Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Feb. 28 2001 4:40 PM

Chatterbox, like every Microsoft employee, dreams of being Bill Gates. If only I could stand in Bill G.'s shoes for a day: The power! The wealth! The house!


Sometimes dreams do come true. Chatterbox didn't stand in The Boss's shoes, but this week he did the next best thing. He wore Bill Gates' clothes.

Chatterbox's perverse relationship with Bill Gates' apparel began in early January, when he read a story in the Wall Street Journal claiming Gates is a South Korean fashion icon. According to Journal reporter Hae Won Choi, young businessmen are forsaking Korea's formal wardrobe for Gates casual: At Internet startups, the most ambitious young men are chucking Hugo Boss suits and Givenchy ties for "round, tortoiseshell eyeglasses, unpolished shoes, and wrinkle-free pants." A huge clothing company is designing Gatesian duds for the mass market. Choi speculated that Gates fashion had caught on because it epitomizes the freewheeling American way of doing business: Gateswear is "the clothing of liberation," posited one Korean "fashion researcher."

Chatterbox was skeptical of the Journal story. He thought it sounded a bit like the stories Stephen Glass fabricated for the New Republic. The details had a too-odd-to-be-true quality: Would fashion designers really gain inspiration from a bulletin-board montage of Gates photos? Chatterbox decided to check out the story by e-mailing the named companies and entrepreneurs and asking if it was for real.

A reply quickly arrived from Song Moon Young, "Executive Officer, Casual Brand BeanPole Div., Cheil Industries, Inc." Choi's reporting was right on. Cheil Industries has indeed assigned an 11-member team to design Gatesian "easy casual fashion." Young's BeanPole division--which is modeled on Ralph Lauren's Polo ("but makes better, No. 1, profits")--"targets Bill Gates as 'Venture fashion leader,' " by making "blue shirts and wrinkle-free pants." (There is no indication that Cheil ever asked Gates' permission or sought his advice before using him as its fashion model.)

Song Moon Young noticed Chatterbox's Microsoft e-mail address. He wanted to send Bill Gates a present: Could Chatterbox tell him where to mail it?

Of course. Chatterbox suggested that BeanPole send the Gates' gift care of Chatterbox, who would make sure Bill got it. Chatterbox gave Young a guess of Gates' size: 6'1", 165 lbs.

Several weeks passed, and Chatterbox forgot about Cheil Industries. Then one morning last week a huge DHL package arrived at Slate's Washington, D.C., office. Inside, packed carefully into forest-green BeanPole boxes and hanging bags, were three dress shirts (gray, light blue, white), three cotton sweaters (gray, purple, beige), a khaki sport coat, and a khaki windbreaker. An accompanying note offered Bill Gates a present of the "Bill Gates' style costume." 

Pause for a message to Cheil Industries, Microsoft lawyers, and Slate readers: Chatterbox's acceptance of the BeanPole gift does not in any way hint, signify, imply, insinuate, intimate, or suggest that Bill Gates, Microsoft Corporation, Slate.com, or Chatterbox himself endorses, approves of, or likes BeanPole clothing. Nor does acceptance of the gift in any way accept, acknowledge, avow, or recognize that Cheil Industries has any right whatsoever to exploit Bill Gates' name, image, likeness, or whatever. Got it?

Chatterbox is no fashion maven, but he's familiar enough with Gates' duds. A quick survey of the BeanPole collection suggested that the Korean designers have indeed aped the Gates style. Bill G. does wear casual, button-down shirts and soft V-necks in solid colors, and khaki is a favorite fabric. (On the other hand, neither Bill Gates nor any other American has ever been seen wearing a logo quite as peculiar or prominent as BeanPole's. The logo, a tuxedoed man in a top hat riding an old-time bicycle, stands for "the American dream applied to Korean industry," Song Moon Young writes. BeanPole is so proud of this symbol, apparently, that it even placed it on the side pocket of the sports jacket.)