From Gwyneth Paltrow to HBO’s Succession, quiet luxury is getting louder than ever

By Jennifer Raymont

Updated Jan 10, 2024 at 05:36 PM

Reading time: 3 minutes

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.

What is quiet luxury?

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.

 

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From Gwyneth Paltrow to ‘Succession’

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.

 

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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 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.

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♬ Lofi Vibes - Gentle State

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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