Being filthy rich isn’t always an easy feat, especially in a cost of living crisis… Obnoxious displays of wealth are no longer the best way to elevate yourself above mere mortals, empathy and stealth wealth are.
Minimalism is key to quiet luxury. The rich are chucking out their brand-heavy garmz and reaching for basics that will last. Think neutral tones and understated fabrics elevated by statement jewellery.
It’s not the first time financial declines have impacted the fashion world either. Following the 2008 economic crash, designers raced against each other for innovation. Most recently, post-COVID, we saw a rise in dopamine dressing. Both examples aim to boost spirits and look towards a brighter future. In a cost of living crisis where people are struggling to heat their homes and feed their families, however, the ultra rich need to be humbled.
Quiet luxury has led to a shift away from logomania. Highsnobriety recently declared Supreme dead in the same way that the iconic Burberry check went from being synonymous with the British upper class to being down-right tacky. It was even problematically labelled as ‘chavtastic’ by The Sun in the early 2000s. Millionaires today have had to resort to subtler ways of displaying wealth, which is where quiet luxury comes in.
Fashion researcher at London College of Fashion, Liza Bets declared: “When hierarchies can’t be maintained through things like position and economics, the symbolic idea of taste comes in to maintain control.”
The Louis Vuitton Neverfull was swapped for the LOEWE Puzzle bag and Miu Miu opted for smaller logos subtly placed on cashmere cardigans. Despite settling for staples, the luxury quality lives on, and so does the hefty price tag.
As she attended court earlier this month, Gwyneth Paltrow gave us an exemplary stealth wealth lookbook. Her colour palette was neutral, there was lots of beige, lots of brown, and lots of budget-breaking price tags. From Celine and The Row to billionaire must-have Loro Piana, Paltrow made a case for quiet rich chic.
Key to her look was shameless self-promotion. She wore a chunky gold necklace from her own brand, G. Label by Goop, which comes in at a mere $25,000, while her $6,000 cashmere cardi kept her nice and toasty.
Her court style was an attempt to convey innocence by dressing like a humble middle-class mum of two returning from a luxury ski resort. The not-so-relatable price tags, on the other hand, cost more than your average person’s rent.
HBO’s Succession is a prime case study in old versus new money, whereby characters buy into the idea that money can get you anything. Kendall Roy, played by Jeremy Strong, is the misunderstood heir to the family throne fumbling his way through money-centric Manhattan. In an attempt to sway a client, Roy gifted them a pair of $500 dollar Lanvin trainers, because why not?
As Vivienne Westwood and Gucci trainers were repeatedly worn by the Love Island boys from recent years, designer trainers went from being coupled up with all things cool and sleek to falling into the tacky trap that is reality TV. Clearly, Roy didn’t catch on and ultimately lost the investment. While his attempt at rich chic fails, his embarrassment is irresistibly relatable for audiences.
Quiet luxury and stealth wealth are the upper class’ take on recessioncore. Wired headphones, muted colours and sacking off jewellery on the red carpet are all a part of dressing up for an economic downfall. Making poverty and wealth disparity an aesthetic is undeniably problematic.
Balenciaga continues to be uncontrollable despite several cancel-worthy stunts. Before there were children in the fashion house’s BDSM fetishwear campaign, there was the ‘Paris Sneaker’ scandal.
Selling a beat-up and torn pair of muddy trainers for a small fee of £1,290, Balenciaga made an aesthetic out of being poor without realising that for some people it’s not just a matter of jumping on the latest fashion fad. In a financial downfall, is it fair for luxury brands to capitalise on people’s daily struggles? No.
While stealth wealth is more easily recreatable on a budget, the attempt at some kind of misguided empathy is condescending. Reaching for staples is nothing new in the world of fashion, but when it happens, it should be a sustainability practice rather than a way to disguise extreme wealth.
When it comes to logomania, we ditched the monogram prints way before it was cool, not because we weren’t a fan but because we had bills to pay. To put it simply, we get it you have money, we’ll stick to Tesco meal deals and charity shop steals.
