Boom-time casual is back

Toss the sharp clothes from the Great Depression wardrobe, and put on something that says 'laid back' and 'confident.'

By , Guest blogger

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    Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, leaves his office in Palo Alto, Calif., to attend a meeting in this 2007 file photo. Would entrepreneurs do well to adopt the jeans, T-shirts, and hoodies, that have been popular among Web developers?
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On March 9th, 2009 the S&P stock index hit a low of 666. Also appearing on 3-9-09, was Jeffrey Tucker’s article “Dress Like the Great Depression.” Tucker was preparing job seekers for a new sensibility in work attire, writing “be ready for today’s tight job market, which seeks serious men, not goofs in sweats and polos.”

Tucker waxes eloquent about the smashing dress of the Great Depression: hats, suits, shoes and ties, with everything well put together. “The point is that these men were under pressure to perform, to show that they were valuable, to demonstrate on sight that they were desirable commodities as workers,” Tucker writes.

Two years have passed and the job market remains tight. On the other hand, the Federal Reserve has been, shall we say, loose. Zero interest rates. Quantitative easing one and now QE2, with QE3 and beyond under contemplation. There was TARP and TALP and now TARP Jr. A ballooned Fed balance sheet has money gushing into likely (the aforementioned S&P has doubled) and unlikely places.

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Every Monday is now Merger Monday (this week’s big deal has AT&T buying T-Mobil) and social media businesses are popping up everywhere playing the Google lottery after huge valuations were hung on Facebook and Groupon.

So while the out of work paper shuffler may need to heed Tucker’s advice, New York Times reporter Austin Considine writes “On the Web, Every Day Is Casual Friday“.

In web-land, everyone’s gone Zuckerberg. T-shirts, jeans and hoodies. “It seems that if you dress up too much, you run the risk of not being taken seriously,” said Erica Zidel, a Seattle-based Web entrepreneur who attended Harvard around the same time as Mr. Zuckerberg. “There is an unspoken rule in entrepreneurial culture that your look should be laid back.”

“It goes back to a mind-set that I think we’ve had in this country for a long time, and that is, ‘I don’t have to work very hard to prove it if I actually have it, if I actually own it,’” says Mark-Evan Blackman, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Nathan Tone is trying to cash in on Zuckerware, creating Mark by Mark Zuckerberg. Tone believes entrepreneurs dressed in suits are handicapping themselves in obtaining venture capital. “Like you can’t get VC funding if people aren’t wearing sweat pants,” says Mr. Tone.

Erica Zidel beat out out four suit-wearing competitors in a competition for start-up capital for her site, SittingAround.com. “I wore jeans and wound up winning. Not only did the audience look past my outfit, I actually think it helped convey the confidence I had in my company.”

And while Ms. Zidel felt confident in her jeans, maybe the problem was her competitors were not comfortable in their suits. Tucker councils not to be stiff or stuffy in your refined attire. “You must be confident enough to wear them as if you belong in them,” Tucker writes. “The more you can look like your clothes are in fact no big deal, just part of your life, the more compelling the message will be.”

The last two years haven’t been boom times for too many, but for those picking the low-hanging fruit from the Fed’s liquidity tree, it couldn’t be better and they couldn’t be smarter. That’s why they’re the current masters of the universe, they’re smart and who cares what they put on in the morning. “The idea behind shabby vogue was to give the impression that you don’t really care what others think,” writes Tucker. “You are the cutting edge, the smasher of idols and conventions, a person who doesn’t give a flip about how society judges such artificial external superficialities as pant creases and ties and things. Your value is in your very person, the fact of your existence on this planet. In the boom times, the message of fashion is ‘It’s all about me!’”

What to wear, what to invest in? T-shirts and stocks or gold and wool suits.

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