Why Are People Obsessed With Looking Rich & Boring?

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2023 will be known as the year that skinny jeans returned, adidas’ Samba dominated, and quiet luxury returned in force. Blame Succession, blame the economy, blame the Olsen twins: stealth wealth is back, baby.

It’s been screamed from the rooftops at full blast for weeks now, every fashion-leaning publication (ourselves included) has been roaring about the inherent power in dressing in quietly expensive clothes, channeling what TikTok calls the #OldMoneyAesthetic (over two billion views on that hashtag, by the way).

The sentiment is getting old, older than the supposed money in question.

The current fetishization of looking wealthy is part of a strange, longstanding American obsession with the old money lifestyle. Like, I’m sure you’ve heard the oft-repeated Aesopian fables of Warren Buffett’s unfashionable old cars or the pithy aphorism “money talks, wealth whispers.”

These profoundly wealthy people are lionized as gods in popular culture; Elon Musk’s unfunny memes are worshiped by his cultish fans and Steve Jobs’ normcore uniform is perpetually imitated by wannabe geniuses seeking to become the next tech auteur.

Thus, the fairly boring clothes these oligarchs wear have become a new kind of status symbol for people desperate to appear well-off. It’s a mentality that ignores a simple fact: most of these uber-rich types having pretty awful style.

Like, take the characters on Succession. They’re miserably petty new money nepo babies intentionally costumed in stealth wealth clothing intended to reflect their vapidity. Kendall Roy, for instance, mopes around in $1,300 Tom Ford hoodies and ~$1,000 Maison Margiela sweaters indistinguishable from affordable counterparts except for a leather zipper pull or white stitch.

This is how the 1% operates: these people are too wealthy to wear anything cheaper than designer goods and too boring to care about wearing anything interesting. It’s not an intentional flex, it’s just a different form of conspicuous consumption.

And that’s the thing; these are the people who profited off of the COVID-19 pandemic. They suck. Why idolize them?

It’s a dangerous game to conflate wealth with taste, because it positions an unattainable lifestyle as aspirational. And, worst of all, whether you call it quiet luxury or stealth wealth or coded luxury, it’s soooo boring.

If the truly ultra-rich cared about clothing at all, they’d use their deep pockets to signal money with more interesting indulgences than $15,000 necklaces, Brunello Cucinelli T-shirts, and white-soled shoes.

To the layman, these are boring basics but, to similarly wealthy people, these items put the wearer’s money where their mouth is. A silent wink and nod between members of an exclusive and terribly bland club.

That’s true stealth wealth and it’s incredibly uninteresting. It’s the stylistic equivalent of pulling out an Amex Black card at dinner: not an indicator of taste, just an inflated bank account.

That doesn’t change the fact that average folks remain fascinated by a romanticized version of quiet luxury.

The sentiment is nothing new in American culture, especially fashion. After all, didn’t American designers like Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan, and Perry Ellis build their entire brands upon the image of a craveably luxury lifestyle? But the taste for stealthily flexing one’s wardrobe really took off late last year.

Quiet luxury’s recent rise dovetails with TikTok-birthed movements like recessioncore, a celebration of minimalist wardrobes and natural makeup.

But whereas recessioncore eschews visible opulence in favor of humble comforts, quiet luxury still pedestals the idea of being noticed by other people.

Stealth wealth is apparently only desirable if it actually isn’t very stealthy at all.

Honestly, if that’s the case, fine; it’s better than dressing like Mark Zuckerberg. I’ll take personality over plain.

Though quiet luxury purportedly favors IYKYK outfits only perceptible to others with equally good taste, it’s more typically utilized as a descriptor for looks intended to be obviously expensive, like the headline-worthy courtroom outfits that Gwyneth Paltrow wore to her much-publicized March 2023 ski trial.

Head-to-toe Prada, giant coats from The Row, vintage Céline — Paltrow epitomized extremely visible luxury coding, nothing stealth or quiet to be found, yet she was lauded for her looks.

Why? Because, like her or not (I don’t), she looked great.

If that’s the way that quiet luxury goes, so be it. So much for wealth whispering or whatever but, hey, at least it ain’t boring.

It’s not necessarily better to fete millionaires like Paltrow than billionaires like the nebbish Kendall Roy but we’re just talking looks here.

It’s all stuff we can’t afford and a lifestyle we’ll never attain, so might as well appreciate the stuff that actually looks interesting.

That’s where I draw the line with stealth wealth. While we should be talking about breaking down the societal norms that celebrate opulence, talking about quietly stylish clothing is better than nothing.

Wear your ludicrously capacious bags, seek out archival Margiela Hermès, beat up your Birkin — just don’t be as boring as people who’re actually rich.


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