He Made Geek Chic

Article excerpt

Byline: Robin Givhan; Robin Givhan writes about fashion for Newsweek.

Suits are for suckers. With his turtleneck-and-jeans uniform, Jobs was the real nerdy deal, the corporate dork his customers didn't have to be.

Women have long struggled with a confusing abundance of fashion choices, but mostly they've been able to use that bounty to their advantage. The most skillful have managed to assemble a personal signature--a particular frock or embellishment with which they're instantly associated and that accurately reflects some characteristic of their public persona. Think, for instance, of Anna Wintour and the shrewd protectiveness of her Chanel sunglasses, or Madeleine Albright and her quietly political brooches.

Men, by contrast, have relied on the anonymous power suit. It is a universal form of public camouflage--blandly appropriate and never distracting. So pervasive is the reliance on the business suit that men who shun it often are defined by the sheer audacity of their refusal rather than by their chosen alternative--be it Dockers and a T-shirt, or the generic rock-star costume of tight jeans and a dandified shirt.

This reality makes the sartorial distinction of Steve Jobs all the more astounding. He made the kind of personal style statement that eludes most men. His clothes--neither disconcertingly flashy, nor self-consciously dowdy--came to be uniquely associated with him, indicative of the streamlined ease of his technical wizardry, but wholly accessible, uncomplicated, and welcoming.

Jobs was supremely committed to his chosen uniform: faded, relaxed-fit jeans and a black mock turtleneck. While he might occasionally have worn a black button-down shirt rather than his beloved turtleneck, or he might have gotten a little fancy with a pair of leather lace-ups instead of sneakers, mostly Jobs held firm to a look that became both recognizable and reassuring.

Even as he became wealthier and more powerful, Jobs never appeared to have upgraded his uniform. The mock turtleneck never took on a noticeably luxurious sheen or an especially precise fit--as if a Gap pullover had been exchanged for one from Hermes. …