Modest fashion refers to the act of dressing for various degrees of coverage. Despite popular belief, it isn’t always connected to ethno-religious fulfilment. Once considered a somewhat niche section of the industry, brands are now taking more of an interest in it than ever before, with searches for ‘modest fashion’ and other related terms growing exponentially year on year.
Though there are no links between a particular religious group and modesty, it would be doing a disservice to the Muslim community to not mention its contribution to modest fashion consumption, especially luxury. The 2022 State of the Global Islamic Economy report confirmed that expenditure on modest fashion had increased to £240 billion that year and is expected to grow to £253 billion in 2023.
Both high-end and high-street brands are taking their piece of the modest fashion pie with their respective modest collections. These are strategically marketed around the month of Ramadan and subsequent Eid festival, with a portion of those participating also choosing to dress in varying levels of modesty throughout the month and often purchasing new clothes to wear during gatherings and events.
H&M and Mango annually release modest collections around this time, though they are only named ‘Ramadan’ collections in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries. You’d be familiar with these being released as spring collections that feature bright colours and rich fabrics, accompanied by campaigns heavily featuring POC models.
A quick search of ‘Ramadan’ on the respective sites, though, will reveal a curated array of gowns and Eastern-inspired wear. On the flip side, Loro Piana, aka the peak of luxury fashion, also released a new capsule collection with Harrods this spring 2023, with literal abayas, a traditional clothing item worn by the Muslim community. The Italian brand’s collection has a strong sense of familiarity with traditional Eastern silhouettes and embroidery, but again was not initially released as a Ramadan collection. Loro Piana later decided to name it a ‘Ramadan’ capsule collection.
It’s surprising that brands, particularly luxury brands, would initially shy away from dedicating these collections to those who observe Ramadan, considering the popularity of these brands in MENA countries. We can either assume the best, which is that they don’t want their customers to feel limited by the modest label. One can presume that some potential customers might feel less inclined to buy clothes from a line they believe is only for modest dressers, as opposed to a way of adding more options in core collections which cater to them.
On the other hand, naming a collection as modest opens up brands to a greater degree of accountability, in turn stopping them from pigeonholing or colourwashing its image. Colourwashing is an umbrella term which refers to brands marketing themselves a certain way in order to capitalise on people’s personal ethics and values.
Akin to greenwashing, this strategy is used heavily by clothing brands who seek to make profit by making out as though they’re big supporters of different marginalised communities.
We could go as far as to say that fashion brands are almost “modest-washing” by displaying items and collections as modest. Still, they are not actually educating themselves on what modest wear is, and what people are looking for when it comes to modest clothing.
Upon speaking to young people who identify as ‘modest dressers’, the overarching theme is that brands simply aren’t providing them with a variety of suitable options. These companies have a duty of care to their customers and, in the case of modest fashion, must ensure their due diligence—either by including more modest dressers in their design and buying teams, or through curated edits coming directly from modest influencers.
Though brands aren’t leading the way so to speak, social media certainty is. Modest fashion has found its people on TikTok, with #modestfashion currently sitting at 3.3 billion views. This is owed to the influx of young profiles who have individualistic style preferences and have found ways to mix and match traditional and modern pieces to suit their personal aesthetic without being forced into the abaya/kaftan box. It all comes down to influencers and upcoming content creators changing the narrative on what it means to be modest and calling attention to the fact that it doesn’t mean giving up one’s personal style.
Gen Z influencers like Zozo’s Fits, who at first glance doesn’t look like what we’ve been brainwashed to think a modest dresser looks like, represent everything that modest fashion is today. With the support of content creators like these, brands can tap into the modest wear market without the need to launch a ‘modest’ or ‘Ramadan’ collection. They can accurately cater to what their target audience is looking for.
While we impatiently await that urgent change, we’ve curated our own top modest fashion-friendly pieces for any readers looking to dabble in the world of modesty: