The myth of the serious-minded black turtleneck reached its inevitable conclusion on Monday night, when HBO aired one too many dramatic close-ups of Elizabeth Holmes wearing one in its new documentary, The Inventor.
Before Holmes became the wide-eyed face of scamming, she was considered the “next Steve Jobs” in Silicon Valley, both for her big-picture ideas and her wardrobe of the exact same black turtleneck. Jobs was her hero in many ways, and she used his likeness (as well as a fake, deep voice) to gain investors’ faith in her faulty medical device company, Theranos. That being said, Holmes seemed slightly miffed by the idea that she was simply copying Steve Jobs; she was forging her own version of greatness.
“I do have to disclose that I’ve been in black turtlenecks since I was 7,” Holmes claims at one point in the documentary with a robotic laugh. She also adds that Jobs wore jeans, unlike her.
According to Holmes, her monochromatic uniform was a practical decision. “I don’t have to think about it,” she said of getting dressed, meaning that she could devote every waking moment to changing the world. It was a symbol of her altruistic motives — a delusion that allowed her to squander some $900 million dollars on a literal pipe dream, and put hundreds of peoples’ lives at risk. One subject in the film describes her as downright “monastic.”
Holmes herself might not admit this, but her black turtlenecks were also flattering. What I mean is: She used the first date turtleneck for evil!!! The top served as a frame for her pale skin, dark lipstick, and eerily smudged eye shadow. It made her bulbous, unblinking blue eyes glow like Thomas Edison’s faulty light bulbs. It did not, however, do her messy, blonde split ends any favors.
Holmes’s devoted admirers, many of whom were old white guys (and one of whom the the gall to wear a Bitcoin tie), might have really believed in her ideas, but they also probably thought she looked hot in a black turtleneck. It’s hard to believe that her former boyfriend, Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, who was also the president and chief operating officer of Theranos, wasn’t somewhat charmed by the way her head floated, seemingly detached, as she danced to MC Hammer.
If anything, Holmes’s endless black turtlenecks demonstrate not how banana-pants she was, but how blinded we all are by the “think different,” startup energy that they now embody. The fact that so many people failed to question her practices because she wore the same knit top as Steve Jobs boggles the mind. Nobody wanted to be the person to tell her “No.”
As a result, the black turtleneck has zero credibility now. “Will black turtlenecks ever be looked at in quite the same way again?” the Times fashion critic, Vanessa Friedman wondered last year in the wake of the Theranos scandal. After Holmes ruined them for everyone, I think not.
Since then, Michael Cohen wore a black turtleneck when he tried to exonerate himself on ABC News. Jordyn Woods did the same on Red Table following her scandal with Tristan Thompson this year. And according to photos and sketches, it seems that both Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin wore some version of a turtleneck when they appeared in court following The Great College Admissions Scandal last week. It’s become the official getup of those with something to hide.
Always one step ahead, Holmes knows that the black turtleneck’s image has been tarnished. When she appeared in court last year, she wore a collared shirt, instead.