I’m sitting in a San Francisco, counter-service restaurant waiting for my chopped salad, when a group of tall, white men wearing button-downs and fleece vests crowds around the cash register.
My boyfriend, who works in venture capital, spots them and says they’re VCs.
“Do you know them?”
“No,” he says. “The fleece vests. It’s a giveaway.”
It’s true. The fleece vest, often in black and from outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia, has become the most quintessentially-VC item in an investor’s wardrobe.
No one seems to know how the fashion faux pas turned into a staple, and yet, the fleece vest is inescapable in Silicon Valley.
For example, Reid Hoffman, cofounder of LinkedIn and a partner at Greylock (whose investment portfolio includes Airbnb, Facebook, Flickr, and Zynga), rocked a Patagonia Men’s Better Sweater Fleece Vest in Harvest Moon Blue. It retails for $99 on the website.
Marc Benioff, who has led Salesforce to fund some of the largest private cloud software companies in the world, wore a Salesforce-branded black vest on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt earlier this year.
Angel investor Joanne Wilson, the “Gotham Gal,” invests across all industries, from food, to gyms, to real estate. She elevated the black fleece stereotype with this high-fashion, mixed-materials vest.
Business Insider spoke with several venture capitalists for this story and could not track down what brought on the vest’s popularity. But we have some theories.
A practical reason why the vest might be so popular is, it gets chilly year-round in the Bay Area.
This year, San Franciscans (reluctantly) enjoyed one of the mildest summers on record. The city saw only one 70-degree day in August, meteorologists tell The San Francisco Chronicle.
As investors make trips up and down the Bay, meeting with entrepreneurs, sitting in on board meetings, and negotiating deals in eternal-spring weather, it helps to zip up.
“This is the Bay Area so layering is useful,” Kim Milosevich, a marketing partner at Andreeseen Horowitz, tells Business Insider.
Andreessen Horowitz, one of the most well-known firms in Silicon Valley, orders Patagonia vests embroidered with the company’s name for events. They typically order enough supplies for guests and employees.
“Our swag is mainly created as a gift for guests of our events, so we want it to be high quality and something they’d like [or] find useful,” Milosevich says.
Patagonia has another explanation. They just make darn good vests.
“I think one reason for the popularity is: Patagonia represents quality without being pretentious,” Corey Simpson, a communications coordinator at Patagonia, says.
A casual, slightly pilled fleece vest may help Silicon Valley’s many millionaires and billionaires feel (or at least look) grounded.
Patagonia would not disclose its corporate sales customers. But with a retail location in Palo Alto, Simpson says Patagonia fields a lot of questions about the trend — especially after its best-selling vest made a cameo in HBO’s “Silicon Valley.”
Donald “Jared’ Dunn, played by actor Zach Woods, is the loveable and eccentric head of business development at Pied Piper. Whether he’s living it up at a launch party for the fictional capital firm Bachmanity or polling TechCrunch Disrupt attendees on how to pivot the company, he dons a soft, fleece vest in Supply Green from Patagonia.
The show’s production designer, Richard Royon, told The San Francisco Chronicle in 2014 that before the show aired, his team spent months surveying Silicon Valley for aesthetic inspiration. They racked up hours at Google, Facebook, Zynga, Apple, and Dell.
“Patagonia was clearly very important,” Toyon said. “You walk around University Avenue and look at all the people wearing Patagonia during the day. It’s kind of crazy.”
The vest trend even spans from Silicon Valley to New York City’s Silicon Alley.
Henry McNamara, a general partner at New York-based Greak Oaks Venture Capital, tells Business Insider he also owns a fleece vest. He’s not sure why he sees so many in the wild.
“I guess I’ve never really thought about it,” McNamara says. “I just really like vests.”
Disclosure: The author is in a relationship with an employee of Andreessen Horowitz.
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