The internet is in its Patrick Bateman era. The edits started showing up on TikTok in Q4 of last year—Christian Bale as American Psycho’s main character talking about a girl’s head on a stake with synthy TikTok track in the back or strutting his shit in a suit while making exaggerated, oddly satisfying facial expressions. Bateman/Bale has somehow also become the face of the internet’s interest in the sigma male, defined as the quieter, less flashy, and more independent counterpart of the alpha male. And Bateman/Bale truly is the face—his most oddly satisfying facial expression, which involves furrowing the brow and pursing the lips in the shape of a silent wolf whistle, became its own trend and has now been made into a filter, called sigma eyebrows.
The internet, and those who bring it off the screen and into whatever you consider real life, is also increasingly entering its random era (which I tangentially spoke about in a TikTok recently). The Scenecore forum (obvious authorities on the matter) defines random culture as “all about neon colors and waffles and blurting out unexpected things for a laugh, everything that cringe culture hates” and posits that the “Golden Age of Randomness” was between 2000 and 2011. In 2023, the xD face, sometimes called the “epic” face and a relic of millennials’ “rawr means I love you in dinosaur” phase, is coming back into captions and comments, and cat photos, a currency of the Buzzfeed era, are being made into detailed graphite drawings, alongside other 2000s web iconography like ASCII art. I recently watched a presentation on the history and meaning of the “emo scarf,” an accessory beloved by aughts randomites, by artist Gretchen Lawrence. Somewhere in between Patrick Bateman edits, the sigma fetish, and the return of randomness, I believe lies the style philosophy of today’s crypto bro. Let me walk you through it.
Crypto-acolyte fashion is a kind of minimalist maximalism, or maximalist minimalism.
At this point, there have been a billion think pieces and takedowns on Silicon Valley’s good-taste-as-minimalism approach to fashion. Mark Zuckerberg’s daily uniform of 300-dollar grey t-shirts and skinny jeans defined a generation of menswear, slimming silhouettes down and setting the tone for the comfy, casual fashion non-statements that plagued the 2010s. We’re all over it now. Trolling Mark Zuckerberg for his lack of swag IRL has turned into trolling his feeble Horizon Worlds avatar, who also wears a grey t-shirt (sometimes with buttons below the neckline, perhaps a comment on the limitless potentials of self-expression in the metaverse, since I’ve never seen person Zuckerberg wear this style). Even if you don’t give a fuck about Silicon Valley and the declining value of its dress code, the millennial minimalist aesthetic is dying everywhere—sans-serif beauty unicorn Glossier has been having a real hard time for a while, and luxury brands like Burberry are leading the debland-ification process, snapping back to the serifed logos of yore.
But back to the boys. Patrick Bateman presumably looks so cool to teenagers on TikTok (young enough to ask “what movie is this?” in the comments under American Psycho edits) because he is not wearing a grey t-shirt and skinny jeans. He’s wearing a proper suit. He doesn’t look like a regular Joe. He still indulges in minimalism like Zuckerberg, but the 1980s kind, where everything was still kind of maximalist. If you balled up the grey t-shirt and jeans the crumpled clothes would probably form quite a compact ball. Not Bateman’s suits, though—they’ve got mass.
Crypto-acolyte fashion is a similar kind of minimalist maximalism, or maximalist minimalism—in his packing guide, Vitalik Buterin’s top tip for utilizing bag space is to become a “Uniqlo maximalist,” buying as much as you can from the global purveyor of tasteful basics. In the same guide, Vitalik also admits that he always packs his Shiba Inu sweatpants even though they take up more space. The Shiba Inu, of course, has a big connection to crypto, as the face of memecoin culture, starting with Dogecoin in 2013, and subsequently, as a symbol of the shitposting sensibility at the heart of the community (if the motto of Facebook-era Silicon Valley was “move fast and break things'' per Zuckerberg, then the motto of tech now, especially post-Elon Twitter, is “shitpost and break things”). But the doge meme, from which all Shiba-signaling has since spawned, itself originated online as a hangover of the Golden Age of Randomness (after all, doge was funny because it was a random dog accompanied by random inner monologues in Comic Sans, which all made perfect sense to those trained in the online language of the Golden Age). When the meme was turned into an NFT that was then purchased by PleasrDAO and fractionalized for collective ownership, doge became further entrenched as a symbol of the bottom-up spirit of crypto, which was also part of random culture—randomness wasn’t exactly high-brow, in a way, it was the lowest of brows (rainbows, cats with mustaches, sugary foods like Poptarts and Nutella) which is why people who “got it” felt like they were on a different wave.
