The concept of stealth wealth is not new, with Thorsten Weblen first noting “conspicuous consumption” in 1899. Fashion is a tool for communication and a way to demonstrate allegiance to social groups. Stealth wealth involves buying understated products for their quality, beauty, and rarity, without leaving the price tag on, so that only those in equally wealthy positions would recognize the monetary value of the item. This trend has become this season’s dominant aesthetic, with a shift towards clothes that “don’t shout, but whisper.” The trend is seen as a response to current economic turmoil and a way to practice conscious consuming.
In line with BBC Culture, the concept of stealth wealth is not a new phenomenon. It was first noted by Thorsten Weblen in his book, The Theory of the Leisure Class, in 1899. Weblen described it as the act of displaying ostentatious wealth to gain status and reputation in society. He determined that those new to wealth were more likely to indulge in this behavior, and those who were used to having money were more discreet about it.
Fashion is a powerful communication tool, and even the super-rich aren’t above using it. As Dr. Carolyn Mair, Fashion Business Consultant and author of the Psychology of Fashion, explains, “We demonstrate our allegiance to our social groups and distinguish ourselves from others through our clothing.” The concept behind stealth wealth is 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 monetary value of the item. There is an inner-circle, semi-secret code about stealth-luxe dressing – a sense of “if you know, you know.”
Stealth wealth has become more than just a way of life for the extremely privileged few. It’s filtered down the food chain to become this season’s dominant aesthetic. As Vanessa Friedman, chief fashion critic for The New York Times, recently noted, the Milan catwalks saw a shift towards clothes that “don’t shout, but whisper.” The look is described as “the kind of clothes that don’t advertise their value in obvious ways” but instead “rely on plushness of fabric and rigor of line – on insider information rather than influencer information – to suggest value.”
British Vogue describes the trend as “more of a mood than anything else” and “essentially a synonym for elevated basics.” Meanwhile, on Tik Tok, hashtags like #stealthluxe are amassing millions of views, with fashion stylists breaking down how to get the “stealth wealth” look for less.
Some say the trend is a response to current economic turmoil, echoing similar shifts in fashion after the financial crisis of 2008. It’s also a reflection of a growing consciousness around consuming and sustainability. As Mair explains, “Conspicuous consumption isn’t seen as clever anymore. The idea of buying things you don’t need with money you don’t have to impress people you don’t like is no longer fashionable.”
Stealth wealth allows for a more subtle display of wealth, one that emphasizes quality and longevity over flashiness and excess. It’s a way of signaling one’s status to those in the know while also being mindful of the impact of consumption on the environment and society.
Taking everything into account, the concept of stealth wealth has been around for over a century, but it’s now become a dominant trend in fashion. It’s a response to economic turmoil and a growing consciousness around consuming and sustainability. By emphasizing quality and longevity over flashiness and excess, it allows for a more subtle display of wealth while also being mindful of the impact of consumption on the environment and society.