Sam Bankman-Fried, like Elizabeth Holmes before him, discards the slob-billionaire aesthetic as the walls close in

Sam Bankman-Fried 120622
Sam Bankman-Fried, co-founder and chief executive officer of FTX. (Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sam Bankman-Fried, like Elizabeth Holmes before him, discards the slob-billionaire aesthetic as the walls close in

In Hulu’s best show of this year, The Dropout, the very talented Amanda Seyfried plays convicted fraudster and felon Elizabeth Holmes. Although Seyfried usually plays bombshells, her beauty — on top of a gleefully unhinged and immersive performance — actually elucidates one of the odder phenomena of Holmes’s entire ruse, which succeeded in deluding every elite from ex-secretaries of state to ex-presidents.

And no, it’s not just the turtlenecks. The question is why Holmes, and also why disgraced former wunderkind Sam Bankman-Fried, prided themselves so on dressing so slovenly and inappropriately when trying to fool the nation’s most sophisticated, wealthy, and elite members?

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It’s a question that always confused me when the real, red-faced Holmes shot to stardom in cakey foundation, fried platinum hair, and poorly tailored pants. But the Holmes costume on the much more attractive mannequin of Seyfried’s character truly baffled me.

The conclusion I reached was confirmed with Bankman-Fried’s arrest in the Bahamas. Like Holmes, Bankman-Fried is facing decades of hard time for defrauding investors, which prosecutors allege was his plan from the start. Bankman-Fried used to pride himself on dressing and grooming himself like a teenage truant hanging outside of a 7-Eleven. Now, he has exchanged his usual oversized T-shirts, ill-fitting cargo shorts, and grimy trainers for an actual suit. After just a week in a Bahamian prison, Bankman-Fried, whose parents whine he requires a special vegan diet, is reportedly welcoming the chance to be extradited back to the U.S. Maybe once he makes it back to American soil, he can fix the greasy mop of hair on his head, just as Holmes seared off her split ends and surprisingly used some conditioner for her own criminal trial.

For over a decade now, elites have accepted this offensive parody of the brilliant, socially inept whiz kid, with terrible grooming almost an intentional tool used to differentiate these “disrupters” from those who actually follow the rules (and the law). Only once the bloom is off the rose does the con seem so laughable. And on a show like The Dropout, it is exposed as obviously contemptible.

In Holmes’s case, the slob-billionaire aesthetic can be seen as a distraction from a plain and uninteresting face. On Seyfried’s character, it is more pointedly transactional — a distraction not from obvious beauty, but from clear ineptitude. So what if the bankruptcy attorneys cleaning up FTX’s mess said that the company was run worse than Enron? Bankman-Fried wears a hoodie to hang out with Bill Clinton and Tom Brady. He doesn’t need to follow the rules!

As liberals will correctly point out, the slovenly billionaire aesthetic is absolutely a sign of class and racial privilege. Holmes and Bankman-Fried could both afford to keep up such sloppy appearances because they were both born with silver spoons in their mouths and connections to elite academia and business. There’s no chance in hell that a young black entrepreneur could ever get a seat at the table while donning a stained sweatshirt or Hot Topic eyeliner.

What should we expect to see once Bankman-Fried actually stands trial? When Holmes had her trial, she traded all-black for pastels and hair bleach for a curling iron, looking like the slightly below-average housewife she would in fact be if she weren’t incarcerated. With time to kill in prison, Bankman-Fried may finally hit the gym and find a tailor. After all, in front of a jury, just like in the real world, you don’t win any points for looking like a thug.

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