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Wealthy But Stealthy: How the Internet Destroyed Quiet Luxury

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In an industry where attention is currency and ostentatious displays garner accolades, a trend that has been simmering in the pot of luxury fashion for decades has resurfaced these past 6 months. Quiet Luxury (interchangeably referred to as “Stealth Wealth” or “Old Money”) embraces understated elegance, minimalism, and authenticity. It is a celebration of substance over spectacle, an embrace of simplicity, and a calming colour palette in a technicolour world. But if you’ve ever marveled at a $2000 T-shirt you might wonder what the point of luxury fashion is, especially Quiet Luxury, which stands in sharply boring contrast with the garish and opulent Versace, Roberto Cavalli, and Gucci.

What is Quiet Luxury?


The rich have always been dressing down. The really rich. Not your favourite celebrities but the sons and daughters of old money and Fortune 500 companies. Rather than heralding a new trend, Quiet Luxury resurfaces at least once every decade, seemingly always in contempt of streetwear trends, graphic prints, and logomania.

Stealth Wealth flies under the radar and has the wardrobe items to achieve this goal. Characterised by a colour palette of beige, grey, black, white and navy blue and finished with a strong silhouette, the minimalism of Stealth Wealth is easy to emulate with a few key wardrobe pieces. Unassuming and passive by nature, rather than lashing out at mini dress-clad influencers posing in thigh-high dominatrix boots at a Swiss sauna, Quiet Luxury caresses the broke and misguided with the sympathetic swoosh of woolen blazers, the light breeze of tailored trousers or the gentle graze of a starched linen shirt. Tittering at influencers wearing bizarre fashion in even weirder contexts, Quiet Luxury is the antithesis to performative or co-opted wealth.

Quiet Luxury caresses the broke and misguided with the sympathetic swoosh of woolen blazers, the light breeze of tailored trousers or the gentle graze of a starched linen shirt.


It’s not just in the circles of the rich and famous that Quiet Luxury has proven to be an enduring trend, but at fashion shows too. Brands such as The Row, Brunello Cucinelli, and Loro Piana specialize in the aesthetic, while fashion houses such as Gucci and Bottega Veneta have showcased recent collections that forgo louder looks for minimal pieces which whisper, “if you know you know”. The hefty price tags being no obstacle, the consensus on runways is towards real-life wearability.


Inheritance & Sustainability


The Old Money aesthetic is about inheritance and rejects transient trends and ephemerality. It’s about investing in high quality pieces and passing these down through generations. Not only does it reject fast fashion, but it shirks wealth-signalling. This means luxury brands that have obvious logos or heavy monogramming, such as Louis Vuitton or Burberry, are seen as garish in their recognisability. Instead, the rise of minimalism advocates unadorned aesthetics and refinement.

In response to the lockdowns, it was recorded that young people were spending less on material items, but more on furniture for their home, and higher education. Not only do we want to surround ourselves with meaningful items and knowledge, but we’ve also moved on from asking does it spark joy, to will it serve me 10 years from now? For some, that elusive sense of serenity and balance can be closer achieved by simplifying our wardrobes. Trading in flashy of-the-moment things for trend-immune items can also remove the need to have more in the long run. Free your mind and your wardrobe will follow.

Stop normalizing the grind and normalize whatever this is. “This” being the laid-back quality of neutral tones and warm, natural fibres. Pair it with the kind of activities the rich partake in, such as enjoying life, unburdened by plebian worries, and drying their tears with hundred-dollar bills. Quiet Luxury presents a counterpoint to transient fashion trends. Rather than clamouring for attention, it exercises restraint and invites a discerning eye to appreciate the fit.


