Now on its third season, Showtime’s dramedy “Billions” masterfully captures the changing dress codes of the finance world
by Jacob Gallagher | Wall Street Journal | April 23, 2018
TYPE “BOBBY AXELROD” into Google and the first recommendation that pops up is “Bobby Axelrod hoodie.” So, to satisfy your curiosity: Mr. Axelrod, the cool-as-an-ice-cube-in-Alaska protagonist of Showtime’s series “Billions,” wears Loro Piana zip-ups. They’re cashmere and just in case you’re really interested in dressing like the man who makes the billions on “Billions,” each one costs $2,295. For a glorified sweatshirt, they’re a needlessly expensive indulgence, which makes them perfect for a show that is the embodiment of what wealth looks like today.
Now on its third season, the drama unfurls a cat-and-mouse chase between Mr. Axelrod (played by Damien Lewis), an ethically flexible Manhattan hedge fund manager, and Charles “Chuck” Rhoades Jr. (played by Paul Giamatti), an ethically flexible United States attorney for the Southern District of New York. The plots weave stock swapping and legal loopholing with fist-bumping bros, strip-club sushi lunches and even an excursion to a BDSM dungeon. In short, the show is glorious, greedy fun.
More than that though, what “Mad Men” did to immortalize the style of 1950s ad agencies, “Billions” is doing for post-Great Recession financial firms. Aside from his used-Camry-priced hoodie, Mr. Axelrod dresses more or less like the guy who sold me my coffee this morning, with his simple, dark A.P.C. jeans and egalitarian Puma sneakers. Gordon Gekko would mistake Bobby Axelrod for an intern.
“Billions” costume designer Eric Daman assured me that’s entirely the point. “Since the financial crash happened no one wanted to show off their riches or be associated with ostentatiousness,” explained Mr. Daman. In 2008, news networks buzzed with interviews showing suit-clad bankers from Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns and the like trying to explain away their financial chicanery. The 2015 film “The Big Short,” which premiered a year before “Billions,” gave the average American a clear image of guys wearing suits who sent our economy into a tailspin.
From then on in financial centers nationwide, modesty has been the safer approach to dressing. When Mr. Daman toured hedge funds in preparation for “Billions,” he found junior associates buzzing about in jeans and T-shirts. “There’s a much more casual feel,” said Mr. Daman, “Everyone is not walking around in suits.” The ubiquitous Wall Street (and, increasingly, Greenwich) look today is a fleece vest worn over a non-iron button-down. It’s camouflage for the 1%: a banal outfit that obscures the depths of their bank account.
Mr. Axelrod’s hoodie proclivity parallels a certain infamous zip-up clad exec in real life. “Zuckerberg, I feel like did open the world,” explained Mr. Daman. He credits the Facebook founder and and his zip-up-wearing tech colleagues in Silicon Valley with reframing audience expectations of how an executive should dress: “It was in the zeitgeist: okay, powerful guys can wear this.”
But not all powerful men can or do dress down, and “Billions” creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien shrewdly pit Mr. Axelrod’s afflu-leisure against District Attorney Rhoades Jr.’s bespoke three-piece suits. It’s not that Mr. Rhoades Jr. looks unfashionable in his suits (they are pristine, big-ticket suits courtesy of a Scrooge-McDuckian trust fund) but they look like stuffy old money armor compared to Mr. Axelrod’s laissez-faire threads. In his hoodie and sneakers Mr. Axelrod navigates the world with the ease of a wireless computer mouse flitting through daily market reports. Mr. Rhoades Jr., on the other hand, trods about in his three-piece with the grace of a thousand-page affidavit hitting the desk.
Are the two characters shelling out similar sums for their wardrobes? Yes. But it’s Mr. Axelrod’s style that looks like the most contemporary vision of luxury. Mr. Axelrod may be wearing a hoodie, but he’s wearing the absolute nicest hoodie he can get his hands on. As Mr. Daman said, “A Fruit of the Loom t-shirt would not give [Mr. Axelrod] the same allure and vibe as if he’s wearing a $300-$400 Tom Ford T-shirt.” The refined way a simple item can look–the fit of a specific T-shirt, the taper on a pair of jeans–that’s what defines luxury today.
Read the rest of the original article at the Wall Street Journal