The Dropout: Why did Elizabeth Holmes only wear black turtlenecks?

Scammers are having a moment. Just look at the recent Netflix drops of The Tinder Swindler and Inventing Annawhich charted Simon Leviev (aka Shimon Hayut) and Anna Delvey respectively as they both allegedly conned those around them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Now, there’s a new series to fill your scamming fix, and it’s just launched on Disney+: The Dropout.

The Dropout takes a fictional look at the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes and her multi-billion-dollar biotech company, Theranos.

The eight-part miniseries stars Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Mama Mia!) as Holmes, whose company claimed to be able to do a full blood test from a single drop of blood, a claim which made her the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.

This all came crashing down in 2018 when Holmes was charged with fraud for lying to investors about Theranos’ technology.

In January this year, Holmes was found guilty of three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She is yet to be sentenced.

As well as both being charged with fraud, Holmes and Delvey share another similarity: Their style was part of their façade.

For Delvey, expensive clothes helped make others think that she was, in fact, the German heiress she claimed to be. For Holmes, her black turtleneck became her “signature uniform” of her. But what was so significant about the black turtleneck?

In a 2015 interview, Holmes, now 38, said she started wearing black turtlenecks as a child and famously referred to the turtleneck as her “uniform”.

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“My mum had me in black turtlenecks when I was, like eight. I probably have 150 of these,” she told Glamor at the time.

“[It’s] my uniform. It makes it easy, because every day you put on the same thing and don’t have to think about it — one less thing in your life. All my focus is on the work. I take it so seriously; I’m sure that translates into how I dress.”

Elizabeth Holmes speaks on stage during the closing session of the Clinton Global Initiative 2015


Of course, the other founder famous for their affinity for the black turtleneck was Steve Jobs, founder of Apple.

In an interview for the podcast series The Dropoutwhich the new TV series is inspired by, a former Theranos employee claimed that Holme’s love of the black turtleneck was “directly inspired” by Jobs and she didn’t begin to wear them until she had already founded Theranos, which contradicted Holmes’ claims of wearing the garment since childhood.

Speaking to the podcast, former Theranos chief design architect Ana Arriola said: “She would wear these frumpy Christmas sweaters, things you would only see during the holiday season.

“She was very curious about Steve’s attire, and I explained to her that he was inspired by Sony’s heritage of having Issey Miyake create a lot of the [Sony] line manager apparel. I think she went off and tracked down who Issey Miyake was, and the rest is couture history.”

Claire Parkinson, costume designer for The Dropout said the first thing she did when Seyfried came in for a fitting was try on a black turtleneck “so she [Seyfried] could feel like she knew who the character was becoming”.

Parkinson tells Refinery29: “The fact that she [Holmes] felt like she wouldn’t be taken seriously really pushed Elizabeth to kind of mimic Steve Jobs’ turtleneck and it was truly to appear like she had no time to focus on shopping but rather Theranos and its success.”

Elizabeth Holmes wears a black blazer and blue top during her trial in December – but no sign of a turtleneck


While Delvey tried to fool her investors with her flashy wardrobe, Holmes tried to make herself seem more serious and businesslike to her investors by creating a uniform (the fact she felt she had to do this as a woman is another issue for another time). After all, it wasn’t just a black turtleneck that Holmes was wearing day-in and day-out, it was black trousers, black shoes and a black jacket too.

Yet, the uniform quickly disappeared after Holmes was charged with fraud. At her trial of her in January this year, Holmes was seen wearing a mix of grey, blue and white — not a black turtleneck in sight. But a black blazer did make an appearance.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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