My five-day journey into the heart of cold arms.
As a heterosexual woman over 30, I have been haunted by this photo of Jeff Bezos looking surprisingly swole since it appeared during the Sun Valley Conference last summer. I don’t want to get into it, and neither do you, but let’s all agree that his vest and aviators are definitely a LOOK.
Bezos’s vest showing off his sun-dappled biceps is perhaps the perfect example of what I’m calling the “Power Vest” — fleece or quilted vests that are favored by all kinds of bros:
- tech bros of Silicon Valley,
- finance bros of New York,
- sales bros and
- finance bros all over the country
(I have no evidence that this is an international trend, and presumably this doesn’t apply to warmer parts of the US).I should clarify here I am speaking about vests worn by men. Yes, people of all genders people wear vests of all kinds. But this is a particular slice of bro culture. Women’s business attire has a whole different set of rules, even in these same industries. The Power Vest flaunts a very cruel male privilege: being comfortable.
Clothes send a message. The vests are not just a convenient warmth layer. There is meaning there. There are layers to this layer. The adoption of the vest by men who work in industries like tech and finance says something about this garment.
The vest means power. And as a lowly woman, I would like some power. Or at least to FEEL powerful — like a master of the universe, able to make snap decisions and be feared and respected by all I come in contact with. Which is why I decided I would wear a vest to the office for a week.
My first order of business was to decide what kind of vest to wear: fleece or quilted. I talked to my editors who are based in San Francisco, and they both emphatically said quilted, specifically Patagonia Nano Puff. But I was imagining a more dressed-up bro look — a fleece vest over a crisp white shirt and maybe even slacks and brown leather shoes.
I think here is the divide: West Coast tech bros always wear quilted vests, and East Coast finance bros still wear fleece.
It was clear I needed an impartial person who thinks really hard about different types of Power Vests and what they mean. It would be useless to ask the bros themselves, because everyone knows bros can’t be asked for opinions, at least not for articulate ones about fashion. So I reached out to possibly THE perfect expert for this: Eric Daman, the costume designer for the TV show Billions, which is about people who work at a hedge fund, but also about the depravity of toxic masculinity amplified by the excesses of money. Which is to say, a show loaded with Power Vests.
Not all Billions characters wear vests: The main character, Bobby Axelrod, never wears them (Daman explains his look is more of perfectly fitting Tom Ford tee) — and his lieutenant “Wags” sticks to suits, a kind of throwback to the precrash era. But one character on Billions, “Dollar” Bill, has been my fleece business vest inspo. “Dollar Bill always wears his Axe Capital [the name of the fictional hedge fund] fleece,” Daman said. He’s older, less hip, and notoriously cheap, hence wearing the free company swag. It’s also a statement of his character’s willingness to do anything for his boss. “I think out of devotion and honor that he chooses to only wear the fleece,” explained Daman. “It’s kind of like how the Scottish clans have their own tartan.”
Two other vest-wearing characters are also carefully chosen. One analyst, Ben Kim, who is younger, wears an Arc’teryx brand vest, made of a thin performance fabric, which is hipper and more youthful than a stodgy fleece or puffer. Another character, Everett, who was poached from another fund and therefore already has his own money, wears a Burberry vest to signal his higher financial status.
Indeed, I learned that vests can get quite expensive. That Jeff Bezos vest? It appears to be a $995 Ralph Lauren. You didn’t think Bezdaddy was going to slum around in a Patagonia, did you?
My vest budget was more limited. My editor informed me that BuzzFeed News was certainly not going to expense a $150 Nanopuff, so I decided to stick with something more modest: an L.L.Bean fleece vest I got as a teen in 1995 and was still at my parents’ house.
I was pretty into my first outfit: loose black jeans, off-white vintage button-down with a weird scene of a pond and ducks on the front, and of course, my vest. A jaunty masculine look. Looking in the mirror at home I saw a savvy businessperson. The Power Vest was working!
I got to the office and my deskmate, Joe, looked at me and said, “Nice vest. You know what you look like?”
“What?” I asked.
At midmorning I experienced a moment of extreme powerlessness. I noticed our floor was out of milk for coffee, so I went to grab a gallon from another floor. The BuzzFeed office has several floors, broken up by department. I sit on the news floor. I see these people every day, I know them, I don’t feel ashamed of wearing a relatively ugly vest around them. The next floor up, where I was getting milk, is where the fashion and lifestyle team sits.
