It’s hard to imagine employees at a creative, free-thinking tech company like Apple donning uniforms before heading into work. In an industry where many industry leaders take pride in shunning traditional corporate values – the company with the unofficial motto “think different” and the leader who has pointed to LSD drug use as a major source of inspiration in his life – is the last company you would expect to impose a uniform dress code on employees. Yet at one point in the early days of Apple, Steve Jobs attempted to get all Apple employees to wear matching uniforms.
The idea to get Apple employees into company uniforms sprouted in Jobs’ mind after a meeting with Sony chairman Akio Morita, who explained that employees at Sony’s factories wore uniforms to help workers bond with the company. The uniforms helped foster a sense of corporate identity. The Sony employees’ uniforms were designed by noted fashion designer Issey Miyake. The uniforms consisted of nylon jackets with removable sleeves that could convert into vests.
Excited by the idea of a company uniform, Jobs decided to take the idea back to his own company. He had Miyake make up some sample vests for Apple and brought them back to his own employees. Predictably, Apple employees were none too pleased with the idea. In Jobs’ own words he was “booed off the stage. Everyone hated the idea.” And so the idea of company uniforms for Apple employees never came to fruition.
How Jobs Created His Own Signature Uniform
But even though Apple employees rejected the idea for a company uniform, Steve Jobs maintained a friendship with Issey Miyake, the designer of the Sony uniforms. Not long after his attempt to introduce company uniforms at Apple, Jobs decided to develop his own personal uniform – which he had Miyake design. It not only helped Steve save time when he got dressed in the morning, but he was enamored with the idea of developing a signature style for himself. This became the now iconic black mock turtleneck, 501 jeans, and sneakers that Steve became so well known for. According to Walter Isaacson – Steve Jobs’ biographer – he had a closet full of his trademark black mock turtleneck sweaters made for him especially by Miyake. In Steve’s own words “I have enough to last for the rest of my life.”
Could the decision to reject employee uniforms have been a pivotal moment in the history of Apple as a company? That seems highly unlikely – but it certainly could have played an important role in the growing legend of Steve Jobs, who donned his trademark look at virtually every public appearance until his death in 2011. The iconic look was so closely linked with Steve Jobs that sales of black mock turtlenecks soared in the months after his death. Steve Jobs will forever be remembered for his contributions to technology and innovation, but in our minds, he will always be wearing a black mock turtleneck sweater.
This is a guest post from David Josephs. David is an avid Apple-fan and works for Molecule.asia.