Of the many newsworthy things tech villain of the moment Elon Musk has said this year, the most surprising might have come at the Met Gala. “I love fashion,” Musk said to a group of red carpet-side journalists on the first Monday in May. Seeming to register a few raised eyebrows, Musk elaborated: “I do, actually,” he continued, increasingly earnest. “Sometimes it’s viewed as frivolous and maybe not that important, but I think beauty is very important, and style, and things that move the heart.”
If his audience was skeptical, it’s easy to see why. In the pantheon of Silicon Valley overlords, where imagemaking is taken as seriously as New Age-y health regimens, Musk seems to be uniquely averse to the persuasive powers of fashion and style—at least when it comes to his own outfits. At the World Cup final in Qatar on Sunday, where Musk watched the game in a VIP box alongside Jared Kushner (of the erstwhile “Slim Suit crowd”), the Twitter boss wore an olive green T-shirt and simple black jeans (with an oval belt buckle). What little attitude the outfit conveyed was carried by the buckle—perhaps an adopted habit from his new home state, Texas. (Musk is also occasionally pictured in a cowboy hat, and has said he is a fan of the “space cowboy” aesthetic.) But nothing could hide the fact that the man who spent $44 billion to become the center of attention looked unprepared for the moment, like he had thrown on the first thing he saw in his Doha penthouse suite.
Replying to the poll Musk posted this week asking if he should step down as head of Twitter, one user had a different suggestion: “Honestly You should hire a stylist just for the sake of elegance.”
There is a long tradition of rich and famous tech tech titans aligning themselves with the fashion world. Ever since Steve Jobs asked Issey Miyake to make him a subtle black turtleneck for everyday use, clothing has been a central part of techworld mythmaking. The iPhone progenitor’s daily uniform projected a monastic commitment to creativity, and an attention to high design cloaked in humility.
Similarly, Mark Zuckerberg’s gray T-shirts were designed to free his mind from non-Facebook-related decision making—or at least give that impression. (Because he’s a billionaire, they are made by Brunello Cucinelli, the cashmere-clothed humanist who dispenses clothing and philosophical musings from his Perugian hamlet to other world historically wealthy tech lords like Jeff Bezos and Marc Benioff.) Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, on the other hand, fashioned himself an anti-establishment crypto evangelist and free-spirited CEO with a closet full of droopy shorts and slim-fitting lamb-leather jackets by Rick Owens.