2020.
Graeme Jennings / Getty Images

Completing the tableaux endormis were the CEOs’ backdrops, a master class in studied blandness. The Zoom background has become hotly contested billionaire real estate in America—in a society primed to read every digital image like a historic painting on an art history exam, every book, nook, artwork, and paint color is now evidence to build a case for or against an executive’s empathy levels. While it’s unclear how attuned to public scrutiny those in the country’s tippity-top tax bracket really are, they certainly know enough by now to attempt to avoid investigation entirely: Bezos’s bookshelf was empty save for a few inscrutable books, mostly because many were flipped so that the spine faced away from the camera, and an innocuous-looking gold award; Tim Cook sat in front of some mediocre-looking iPlants; and Zuckerberg was poised before a shiplap wall in blinding white—incidentally, the same color of the sunscreen with which he slathered his face while on an electric surfboard near his house in Hawaii recently. Pichai even went neutral with his art, a true paradox, perching before a white canvas raked like a giant version of the classic Zen desk garden. (But see, I’ve already proven their point: at the risk of sounding like the Yogi Berra of fashion critics, even nothing says something.)

<div class="caption"> Sundar Pichai testifies before a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, July 29, 2020. </div> <cite class="credit">Getty Images</cite>
Sundar Pichai testifies before a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, July 29, 2020.
Getty Images

The era of the sloppy tech uniform isn’t over, of course—and these tech CEOs in particular have proven that they aren’t fashion agnostics. They’ve all shown their interest in matters sartorial: Zuckerberg wears Brunello Cucinelli T-shirts, Bezos is a Bijan customer, Tim Cook...has cool-guy glasses, and I quite like Pichai’s skinny bomber jackets. Bezos has even become something of an influencer, with his Vilebrequinn swim trunks selling out after he was seen wearing them last summer on the Italian coast. But Congressional testimony is not a paparazzi photo off David Geffen’s yacht. And the criticism of the tech industry is now so serious that to dress in an ill-fitting suit would approach an act of supreme arrogance. For the world’s truly rich, the goal is not to look rich, or even, as it was just a year or two ago, to look schlubby. The goal is to look invisible.

Originally Appeared on GQ

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