Wealth that whispers… or yawns

Prachi Tailor shares quiet luxury’s troubling implications

In recent times, our fashion-conscious society has embraced “quiet luxury,” an enigmatic blend of casual elegance and opulence without overt displays of wealth. This trend has captured the hearts of fashion enthusiasts, reshaping our perception of dressing with grace and understated allure. Vogue elegantly characterises quiet luxury as the meeting point of “Sienna Miller’s captivating allure from Anatomy of a Scandal’ and the Olsen twins’ off-duty chic; it’s a battered Hermès Kelly Bag or a Max Mara investment coat thrown over an ancient pair of vintage jeans.” From hit shows like Succession, to real-life events like Sofia Richie’s wedding, this aesthetic marries effortless style with unmistakable affluence. However, many argue that quiet luxury may limit our fashion experimentation, favouring traditional and dull colours over the diverse expressions of modern society.

Succession, the acclaimed television series, has become a defining showcase of quiet luxury through its meticulously crafted costume designs. Each character is adorned in attire carefully selected to reveal their economic status and power-driven persona. The Roys, an image and power-obsessed family, adorn themselves in both offensively expensive and seemingly unremarkable clothing, an artful blend of conspicuous luxury and understated sophistication. One noteworthy instance from the show’s latest season involves the character Bridget, who becomes the subject of ridicule for carrying a “ludicrously capacious bag.” Although the bag lacks an overt logo, its distinctive print unmistakably signals Burberry, making it a prime example of logo mania. However, despite its hefty price tag of £2500, it fails to impress the Roy family, as its flashy and attention-grabbing nature renders it unsuitable for the realm of quiet luxury.

Luxury in fashion

Over the years, luxurious fashion has undergone a remarkable evolution, mirroring the changing tides of society and economic climates. In the early 2000s, mainstream fashion was characterized by an exuberant display of logos, vibrant colours, and maximal styling. The allure of conspicuous consumption was at its peak, as flaunting one’s affluence became a prevailing trend. However, the global recession of 2008 brought about a significant pivot in the luxury fashion landscape. While the ultra-wealthy continued to lead lives of opulence, they opted for a more understated and less lavish style in their sartorial choices.

“Simplicity and neutrality became safer bets for designers as economic uncertainty prevailed”

During the recession, people still purchased luxury goods, but there was discernible pushback against conspicuous logos. Simplicity and neutrality became safer bets for designers as economic uncertainty prevailed. Fashion shows saw a dominance of colours such as black, grey, navy, and white, reflecting the rise of minimalism and subtlety in high-end fashion.

Following suit, the recession-core mindset made its presence known even on the red-carpet of award shows. A noticeable lack of ostentatious jewellery and accessories became intentional, symbolizing a sensitivity to the economic downturn. The trend towards bigger bags, fewer accessories, and outfit repeating further exemplified a departure from the excessive luxury of the past.

Society’s attraction towards the rich

Today, there is an unmistakable increase in the fascination and attraction towards the wealthy, epitomized by the concept of quiet luxury in high-end fashion. Flair magazine defines quiet luxury as an expression of “understated elegance, careful craftsmanship, and attention to detail” – a language that only the privileged truly comprehend. These quiet luxury brands are known as the exclusive domain of the discerning elite – a symbol of status and wealth.

Throughout history, the ultra-wealthy were known for loudly flaunting their status, displaying their affluence through extravagant spending and ostentatious displays of luxury. However, a significant shift occurred during the industrial revolution when the rising bourgeoisie class amassed exorbitant wealth, challenging the old nobility. The nouveau riche sought to ascend to the same social echelons as the established old money families, resulting in a race to display better taste and cultural sophistication. This led to the cultivation of greater levels of cultural and intellectual capital as a means of differentiation.

Consequently, quiet luxury emerged as a statement of confidence among the rich, who no longer felt the need to prove their wealth to others. Ironically, today, we observe a concerning trend among those seeking to emulate the quiet luxury style: On platforms such as Tik Tok, individuals actively seek tips and tutorials on how to adopt this exclusive aesthetic, often with the explicit intention of impressing others or manifesting a more privileged lifestyle.

“The allure of quiet luxury perpetuates a discrimination against the working class, creating a divide between those who can afford such luxury and those who cannot”

In this pursuit, individuals attempt to justify their interest in quiet luxury with various arguments. They claim practicality in everyday wear, comfort in the finer fabrics, and eco-consciousness through investment in staple pieces. Yet, beneath these justifications lies the troubling reality of classism and elitism. The allure of quiet luxury perpetuates a discrimination against the working class, creating a divide between those who can afford such luxury and those who cannot.

The culture of quiet luxury and our attraction towards the rich in our society carry profound implications. Classism and capitalism subtly intertwine within the allure of quiet luxury, presenting a potential risk of perpetuating a system that places wealth and privilege above compassion and inclusivity. In doing so, we may inadvertently overlook the importance of nurturing a more equitable and empathetic society, one that values individuals for their inherent worth, rather than for their material possessions. 

Limiting grip of quiet luxury

The rise of quiet luxury as a prevailing trend has inadvertently led to a stifling of creativity and experimentation. Rather than celebrating the vibrancy and diversity of modern society. this trend confines us to a palette of dull colours and conservative clothing choices. In a time when we champion feminism, queerness, and gender-neutrality, it is increasingly imperative that our fashion reflect these progressive values. However, quiet luxury appears to stand at odds with this ethos as it shies away from drama, magnanimity, and the exuberance that fashion can evoke.

The clothing associated with quiet luxury embraces muted colours like cream, beige, navy, and black, aiming to convey a sense of timeless sophistication. While there is undeniable elegance in this refined aesthetic, it inadvertently sidelines the rich potential for fashion to act as a medium of self-expression. Dylan Kelly, in his work for Hypebeast, astutely points out that the celebration of “fun fashion” has become a rarity, leading to a sense of boredom and monotony for fashion enthusiasts.

“As we celebrate originality, fashion can become a powerful tool to communicate these values, empowering individuals to express their unique identities through their clothing choices”

The need for a dynamic and diverse fashion culture has become all the more pertinent as we seek to break free from traditionalist norms and embrace a more open-minded and inclusive world. As we celebrate originality, fashion can become a powerful tool to communicate these values, empowering individuals to express their unique identities through their clothing choices.

In conclusion, while quiet luxury may hold its allure for some, today’s society makes it essential to acknowledge its limitations. By favouring muted colours and traditionalist styles, this trend may inadvertently stifle our fashion experimentation and creativity. Rather than confining ourselves to a narrow spectrum of sophistication, it is time to break free from the grips of quiet luxury and celebrate a fashion culture that fosters inclusivity, self-expression, and a celebration of our unique identities. Perhaps, in doing so, it is time to bring back the “ludicrously capacious bags” and other audacious fashion choices that celebrate the spirit of individuality and empowerment.