Episode 72: Why the Quiet Luxury trend is going to be hard for brands to imitate
What is "Quiet Luxury" or "Stealth Wealth"?
The difficulty of achieving the quiet luxury look
The importance of quality, fit, and materials
Other cues that signal wealth, such as body language and grooming
Looking stylish regardless of budget or colour palette preference.
Welcome to episode 72 of the Fashion Unearthed podcast. I haven't checked my podcast subscribers on Apple for ages, but I did today and I can see there are a lot more people, which is amazing. I love that people are sticking around and finding inspiration, education, or whatever it is they need from the podcast. So a big thank you to everyone. And if you do like it, I would love it if you could share it with a friend or on Instagram. I would really help to get it out to more people. And if you do share on Instagram, make sure you tag me at @belindahumphrey_.
Today I wanted to talk about quiet luxury or some are labelling it as stealth wealth, but I see it being mentioned a lot on social media and it's one of those supposed new trends everyone's talking about, but I don't think it's as new as what people and fashion are trying to push. It's been in the media a lot more with succession and everyone wanting to dissect Gwyneth Paltrow's recent courtroom appearances and outfits, but it's not new. The phrase money talks, wealth whispers have always been around. But the difference now is that it's being described to talk more about billionaires than millionaires, but what exactly is it? Articles describe it as a mood or you know it when you see it and all these vague terms, but it's essentially logo free. It's expensive clothes due to materials and construction in colours that the West describe as neutrals. And when you describe it like that, you think it'd be quite simple to emulate that look. But I'm gonna get into why that's a bit trickier a bit later. But it was last in the public zeitgeist just after the Great Recession of 2008, and it reflected a more sombre economic mood.
And this time fashion trend, companies are describing it as a pendulum swing away from dopamine dressing and peacocking, and again, representing the mood of the global economy. But as I said, wealthy people not dressing overtly wealthy has always been a thing. While some may say there's an element about living a quiet life, being safe, and avoiding being the target of criminals, a lot of it has to do with signalling to an in-crowd. Fashion has always been about saying something about ourselves, and it's a case of if you know. Because people in the know will be able to spot that you are wearing something prestigious. It's an inner circle mentality. It is understated, suppressed, soft, tactile, sophisticated, and timeless. It's inconspicuous, polished, refined logo-less. It is not flashy, bold, or glitzy. Dressing brands that fit into this aesthetic naturally include Laura Piano, where cashmere sweaters start at $1700, and the Robe Brunello Cinelli, Max Mara, and Jil Sander, just to name a few.
The colour is not bold, bright or colourful. It's very restrained - Grey, navy, black and white, maybe some cream in there as well. British Vogue describes the trend as more of a mood than anything else, and essentially a synonym for elevated basics, which I disagree with. This is a total look signalling that you have the money to afford quality. You can't convincingly pull off this look just by thinking you can buy a camel sweater from the high street, regardless of how many influencers tell you otherwise for many reasons.
Firstly, there's a reason why the term impeccably cut is often used. It directly speaks to the level of quality and fit. The brands who have made these clothes pay more for complicated construction methods and they scrutinize the whole fit process a lot more. Secondly, the fabric is heavy enough, they're not flimsy fabrics.
They have assuredness to them and woven fabrics especially have been steamed and pressed expertly throughout the construction process to mould around the body. And lastly, the materials are mostly natural. The usual suspects are cashmere, silk, and wool. And it leads on from the previous point that a tailor can't shape a pant leg with steam over Taylor's ham or an ironing board if it's polyester. Trying to go for that look by using an acrylic or polyester blend is a dead giveaway to a trained eye because it never hangs the same. It's being framed as another trend, but a well-fitting coat in a beautiful fabric, in the right proportions for your body and put together in a complete look with all the other items at the same standard will always signal higher quality and therefore expensive. And it is about the whole look. Fingernails, teeth, hair, shoes, well-fitting undergarments, and minimal jewellery, even other cues can come into play here.
The speed at which someone talks, the way they move their body, what they do with their hand gestures, all of those things will add up to signal if someone is, I guess, wealthy. I mean, I'm pretty sure I've never met a billionaire, maybe not take my word for it exactly what we are wearing. When I was travelling a lot through airports and boarding planes and looking at how people were dressing when they were getting on and off the plane, those were all the things that I was looking at those little signalers of if they were gonna turn left and go into first class. And it's because of all those little signals that I don't think you can pretend or look like you are from old money just by shopping neutrals. You can look stylish, but that should always be the case regardless of your budget or colour palette preferences.
All that being said, I think there's one problem with this trend, aside from everyone trying to make it a trend, that is it's a Western version of what denotes luxury. If you've done any reading about the history of colour psychology and usage, there's a whole theory about why bold colours are seen as more casual, unrefined, or unsophisticated. And it's because of their association with and use of their native dress and indigenous cultures. The West consciously separated itself from these cultures by using more subdued colours and described them as more civilized, rational, and sophisticated. And it's something that still permeates the boardroom and corporate environments. I think it's worth being aware of that too, particularly, you know, take notice of the type of people that are wearing this look and being used as examples of this trend. As I mentioned in one of my earlier fortnightly newsletters, be aware of your biases and I'll add culture into that as well.
Be aware of the culture that you're immersed in. All in all, I feel fashion is trying to make this a thing, and I think brands will struggle to pull it off aside from a colour choice because a cashmere or wool knit is more expensive and it's not going to fit into most brands' pricing hierarchy. The other part of that is the room in an existing margin structure to pay for better construction. Yes, by all means, pay attention to the fit of your garments and buy high-quality materials made ethically. But if hot pink is a neutral or foundation colour in your wardrobe, stick to it.
I hope you enjoyed today's episode, and like I said, I would love it if you shared it with a friend or even on Instagram. And if you are looking to work with me on a coaching or design project, you can get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org or DM or message me on Instagram at @belindahumphrey_. And like always, you'll find the show notes and any links on the website, belindahumphrey.com in the podcast section. Thanks so much for listening. See you next time.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure that information is accurate at the time of recording, much like the fashion industry itself, this information may change.