Steve Jobs’ black turtle neck is probably as famous as the man himself. Every time he unveiled an industry shaking product in the last decade or so, there it was gently draping his fairly built frame. As his body grew more frail looking every time he stepped onto the stage to do his thing, which many industry observers call, ‘disruptive innovation’, the black turtle neck t-shirt tried its best to mask his physically vulnerable body. Perhaps, the t-shirt gave a sense of familiarity for people watching him on stage. It was like an all clear sign for the mob that watched and admired his every single move.
Apparently there is a story behind how it became his signature look. In a soon to be published Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson, the author reveals the events that preceded the ‘turtle neck’. Since this book is the first officially sanctioned biography of the secretive CEO and the fact that Steve Jobs himself gives an account of the incidents makes it a matter of great significance.
This whole thing started with Sony. Yeah, that company that is known for its Walkman and its superior taste in design. When visiting the company in Japan, Steve learned about the uniform that everyone in Sony wears. Apparently its common in Japanese companies to have their people wear an attire that is something unique for the company. This acts as uniting bond between the employees and the company they work for. It is like the team jersey worn by sports teams. It gives a sense of belonging and a common purpose.
Ever the marketing man, Steve Jobs thought it would be great for Apple to have a similar bond with its employees. But this idea was soundly rejected by Apple staff. The exact quote from Steve is “Oh man, did I get booed off the stage. Everybody hated the idea.”.
Of course, Steve Jobs did not get to be Steve Jobs by letting others dictate what he liked and what he did not. He says that he really liked the branding idea, having a signature for himself. He worked with Issey Miyake – the guy who designed the brand uniform for Sony – to create his now instantly recognizable black turtle neck. He also says, that it gave him ‘daily convenience’. If you did not know what that means, its ok. It took me a while too. He wears them everyday. He had the designer make a hundred of those turtlenecks and jeans and he filled up his wardrobe closet with it. He says in the book “I have enough to last for the rest of my life.”
The turtle neck is an odd choice. Not many people wear just the turtle neck. It is actually a bit weird. Its not the ‘casual genius’ look of Mark Zuckerberg nor is it the ‘brilliant from birth’ look of Bill Gates. Like most things about Steve Jobs, it was unique and, because of its association with him, it was also cool.
Since his death, sale of the turtle neck has spiked significantly.
Me personally, never liked uniforms. It insinuates that everyone is the same, which is obviously not true. But since The Great One has endorsed the idea, now I am conflicted.
What about you? Do you like the idea of everyone wearing the same clothes while on a common mission?
Or do you think clothes are irrelevant when people are united in their minds?
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