Everything you (n)ever wanted to know about Michael Kitces’ iconic blue shirt, presentation logic and topics for Kitces.com
EDITORS NOTE: In this fun, documented conversation written by Shawna Ohm – who attended T3 on a Press Pass and also ran the T3 SocialCam in Tampa at the 2023 T3 Conference – you will learn all sorts of things about industry VIP Michael Kitces, author of Nerd’s Eye View who runs the popular educational site for financial advisors, Kitces.com. He’s also the Head of Planning Strategy at Buckingham Strategic Wealth and Buckingham Strategic Partners, co-founder of XY Planning Network (XYPN), AdvicePay, fpPathfinder, and New Planner Recruiting.
Michael Kitces has been, for more than a decade, a prominent face in the RIA world – so much so that an advisor recently told me he’d tattoo the Nerd’s Eye View logo on his arm if Kitces ever had him on as a podcast guest.
Yet, for all his star power, Michael Kitces is consistently upstaged by one thing: His blue shirt. So, this March I spent the better part of the T3 VIP/Press Dinner at the T3 Advisor Conference asking all of the questions the people REALLY want to know about the blue shirt, his status as a #FinTech fashion icon, and what keeps him motivated to help advisors year after year.
(Answers have been edited slightly for brevity and legibility. No material details have been changed.)
THE STORY OF THE BLUE SHIRT
Shawna Ohm: Let’s start with the shirt. First question: How many do you have?
Michael Kitces: Twelve.
SO: How did you land on the blue shirt signature look?
MK: So, the blue shirt origin story. Back in the mid 2000s or so, I had started speaking more at advisor conferences, and I was one of the co-founders for NexGen – which is a community for younger advisors, and we were just getting going there. So, in the early days, when we were trying to build NexGen, every time I went to a conference, I would try to run some kind of NexGen meetup so that we could start to build a community and add new members. And at my peak, I was traveling to 60 or 70 conferences a year. It was really intense back then. So, I think I probably did it subconsciously to start. Like, I had one of these blue shirts, and I would grab the blue shirt, because deep down I just really like the color blue. But it didn’t take very long before a few of my wonderful NextGen friends were like, “Dude, I’ve seen you three times this year. You always have a blue shirt on. Do you own anything else?” You know, the good-natured ribbing you get from wonderful friends. But they started giving me a hard time about it and I thought, “You know what? I do like this shirt. I’m gonna own this. I’m gonna step into this. So, I decided, ‘Okay, you keep seeing me in the blue shirts. I’m gonna buy a couple more of them. And I’m going to keep coming in the blue shirt, because it’s good. I like this shirt.’”
SO: If someone were to see Michael Kitces in the wild, though, would you be wearing something else?
MK: Probably not. There is a little bit of a Clark Kent / Superman thing. So, I wear blue in business. And I wear black or purple in personal life. Black because I’m a simple guy and that goes with everything. I’ve got some purple dress shirts if it’s a nice dinner out with my wife. I’m not wearing a blue shirt when I go out to dinner with my wife. But frankly, I do so much more business-related stuff, the odds are, even if I’m out in the wild, I’m probably actually still in a blue shirt.
SO: So, you wear a blue button down to the beach?
MK: I don’t wear a blue button down to the beach… but there are pictures of me wearing the blue button down and blue socks at the beach. It has happened. But to be fair, I don’t really go to the beach very much so the only times I can actually recall being at the beach in recent years, there was actually a button-down blue shirt involved. But I didn’t pack it for that purpose! I just ended up being on a beach and there was a blue shirt and, actually, matching blue socks.
SO: Well, I dabbled recently as a #FASHUN influencer on social media, so of course I have to ask: Who are you wearing? What’s the brand? Is there a specific designer?
MK: So, it has been a specific brand, only because it has been ridiculously hard to find this blue shirt in a consistent color and style.
SO: Wait, what color is it? Do you have the Pantone? Have you patented it?
MK: Here’s the fun, awkward thing about the brand. For many years, the make was Van Heusen—just like a fine but not particularly high-end men’s shirt maker. Then, they discontinued the blue shirt.
SO: The audacity!
MK: Yes, except in the big and tall version. And I could not find a matching color anywhere else. So, there was a stint for about two or three years where all the blue shirts [I wore] were actually big and tall shirts. They were down to my thigh. Yes. Yes. I mean, if you saw me without slacks on, it was a blue dress. It was down to probably two inches above my knee. I just tucked it in all the way down to the knee because I couldn’t bust the color!
SO: I appreciate you painting a visual for the people at home—this nice shirt that you’re wearing, bundled up under your pants.
MK: No, no, you don’t want to bundle it up because then it’s—there’s too much shirt. If I bundled it, it would look like I was carrying some unhealthy extra rolls, so I just like, draped it over and all the way down the leg. You can’t button the buttons all the way down because you actually need the shirt tails to separate on the back legs.
