The wealthy elite has a reputation for flashy, ostentatious displays of wealth, but a new trend is emerging among the ultra-rich: stealth-luxe fashion. This understated style is characterized by high-quality, classic pieces that don’t necessarily have obvious logos or branding but are made from the finest materials. It’s a way of displaying wealth without being overt or vulgar and catching on among the super-wealthy.

The popular television show Succession has given us a glimpse into the lives of the richest people in the US and shown how billionaires differentiate themselves from the wealthy. The show’s costume designers work closely with wealth consultants to create wardrobes that mirror the actual 0.01%. Characters like Shiv Roy opt for simple, classic pieces like black polo necks, brown trouser suits, and beige shirts made from the finest silk, while her brother Kendall prefers low-key pieces from Italian label Loro Piana. Colleen Morris-Glennon, the costume designer for the TV series Industry, notes that the richest people can be the hardest to pick out in a crowd.

Stealth-luxe fashion has also caught the attention of the film industry. Cate Blanchett’s character in the film Tár wears an understated collection of staple pieces from designers like Margaret Howell, Max Mara, The Row, and Dries van Noten. “I wanted to do costumes nobody will look at,” said costume designer Bina Daigeler.

While it may seem recent, stealth wealth is not new. In 1899, Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase “conspicuous consumption” to describe displaying ostentatious wealth to gain societal status and reputation. Veblen noted that those new to wealth were more likely to indulge in this behavior, while those used to having the money were likelier to opt for understated displays of wealth. This is the concept behind stealth-luxe dressing: buying understated products for their quality, beauty, and rarity but not leaving the price tag on so only those in equally wealthy positions would recognize the item’s monetary value.

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Fashion is a powerful communication tool; even the super-rich are not above using it to demonstrate their status. Dr. Carolyn Mail, a fashion business consultant and author, says we demonstrate our allegiance to our social groups and distinguish ourselves from others through clothing. She says that, like any language, you are likely to miss, misunderstand, or at least misinterpret the nuances unless you are fluent in that language. 

Stealth-luxe fashion is more than just a trend for the extremely privileged. It’s a response to a changing world where conspicuous displays of wealth can be seen as vulgar or insensitive. As the wealth gap widens, those with vast amounts of money are increasingly looking for ways to display their wealth more subtly and more sophisticatedly. Stealth-luxe fashion is the perfect solution: it allows the ultra-rich to display their wealth without being showy or ostentatious. As the world becomes increasingly unequal, stealth-luxe fashion will likely become even more popular among the super-rich.