All of a sudden I felt a deep sting of shame, aware of how utterly uncool I looked in front of these people who were dressed much more fashionably. It was that burning shame feeling of when you walk into a room of strangers and realize you’re extremely over- or underdressed. I wanted to scream “It’s for an article!” as a disclaimer, but that would’ve been very weird since no one was asking.
It was harder to figure out what kind of outfit to wear for day 2. I settled on a black button-down blouse with white piping and black jeans again. I don’t really think it worked quite as well — it seemed mismatched to have a casual vest over this dressier top. I didn’t feel powerful.
Whatever happened to sweatpants?
Remember sweatpants? Women used to wear them, not so long ago.
.. No one looks good in sweatpants. But that’s not the point. They’re basically just towels with waistbands. They exist for two activities: lounging and exercising — two activities that you used to be able to do without looking like a model in a P90X infomercial.
.. But yoga pants make it worse. Seriously, you can’t go into a room of 15 fellow women contorting themselves into ridiculous positions at 7 in the morning without first donning skintight pants? What is it about yoga in particular that seems to require this? Are practitioners really worried that a normal-width pant leg is going to throttle them mid-lotus pose?.. Women can, of course, be fit and liberated. We may be able to conquer the world wearing spandex. But wouldn’t it be easier to do so in pants that don’t threaten to show every dimple and roll in every woman over 30?.. Pantsuits had a moment, back in 2016. I think women are ready to give them another chance. And while we’re at it, let’s bring back slacks, too, and corduroys and, why not, even khakis. But the first step is to bring back sweatpants.
Deep-sea divers need skintight polymer pants; so do Olympic speedskaters. The rest of us could use some breathing room. So step into some slouchy pants with me. We don’t have to look quite so good when we’re just trying to look a little better.
some of this growth can be traced to the rise of dress-code-allergic startups and a more casual attitude about business attire overall. But whether you’re an executive or an intern, a backpack suits the densely stacked schedule many men now face. “We think about how a man is living his everyday life,” Ms. Patel said, describing the thought process behind the store’s selection of bags. “We look at functionality: Does it fit his laptop and workout gear—how about a water bottle?” A briefcase can get you to the office and back, but what if you have tennis at 8 a.m., meetings all afternoon and ceramics class at 7 p.m.? A backpack, she added, better targets a modern man’s needs.
.. And while carrying a briefcase leaves you with a single free hand—a hand unable to simultaneously text and funnel caffeine down your throat—a backpack schleps all your stuff and equips you to furiously multitask.
The ad agency’s flamboyant culture was a shock. “I was one of those button-down engineers who was quiet and held himself in the background,” Mr. Aradhya says. At his first client pitch meeting, a colleague from the creative department showed up in a pirate shirt. Another wore leather pants.
“They held court with clients, and they were completely respected,” Mr. Aradhya says. “I thought, ‘Hey, this is a new world.’
People trained in technology often have to sharpen their social skills to move into jobs that require selling, communicating or managing others. Mr. Aradhya made the shift by learning to explain technology to non-techies and polishing his image and conversational skills.
He traded his dark suits and button-down shirts for stylish shoes and bright-colored shirts, says Tonny Wong, his supervisor at Digitas. Mr. Aradhya also learned to talk about his complex work without making others feel intimidated, says Mr. Wong, now chief consulting officer at HackerAgency, a Seattle marketing company.
Introducing himself to strangers didn’t come naturally when he began attending events. “I had to force myself,” he says. Without a network, he says, “it’s impossible to scale or build anything valuable.”
.. You must “entertain, enlighten or enrich” people to attract positive attention to a brand, he says. He tries to do the same for people he meets, so they’ll remember him and help when they can...Mr. Aradyha began window shopping and researching men’s fashions online to figure out how to project a confident, successful image. He swapped his dark suits for jackets of crushed silk or woven with metallic thread, and wears exotic-looking designer shoes by Zota or Fiesso. The look shows he’s not afraid of taking risks, and tends to attract people who are curious and capable, he says. At many events, “I don’t even have to start a conversation,” he says. “People will ask, where did you get those shoes?”.. His style makes him a standout at tech gatherings where “the men are in rumpled shorts and man buns and T-shirts, and you’re tempted to ask them, ‘Have you done your laundry in a month?’” says Diane Darling, author of “The Networking Survival Guide.”“He’s a very memorable figure,” says Lexington, Mass., public-relations executive Bobbie Carlton.
.. He also says something outrageous now and then. The audience was dozing off at a late-afternoon program recently where he was a panelist. He was the last to introduce himself, and he jolted listeners awake by identifying himself as “the king of India” who also happens to run Novus Laurus. “He definitely woke everybody up” and drew a laugh