2023 will be known as the year that skinny jeans returned, adidas’ Samba dominated, and quiet luxury returned in force. Blame Succession, blame the economy, blame the Olsen twins: stealth wealth is back, baby.
It’s been screamed from the rooftops at full blast for weeks now, every fashion-leaning publication (ourselves included) has been roaring about the inherent power in dressing in quietly expensive clothes, channeling what TikTok calls the #OldMoneyAesthetic (over two billion views on that hashtag, by the way).
It’s getting old, older than the supposed money in question.
The current fetishization of looking wealthy is part of a strange, longstanding American obsession with the old money lifestyle. Like, I’m sure you’ve heard the oft-repeated Aesopian fables of Warren Buffett’s unfashionable old cars or the pithy aphorism “money talks, wealth whispers.”
These profoundly wealthy people are lionized as gods in popular culture; Elon Musk’s unfunny memes are worshipped by his cultish fans and Steve Jobs’ normcore uniform will perpetually be imitated by wannabe geniuses seeking to become the next tech auteur.
Thus, the fairly boring clothes these people tend to wear have become a new kind of status symbol for people desperate to appear well-off, despite most of these uber-rich types having pretty awful style
Like, take the characters on Succession. They’re miserably petty people intentionally costumed in stealth wealth clothing intended to reflect their vapidity: Kendall Roy, for instance, mopes around in $1,300 Tom Ford hoodies and ~$1,000 Maison Margiela sweaters indistinguishable from their affordable counterparts except for a leather zipper pull or white stitch.
This is how the 1% operates: these people are too wealthy to wear anything cheaper than designer goods and too boring to care about wearing anything interesting. It’s not an intentional flex, it’s just a different form of conspicuous consumption.
And that’s the thing; these are the people who profited off of the COVID-19 pandemic. They suck. Why idolize them?
It’s a dangerous game to conflate wealth with taste, because it positions an unattainable lifestyle as aspirational. And, worst of all, whether you call it quiet luxury or stealth wealth or coded luxury: it’s soooo boring.
If the truly ultra-rich care about clothing at all, they use their deep pockets to signal money with indulgences like $15,000 necklaces, Brunello Cucinelli T-shirts, and white-soled shoes.
To the layman, these are boring basics but, to similarly wealthy people, these items put their money where their mouth is, a silent wink and nod.
That’s true stealth wealth and it’s incredibly uninteresting. It’s the stylistic equivalent of pulling out an Amex Black card at dinner: zero taste, just deep pockets.
That doesn’t change the fact that average folks remain fascinated by a romanticized version of quiet luxury.
The sentiment is nothing new in American culture, especially fashion — didn’t American designers like Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and Perry Ellis build their entire brands upon the image of a craveably luxury lifestyle? — but it really took off late last year.
Quiet luxury’s recent rise dovetails with TikTok-birthed movements like recessioncore, a celebration of minimalist wardrobes and natural makeup.
But whereas concepts like recessioncore eschew visible opulence in favor of humble comforts, quiet luxury still pedestals the idea of being noticed by other people, even if that attention is achieved by merely wearing boring clothes.
Stealth wealth is apparently only desirable if it actually isn’t very stealthy at all.
Though quiet luxury purportedly favors IYKYK outfits only perceptible to others with equally good taste, it’s usually put into practice for looks intended to be recognized as obviously expensive, like Gwyneth Paltrow’s headline-worthy courtroom outfits.
Head-to-toe Prada, giant coats from The Row, vintage Céline — this was extremely visible luxury coding, nothing stealth or quiet here.
But if that’s the way that quiet luxury goes, so be it. So much for wealth whispering or whatever but, hey, it’s not boring.
Not that it’s better to fete millionaires like Paltrow than billionaires like Succession‘s nebbish Kendall Roy but it’s all about the looks here. It’s all stuff we can’t afford, so might as well look to the interesting stuff.
That’s where I draw the line with stealth wealth. While we should be talking about breaking down the societal norms that celebrate opulence, we might as well talk quietly stylish clothes in the meanwhile.
Wear your ludicrously capacious bags, seek out archival Margiela Hermès, beat up your Birkin — just don’t be as boring as people who’re actually rich.