The trend - also known as 'stealth wealth' - is the financial elite's practice of wearing expensive, often very simple clothing only recognisable by fellow mega-rich people, but where did it come from and will it die down now mere mortals are catching on?
As summer heats up, there’s one fashion trend that is everywhere but blink and you’ll miss it - it’s quiet luxury or ‘stealth wealth’.
After years of obvious logos and recognisable designer accessories being the preserve of those who have money and want to show it off, the mega rich are now turning to high quality, plain garments to make up their wardrobes, pieces which whisper money rather than shout it from the rooftops.
According to Google Trends data released earlier this month, searches for ‘quiet luxury' exploded over the past year by a staggering 614%.
The exclusive trend has grown especially popular in 2023, thanks to Sofia Richie’s lavish April wedding at the Hotel du Cap-Eden-Roc in Antibes, Gwyneth Paltrow’s civil court case - and everyone’s favourite TV show ‘Succession’.
Sofia Richie's nuptials were dubbed ‘quiet luxury' by onlookers, thanks to her simple, elegant wedding gown and simple makeup looks. Her PR advisors have marketed the daughter of singer Lionel Richie into the ultimate pin up for the trend and her appeal has been cross generational. On TikTok alone, #sofiarichiemakeup has racked up millions of hits.
The 24-year-old has taken her increased popularity and run with it, creating a number ‘get ready with me’ videos, inviting fans to see how she created the numerous looks she wore at her several-day-long wedding celebrations.
The overall aesthetic of Richie's wedding was extravagant yet not flashy and seems to have inspired people to aspire for a lavish lifestyle without going too over the top.
This is a reinvention for the model following some wags taking to social media to sarcastically say one piece in particular she wore - a bright pink Chanel romper emblazoned with the fashion house’s logo - is anything but ‘quiet’ luxury.
Her new style does incorporate Chanel, but subtly, and plays perfectly into the growing trend for neutral and monochrome outfits which are taking over social media and street style.
Fashionistas are increasingly turning to subtle colours, inspired by Sofia Richie choosing to wear white, creams and brown tones in the build-up to her wedding, and although it can be emulated on a budget, the mega rich will happily drop hundreds of euros on a simple sweater, often from the likes Loro Piana, The Row and Brunello Cucinelli.
This was particularly evident in the recently-ended ‘Succession’ series. Alongside the biting dialogue, stealth wealth was at the forefront of the characters’ interactions and wardrobes.
During one episode a Burberry bag, worth thousands, is described as ‘ludicrously capacious' and ‘monstrous' due to its vintage check print making it all too recognisable.
The show’s costume designer Michelle Matland managed to create stealth wealth-appropriate wardrobes unique to the main characters since it premiered in 2018.
The men wore perfectly tailored, usually bespoke, dark suits and logo-free baseball caps and Shiv, the only female sibling of the beastly Roy family, was dressed in neutral power pieces which subtly asserted her power and immense wealth.
The ‘quiet luxury’ mindset didn’t come so easily to Shiv’s outsider husband Tom, though.
Early on in the popular season, Tom presents the Roy family patriarch Logan with a top of the range Patek Philippe watch, telling him, “It’s incredibly accurate. Every time you look at it, it tells you exactly how rich you are”, missing the point entirely.
Chris Reid, Head Designer at Carl Friedrik tells Euronews Culture that ‘Succession’ hit the nail of ‘stealth wealth’ firmly on the head: “So-called ‘quiet luxury’ is so much more than a passing trend, it’s a lifestyle. Born out of subtlety, the style is softer than minimalism, but has a more polished look than normcore for example”.
Freidrik adds, “The infamous “ludicrously capacious bag” moment in the current season of Succession and the reaction online shows that ‘quiet luxury’ is still alive and well”.
While ‘Succession’ was believable but fictional, Gwyneth Paltrow’s civil court case back in March was very real - and one of the most clear examples of what ‘quiet luxury’ has come to mean.
The Oscar-winning actress was sued by a man who claimed she crashed into him and caused him significant injury while skiing dangerously and the courtroom turned into a display of Paltrow’s personal brand of ‘stealth wealth’, down to the €299 Smythson notebook she shielded her face with on one occasion.
Every day of the case, the Goop guru took a subtle approach to power dressing which implied wealth rather than makes it obvious or flashy.
At one point, she wore a basic-looking cream Loro Piana roll neck which retails for a staggering €1,385 and on another occasion she chose a coat from The Row, priced at €4,482.
At the time, quiet luxury was a little less known so it seems that Paltrow’s ordinary looking outfits with their sky high prices were only recognisable to others with similar bank balances, were worn as part of a ploy to win jury members over by convincing the twelve she’s ‘one of them’.
If your budget is a little less than the millionaire actress', it is possible to get the look for a lot less, according to Fenwick’s buying manager Sue Shields: “Quiet luxury isn’t only about minimalism, it embodies all things elevated, giving your look a sartorial elegance. Think structured coats and blazers, clean basics and perfectly tailored trousers, paired with a stand-out bag or piece of statement jewellery”.
Friedrik agrees, saying, “To achieve the ‘quiet luxury’ look without breaking the bank, invest in a crisp white shirt, a tailored-style linen suit in a subtle tone and a statement quality bag that gives the impression of high end fashion without the price tag”.
The designer adds, “This clean capsule look can be mixed up by switching in other monochrome items to incorporate day to night looks and to get the most wear out of your outfit without compromising on style. It's worthwhile prioritising quality over quantity when selecting timeless basics for your wardrobe”.
Out with the old, in with the old
It does seem though, that quiet luxury isn’t that novel at all.
Fenwick menswear buyer Ollie Shepherd tells EuronewsCulture, “The concept of quiet luxury isn’t new, it’s the same notion we often hear about with ‘don’t buy more buy better’. Investing in high-quality pieces from timeless brands, choosing styles you can wear again and again”.
In fact, it’s a long recognised trend which can trace its roots as far back as the American industrialists of the 19th-century Gilded Age and France in the 1700s as a reaction to boom periods when conspicuous wealth was all the rage.
The COVID-19 pandemic was the modern equivalent of that, seeing young, aspirational - and panicked - buyers investing in brands with large logos and statement pieces.
Three years later, with much of the world on the brink of recession, it’s no surprise that quiet luxury is the trend du jour, with people who are financially secure not wanting to be too obviously wealthy in the eyes of those struggling.
This was the case too in the 1990s, a time of great global change, when the minimalist aesthetic for practical dressing was made famous - and fashionable - by brands including Donna Karan and Miuccia Prada as well as displays of stealth wealth amid the devastating recession of 2008/9.
With gas and food prices and mortgage rates rising and the future looking grim for many quarters, it will be interesting to see how long quiet luxury can hang on, with its subtle colours and simple designs. Some experts have been predicting a return to bright colours and clothing adorned with logos.
If Pharrell Williams’ debut collection as head of menswear at Louis Vuitton is anything to go by, stealth wealth will be over by autumn. Presenting logo-covered tailoring at his spectacular show at Paris Men’s Fashion Week alongside trunks so large they had to be driven down the runway in golf carts, Williams made a statement which was anything but quiet.
Could it be a case of ‘quiet luxury is dead, long live obvious luxury’? Perhaps it's too early to make a call but it does seem as though the trend might be over before it really even began.