SO: I didn’t expect this turn in the conversation. This is amazing.
MK: These days, it’s from a maker called, I think, J. Ferrar.
SO: So back to the question of, have you patented it? I feel like it should be Kitces blue. I feel like we need to do that.
MK: I’ve really started wanting to explore this, because what I’ve actually found now that the Kitces.com team is growing, is that we have to start doing company swag. And this blue does not exist in Pantone. There was not a Pantone for this blue.
HOW KITCES PICKS TOPICS FOR KITCES.COM
SO: I feel like I should re-focus here. You are the face of the RIA industry, in terms of being the go-to expert. When I was pivoting to this part of the industry [redacted] number of years ago, I learned about it from the foundational content on your site. How do you pick the new topics you’re going to write about?
MK: The biggest driver by far is just the conversations I’m having at conferences. What are advisors asking me? Between conferences, the social media world, email, and the rest, I get a lot of questions from advisors from a lot of different directions. So, I engage. Because I love talking to the industry and I’ll talk about it ‘til the cows come home. The growth of the blog now for almost 15 years is really not much fancier than, ‘I answered the questions that people are asking me,’ and I actually do the work, do the homework, to really find the answer. And then I share the answer I find.
STAYING ON BRAND
But also, the other thing with the blue shirt. The origin was not the whole, ‘Steve Jobs, my life is too complex and I cannot make decisions about my clothing’ thing. But it’s so true. It is so much simpler to never need to think about what I’m packing when I’m traveling for a conference. And literally the only question I have now is, ‘How many days will I be gone?’ so I know how many blue socks and blue shirts to pack, and just grab them off the hanger. I could be out for a week with five, come back over the weekend, send five out to the laundry, pack another five for the next week, and always have two in reserve in case you have spills or other accidents.
SO: I feel like it’s become so iconic that when other people want to wear their brand colors to conferences, they’re reduced to shoes or pants, and not shirts. Have you monopolized the art of colored-shirt branding?
MK: I think anybody can lean into colored shirts. Without going too far down the gender rabbit hole, I do feel there’s a certain simplicity for us guys. Like I can wear a neutral black suit everywhere so basically my only accessorizing options here are shirt, tie, socks. Maybe a kerchief if you’re into that kind of thing. But that’s, I’m not able to give fashion advice.
SO: There are some pretty fashionable guys out there, you’ve got the Tony Stiches and the Stoy Halls and the Tyrone (Ross)es.
MK: Oh, I pray at the alter of Tony Stich. That’s the thing. I have no fashion sense.
SO: Ha! His fashion’s intimidating, that guy.
MK: It is. But I didn’t do [the blue shirt] for that, ‘I just need my life to be so simple, I can’t make a fashion decision’ thing. But the truth is, I am completely fashion incompetent and do not know how to make fashion decisions. So, I do love the simplicity of wearing black suits because I don’t need to make any decisions. And I wear the same color blue shirts because you don’t have to make any decisions. And it really has simplified my life. The whole thing is just a mental load off; you don’t spend time thinking about what you’re going to wear. It actually does matter.
KITCES PRESENTATION LOGIC
SO: So, here’s my last question: You talked about how many conferences you go to. How often do you refresh your presentation. Is it a certain number of times a year? Is it when something big happens in the industry? How do you figure that out?
MK: In general, it’s been one or two new presentations a year just sort of indefinitely. I try to be a little bit mindful as I create presentations to do something that I think will be relevant for a little while. I try not to do a presentation where the entire presentation is about this thing that’s been in the news for the past couple of weeks. We might do that as a blog, but to scale yourself as a businessperson, if I’m going to put that kind of energy into a really good presentation, I want to get some yardage out of it. Sometimes, there’s enough stuff going on, or something strikes my fancy, and once an idea gets in my head, I’m not really getting it out of my head until I write it down or deliver a presentation on it.
SO: I lied, one more last question. Do you have a way of checking in on why you do this? Is it a reset every year? How do you reconnect with the purpose?
MK: The biggest connection to me with the purpose is just this continuous flow of emails, sometimes direct messages on social, from advisors whose lives we’ve impacted. We get multiple messages every week of advisors that were on some bad path or in some bad place, or not able to serve clients, or not doing the thing that they were enjoying, and now they are in a completely different place of positively serving clients and feeling good about their lives and businesses and careers—what they’re doing to help people. And they’ll say, you know, ‘That article you put out, or that podcast, you gave me some moment that changed the trajectory of my life.’ So, it’s those stories, those daily affirmations for what we do. And as the team is growing, I try to capture those on Slack internally, and share them on our all-hands meetings every month so the whole team can see the impact we’re having.