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09.28.10

Mark Zuckerberg: Fashion Icon

Deep down, The Social Network is a fashion film, with the Facebook founder giving us a new sartorial standard for success in the Internet age, says Rebecca Dana.

Deep down, The Social Network is a fashion film, with the Facebook founder giving us a new sartorial standard for success in the Internet age, says Rebecca Dana. Plus, View Our Complete Coverage of The Social Network

Early on in The Social Network, there’s a heated scene between Facebook co-founders Eduardo Saverin and Mark Zuckerberg. Saverin demands to know when the site will be done. Zuckerberg, slumped on a couch in his usual lumpy shirt and ill-fitting jeans, says it never will. Facebook is like fashion, he explains, and “fashion is never finished.”

“You’re talking about fashion?” the considerably slicker Saverin snipes back. “Really? You?”

Really. Him.

And really, the entire film. Strange as it may seem for a movie about a deeply asocial, style-oblivious computer nerd, deep down The Social Network is a fashion flick, as much about what the characters are wearing as what they’re tapping out on their keyboards.

Just as Oliver Stone did with the sharkskin-suited bankers of Wall Street and Bret Easton Ellis did with the label-obsessed Patrick Bateman of American Psycho—both iconic, fashion-defining works of an earlier opulent era—director David Fincher and his team have given us a new sartorial standard for success in the Internet age. And that standard is: dumpy.

“The wonderful thing about Mark is he looks like he doesn’t care at all what he wears, but in a funny way he’s created a fashion,” said Jacqueline West, costume director for The Social Network. “It’s the new banker.”

Instead of the old banker’s slicked-back hair, gym-toned body, and well-tailored suits, Zuckerberg and his “new banker” ilk wear cargo shorts, hooded sweatshirts, and Adidas slides, sometimes with nubby white tube socks peeking out, other times with naked, ungroomed toes. The clothes are typically a few sizes too big, typically bought by their mothers, typically from T.J. Maxx, their college bookstores, or the Gap.

Utter disregard for personal style is the new ultimate status symbol. Zuckerberg is a new fashion icon. Are you smart and ambitious enough that you can waltz into a meeting with a top venture capital firm in your pajamas and still come away with a fat check? Do you care so little about how you look that you’ll wear the same sweats for a few days running, your curly hair matted down into a kinky helmet against your head and your incipient beer belly drooping out over the waistband of an old pair of Old Navy straight-leg jeans? And are there tech groupies clamoring to snog you anyway?

Gallery: Zuckerberg’s Look

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This is the new archetype Zuckerberg defined, which West has recreated in painstaking detail. For the film, Fincher hired a researcher who attended Harvard in the early aughts and happened to be friends with friends of Zuckerberg’s on Facebook, which enabled West to study the asocial billionaire’s attire by paging through pictures of him on the site he created. She cited Maynard G. Krebs, from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, as another inspiration.

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The movie opens with a rapid-fire spat between Zuckerberg and his college girlfriend, played by Rooney Mara, now set to star in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In the scene Zuckerberg wears a sweatshirt from the Gap. It suits a tidy narrative purpose, flagging the vast gulf between the computer geek and everyone else, but it’s also true to life, taken from a real picture West found of Zuckerberg in college, wearing that very sweatshirt. For a later scene, in which Zuckerberg runs through campus in the same hoodie, West had to recreate the shirt with “Gap” spelled backwards to accommodate a camera trick.

She also took pains to find jeans, polar fleece pullovers, T-shirts, and assorted other items that would fit in just the right wrong way. But of all the elements that comprise classic tech-nerd style—the mediocre hygiene, the baggy clothes—by far the most important, West said, was the footwear.

For years, Zuckerberg was rarely seen publicly in anything other than those Adidas slides. Later in the film, Justin Timberlake, playing the relatively dapper Napster co-founder Sean Parker, calls them “fuck-you flip-flops” and jokes that he left his, along with his hoodie, at the cleaners. (Timberlake wears custom-made Armani suits in the film, tailored from the same patterns, since retired, that Parker actually purchased a few years ago from the Palo Alto Armani store, West said, noting that Giorgio Armani himself helped with the project. )

“Mark once said he created a company so he would never have to work for anyone, no one could ever tell him he couldn’t wear flip-flops to work,” West said. “He took flip-flops to $15 billion. He created a fashion out of his own success, whereas the more establishment, more conservative Ivy League kids really dress up to be successful, to show their wealth and their social level.”

Zuckerberg has since upgraded to sneakers and was recently photographed traipsing around the Allen and Co. conference in Sun Valley in a typical pair, side-by-side with former power agent Michael Ovitz, the two looking eerily similar. But for many years, the sandals seemed to tell the whole story. In 2007, tech blog Valleywag ran a “ Mark Zuckerberg Adidas memorial slideshow.”

For the other characters—from the ones who pay only slightly more attention to their personal style than Zuckerberg, all the way up to the Winklevoss twins—West said she was equally granular.

“It was really to me a bigger challenge than doing a film set 50 years ago because the differences are so subtle, but they definitely give you a feeling of period,” West said. Your mind registers it’s not now. It’s subtle things, like there were no skinny jeans back then, and the length of the T-shirts are different.”

In one scene, Harvard president Larry Summers dresses down the Winklevosses, who come to him seeking support in their claim that Zuckerberg stole their idea for his site. Summers brusquely accuses the twins of looking like they’re there to sell him a Brooks Brothers franchise. The twins, played by Armie Hammer and Josh Pence, are wearing Brooks Brothers for the occasion, West said. They look like Kennedys.

They also look like they walked right off the set of Wall Street. And the fact that two handsome, finely clad young men are so quickly duped in this movie—and so committed to fighting back through old channels, starting with the Harvard student handbook—only helps reinforce the point that they have been overtaken. (It also helps that The Social Network, out Friday, will almost certainly trounce Wall Street 2, out last week, a box-office and critical disappointment.) The old bankers, with their perfect coifs and slim-cut suits, are out; the new banker, with his bad hair and baggy jeans, is in.

He beat them to Facebook, and then he pantsed them.

Plus: Check out more of the latest entertainment, fashion, and culture coverage on Sexy Beast—photos, videos, features, and Tweets.

Rebecca Dana is a senior correspondent for The Daily Beast. A former editor and reporter for the Wall Street Journal, she has also written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Rolling Stone and Slate, among other publications.