A layer of Random maximalism atop a base of Silicon Valley minimalism seems to be a formula. Take the conferencewear that’s come to define Vitalik’s visual persona (and thus the image of young guy killing it in crypto)—basic tees, but random-ified, featuring Nyan cat, a boxing kitten, a boxing panda, and most famously, an ancient Greek cat riding a unicorn llama (llamacorn) against a cloudscape featuring rainbows and flying saucers. This is peak Golden Age of Randomness, peak internet awesomesauce. And here it is today, on our best and brightest (and billionairest)! Just to bring things full circle: Vitalik is, arguably, a sigma male—an elusive and successful genius, seemingly unencumbered by womanly dramas (Google says he has never been romantically linked to anyone).
The crypto bro, too, embraces a life beyond the system and boring adult shit.
Of course, Vitalik’s awesomesauce personal style isn’t the living, breathing bible of the crypto wardrobe. But it kind of is the blueprint, at least in terms of public-facing vibes. Elon’s another good example of the fine mist of randomness that hovers around the most famous people trading in and talking about crypto. Take his Twitter profile picture—a shitty pic of him wearing his most recent Halloween costume, which when cropped, looks like some kind of Iron Man suit x medieval armor. The CEO of a platform posted up on said platform in this kind of garb is exactly the kind of “absurd juxtaposition” that would’ve done numbers during the Golden Age of Randomness.
And it’s not just like, two of the most famous internet men in the world dressing this way. Nouns DAO made a physical version of their unicode glasses logo that looks like the chunkier cousin of the shutter shades worn by random-informed hipster runoff everywhere in the late 2000s. The Uniswap Protocol have a SOCKS token that can be redeemed for a physical pair of socks bearing Uniswap’s logo which is, of course, a unicorn (the spokescreature of randomness—randomites loved rare or mythical creatures with horns where they don’t belong, like the “unicorn of the sea,” the narwhal). And crypto-acolytes of a more mid, but still somewhat newsworthy, persuasion dress this way too! Last year, writer Simon Mills alleged that Augur founder Jeremy Gardner dresses like “a wannabe Harry Styles” in a story on crypto bros for GQ. Whilst Harry Styles, and his wannabes and his Jeremys, is not internet awesomesauce, he actually does share a lot of the same aesthetic philosophies. There’s a psychedelia to Styles’ bright, jesterly, and oft-sequined style that is not too far from the melting rainbows of randomness. (Personal aside but, one of my first encounters with making bank on Bitcoin was back in the mid-2010s, when I met a crypto-wealth-adjacent man who said MGMT wrote their first album after reading his book on psychedelics and spirituality—looking back, I believe this may have been an aesthetic omen.)
So, why have those rainbows melted over Silicon Valley’s normie hoodies? And even if the real crypto normies aren’t doing maximalist minimalism of epic proportions, why are their global representatives? Well, not to be buzzwordy about it, but there was something… disruptive about the Golden Age of Randomness. Consuming and posting random content, like the Narwhals song, for example, felt good because it said that you were vibrating on a higher level—not only embracing the literal otherworldliness of rainbow robot unicorns and flying Poptart cats, but also cultivating a self that wasn’t restrained by the system and boring adult shit. The crypto bro, too, embraces a life beyond the system and boring adult shit. Obviously, nostalgia is also a factor—the Golden Age of Randomness was when you could still post cringe without it being cringe. And now we’ve nearly come full circle—posting cringe is cool, randomwear is on the runway and the scene subculture, a main supplier of randomness 1.0, is big on TikTok. Who would’ve thought crypto bros did it first?