Normcore! Ghosting! Cheugy! The internet loves a buzzword. The latest entry into this category shows no signs of waning anytime soon: ‘stealth wealth’ — also known by its sister moniker, quiet luxury —which speaks to the rise in an inconspicuous (albeit, extortionately-priced) personal aesthetic.
It’s popular with the super-rich, which is why it is increasingly becoming known as ‘Succession dressing’; citing the costume design of the wildly popular HBO series where Shiv’s brown trouser suits, Kendall’s logo-free cashmere peaked caps to padded jackets and Lukas Matsson’s chunky roll necks, hoodies, and faded cotton T-shirts all encapsulated understated wealth. Although, Twitter commentators were quick to point out that the Swedish tech tycoon’s look is, by comparison, a lot sloppier than the Roy children, with GQ stating his look was leaning towards ‘gorpcore’ (outdoor pursuit gear) rather than all-out quiet luxury.
Off our TV screens, Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent Utah courtroom garb of cosy knits — which suggest a homeliness but are, ultimately, money haemorrhaging — is classic stealth wealth in action. Similarly, our prime minister and his wife regularly attempt to look financially ‘normal’ despite them being multimillionaires with a combined net worth of £730 million. Murty loves running errands in a legging and a cosy mule slipper (£570, JW Anderson), while Sunak is a sucker for a £46 Everlane hoody over his Savile Row suits.
Understated luxury is loud on the catwalks, too. Most notably at Max Mara, which showcased wall-to-wall camel ensembles and The Row – (the Olsen twin’s brand, where coats are about £4k), Jil Sander, Loro Piana and Brunello Cuchinelli. Prada’s Milan runway show in February showcased soft overcoats and tailored trousers in shades of ‘corporate’. The ‘low-key’ trend is fast extending to the lifestyle sphere too. You’ll almost certainly find hints of it in the homes of people with vast inherited wealth, who hanker for a decidedly more humble veneer. Just have a peep at the homes on The Modern House website: think exposed plaster and rustic minimalism.
Forget ‘this old thing’ energy, stealth wealth is clean and crisp and, importantly, new
Quiet luxury is, crucially, a niche space. In part, because so few people can afford it but also because it has narrow perimeters. Sure, it looks like basics but its price tags are anything but. Forget ‘this old thing’ energy, stealth wealth is clean and crisp and, importantly, new when it comes to clothes. Though perversely the opposite when it comes to grooming. Looking too ‘done up’ – talon nails, massive hair, Kardashian contouring – are suggestive of a dedicated beauty ‘team’ and far too ostentatious. Instead, messy hair and lo-fi make up are compatible with stealth wealth. Just look at Shiv’s casual ‘do at Connor’s wedding. It struck me (and Twitter) as a very fraught mum mid-HIIT class aesthetic: the elastic tie failing to adequately contain a shambolic bun and a forgotten strand hanging around the nape of her neck. Reminicient of Miu Miu this season,who channelled ‘bad hair day’ in their runway beauty looks, featuring frizzy flyaways galore.
While stealth wealth, with its lack of flashiness does seem ‘sensitive’ to the financial bin fire most of the world finds itself struggling with, it’s a hollow argument given the price tags are far from subdued. As much as brazen shows of wealth – posting pictures of white Range Rovers, Birkin bags, Rolexes and diamonds – might be perceived as vulgar, at least they are straightforward. Honest. And there is something guileless and fun about unashamed displays of money and the excitement of having earned it. It is behaviour that suggests someone who has not grown up in a land of plenty but gleefully finds themselves there now.
On the other hand, people who have always had endless reservoirs of inherited cash tend to be allergic to mentioning it. It feels like they’ve got to a point where their wealth is almost embarrassing. Just yesterday we saw the engagement photo of the UK’s youngest billionaire The Duke of Westminster Hugh Grosvenor – with a fortune that well exceeds £9 billion. He stands beaming in an open-necked linen shirt with the sleeves rolled up alongside his future wife Olivia Henson who wears what look like beach trousers with an elasticated waistband and cotton T-shirt. There is no sign of a sparkler or mention of carats.
While I’m neither chic nor rich enough to even countenance adopting an authentically stealth wealth look, I can’t say I’m devastated. I’d like to think that – as with the bodacious Birkin brigade – when my ship comes in I might want something a little more exciting than a (walk in) wardrobe of muted knitwear. Doesn’t all this neutrality imply an aversion to risk or even a lack of imagination?
Fashion expert and stylist Debi Simpson who counts high net worth individuals among her private clients doesn’t think so. “[Stealth wealth] is by no means a dull way to dress; it’s an anti-fad statement in a world where every sartorial slave is in a race to the till to purchase the latest, Insta-worthy ‘it’ piece,” she says. “It’s the thing that differentiates those who are genuinely stylish and concerned with quality and longevity from the more ‘trend’- led influencers.”
Doesn’t all this neutrality imply an aversion to risk or even a lack of imagination?
Personal stylist Antonia O’Brien, believes stealth wealth is a response to hyperactive advertising on social media. “It’s almost reactionary to generation Instagram where everything is tagged,” she says. “Now there is something quietly expensive about not wearing logoed clothes and building a timeless wardrobe that always looks elegantly cool as opposed to bang on trend.”
Simpson believes stealth wealth also speaks to certain level of self-importance (‘I don’t have time to pick out clothes’) as well as giving very clear messaging about how discerning you are when it comes to style. “When you are dressing very expensively without much in the way of colour, pattern or logos you are still making a subtle statement,” she explains. “Knowing the signature details of say a French seam down the back of a piece from The Row or the precision and stitch length on the lapel of a Max Mara coat – it’s those really refined subtle nods to elegance that I find my clients want. They are seeking the best quality, best fabrics and silhouettes. They are not here for the flash in the pan fashion moments, emblazoned with Prada logos and Loewe anagrams.”
The discourse around the phenomenon links to ‘old money dressing’ (#OldMoneyAesthetic has billions of views on TikTok ). See how Succession’s Tom questioned what Greg’s date carried in her “ludicrously capacious” bag covered in Burberry’s signature tartan – “Flat shoes for the subway? Her lunch pail?” – reminding us that practicality and frugality are not concerns of the absolutely loaded. Stealth wealth is the sartorial equivalent of an elite member’s club. Hidden signs that are obvious to the initiated who can afford to spend thousands on a ‘basic’ sweater. It’s like a long in-joke for extremely rich people. This, to me, is the smug essence of the stealth wealth message and I’m just not sure I like it.