Group 4

WTF is stealth wealth?

Digi x Stylist on the allure of "dressing rich" and quiet luxury


We talk to Stylist about why quiet luxury is growing in popularity amongst Gen Z. What does ‘dressing rich’ mean in our current post-COVID lockdown era? And why are we so fascinated with generational wealth? Read more below.

Stylist: What’s behind the recent popularity of ‘dressing rich’ and ‘rich girl style’?

Digi: The aesthetics of wealth have always fuelled fashion, and while we have moved on from nouveau-riche styles from the past few years and evolved into quiet luxury, the mechanics of aspiration that fashion brands push have only continued to prevail – only in more coy ways. Within these mechanics, quiet luxury lifestyles are curated to involve calming (but chic) routines, minimal, capsule wardrobes, ‘classy’ social settings. This type of luxury is different from lavish, wasteful lifestyles that first saw heavy backlash during COVID lockdowns, and now even more so in this economy. Instead of insensitive spending, it promises little indulgences and peace. In face of a chaotic world where governments gaslight us and billionaires go on Twitter rants, quiet luxury feels like a type of refuge that feels both indulgent and unproblematic. This makes ‘rich girl style’ that offers an in into this lifestyle all the more alluring. 

Stylist: What does it mean to signify wealth through clothing?

Digi: With wealth comes power and authority – so signalling wealth through fashion is a way to feel in power, in control, and at extreme and darker ends, superior to others. However, today, the signifiers of wealth are not as straightforward. While we often see Gen Z scorn at the 1% of society, there are increasingly blurred lines of what types of ‘rich styles’ are considered tacky and problematic versus cool and aspirational. Look at the nepo baby discourse: while criticism remains prevalent (and rightly so), the styles of nepo babies who do win the internet over (Maude Apatow, Bella Hadid) are often equally as revered and obsessed over as much as their counterparts who are ridiculed (Brooklyn Beckham and Nicola Peltz). All this to say, dressing wealthy encompasses both quality, tasteful brands as well as personal taste that suggests cultural credibility and individuality. 

Stylist: Why is Gen Z so interested in the aesthetics of generational wealth?

Digi: To understand Gen Z’s interest in the aesthetics of generational wealth, we must first look at their interest in the idea of generational wealth. For most of Gen Z today, their chances of home ownership, social mobility in the near future – let alone accumulating wealth – are looking pretty slim. And while they understand that wealth inequalities are a symptom of wider, systemic issues, there is also an element of aspiration as they yearn for a reality that is less harsh and stacked against them. Generational wealth becomes this mythical, romantic concept, and its specific aesthetics become a tool for escapism when the realities of rising living costs and societal unrest become too overwhelming to deal with. Achieving the aesthetics of wealth also feel more accessible and attainable than achieving actual wealth – while you can’t magically conjure up a trust fund or a family inheritance that sets you up for life, you can invest in a cashmere jumper or leather loafers that lets you taste a bit of the comfort of the wealthy. To build on that, it goes back to the adage of dressing the part. To dress like the wealthy is to communicate that you are part of them, thus increasing the chance that you might also be treated better in society. 

Stylist: Where does ‘old money style’ take its references from? And why does minimalism seem to play such a big part?

Digi: In the past few years, ‘old money style’ has been defined by heritage brands such as Ralph Lauren and Hermes, as well as socialite figureheads such as Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy (see also: Sporty & Rich). In the US, ‘old money style’ is preppy, collegiate, traditional, while in Europe there are affiliations with coastal living and monarchs. But more recently, the tropes of ‘old money style’ are increasingly seen as ridiculous or even costumey – as they become satirised in ‘eat the rich films’ such as The White Lotus and The Glass Onion. Minimalism steps in as a solution, seen in the high-quality, luxury pieces devoid of any logos or brand name signifiers worn by characters in Succession and Gwyneth Paltrow’s viral #OOTC (Outfits of the Courtroom). The shift towards minimalism and increased appreciation for quality can also be attributed to our growing fatigue of the ever-changing, never-stopping trend cycle in fashion – the idea of minimal, versatile and timeless items feel like an antidote that can provide stability, longevity and individuality. 

Read full article by Holly Bullock here.

✨ Contributing Fairies

  • Rachel Lee, Insights & Cultural Analyst 

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