Brokeness: It’s pronounced broqué

 
Living paycheck to paycheck but make it fancy. Now in their early to mid 20s, Gen Z are finishing higher education and joining the workforce. However, pandemic-induced inflation and the cost of living crisis, has removed both buying power and disposable income from the equation. In many countries, buying a house has become distant, if not entirely unachievable for young people. The darker reality becomes, the more we rely on our own crafted realities (or maladaptive daydreams) to get through the days. Escapism by adopting a new aesthetic is something Gen Z have been embracing since the beginning of the lockdowns, dissolving into Cottagecore fairy tales, or Dark Academia fantasies. Mimicking the Old Money aesthetic allows Gen Z and millennials to reclaim control over how wealthy they are perceived to be, by in turn, not looking wealthy at all. Stealth Wealth treats luxury clothing as a blank canvas, one that allows individuals to reflect their own narratives onto their clothing.

Mimicking the Old Money aesthetic allows Gen Z and millennials to reclaim control over how wealthy they are perceived to be, by in turn, not looking wealthy at all.


Whiteness: Assimilating to the Colonialists… again

 
Historically, it is white families that retain the title of “old money” in the Western world. So any cultural capital Quiet Luxury may have is inherently tied to white privilege. Assistant Professor at Parsons School of Design, Jonathan Square, calls this “aesthetic whiteness”, pointing out that Quiet Luxury exists at the expense of trends invented by BIPOC cultures. These trends include almost all of streetwear, such as bucket hats, baggy pants, hoop earrings and crop tops. So who is actually benefitting from Quiet Luxury?


Does it only benefit the rich?


Can the discrete restraint of Quiet Luxury also be a survival tactic of the wealthy? Having learnt from the mistakes of Marie Antoinette, the rich are paring back their looks to fly under the radar, lest the metaphorical guillotine should make an appearance. This idea has been on the radar of celebrity stylists. Red carpet fashion for the past few months has seen a distinct lack of jewels and necklaces, even on eveningwear dresses that traditionally call for a pendant. With the well-worn routine of hoarding wealth during times of crisis for low income earners, Quiet Luxury could be enabling the wealthy to proliferate cycles of unchecked privilege.


No longer the best-kept secret


What is so delicate that saying its name breaks it? The answer is silence. And also Quiet Luxury. Ironically, the chronic contentification seen on TikTok means that casual fashion fans are now in the know. Where brands like Loro Piana were previously unknown amongst us peasants, they are now recognised as being “the uniform” for Old Money. For rich people that stood by the, “you will never be us” attitude, it’s as if their favourite band just released a Top 40 hit. Now everyone is talking about how much they love them. Likewise, now that the brand names have been spoken, the Ashera cat’s out of the Totême bag.

The trend is becoming more associated with people trying to communicate their wealth, rather than hide it. Alarm bells rang when Loro Piana released a - now bestselling - baseball cap with their brand name on the front.


The Cult of Quiet Luxury


Thanks to popular TV shows like Succession and Dynasty, we have codified what the Old Money trend appears to be in pop culture. There are plenty of real-life magnates from old money that don’t dress in the way we are imagining. So it’s important to take TikTok-certified trends with a grain of salt.

That said, Quiet Luxury has become a cult that extends beyond the borders of an in-group of wealthy individuals flying under the societal radar. Now it includes influencers, fashion fanatics, as well as possibly, your mum and dad, who don’t realise they’re dressing like secret millionaires, but love their Ralph Lauren cable knit jumpers just as much as they did 20 years ago.

Stealth Wealth as we know it, is mostly just a spot of harmless class tourism. In the same way the wealthy sometimes cosplay as the working class in workwear brands like Dickies and Carhartt WIP. Middle and lower income earners can try out the trends of the wealthy for a while, albeit at a lower price point.



The rise in Gen Z’s obsession with eye-watering wealth is both at odds with and due to current economic instability. Should we eat the rich or dress like them? Or steal their clothes after we’ve cannibalised them? By virtue of knowing about it, Quiet Luxury is already dead. But it doesn’t matter – money can’t buy taste. If we can marry carefully chosen, trend non-specific pieces with preserving and passing down what we’ve bought, then we can turn You’ll never be us, into Honey, we already are. You can do the cosplay, your bank account doesn’t have to. Shop the trend at Glue Store.

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