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Stealth Wealth: Do the Rich Really Do Fashion Better?

The fashion we wear identifies us with the groups we belong to. I feel a sense of kinship when I’m on a hike in the middle of nowhere, and I’m still somehow one of many in a Lululemon Align tank top. But what does it mean when you wear the elite’s costumes and you don’t have the affluent credentials to back it up?

Stealth wealth, a fashion term risen in popularity thanks to Sofia Richie's recent wedding, is a credential in itself. You’re so familiar with luxury that you don’t bother with the “basic” designer brands. You’re in an elite club that knows what real quality is, turning your nose down at those who flash their monogrammed designer prints around. Who do you think you are, the Kardashians pre-Yeezy and Balenciaga?

The world listens to what the brands at the pinnacle of style say. The wealthiest get ahold of the luxury designs, then it quickly gets regurgitated into fast fashion and thrown into the mainstream. It’s dead in the water a few months down the line, at least until we pick it up again five years later.

Why do we take what the upper echelons of society wear as gospel? Suggesting there’s a single way to approach visual art is a laughably uninspired take. North West isn’t the only one criticising the modernist showrooms the upper class have taken a liking to. But when it comes to fashion, rules are followed like the law. Stay away from vertical stripes and lock down white after Labour Day.

Unlike what people think, the wealthy haven’t unlocked the definitive rules to style just because they’ve hit a certain tax bracket. They don’t understand what neutral means any better than the rest of us; that meant skinny jeans and layered scarves to everyone in 2005. Despite what social media aesthetics imply, there’s never been one permanent uniform for the richest of the rich.

The Hilton family’s reign began in 1919, but no one is filing Paris’ Ibiza outfits under old money. Unlike her daughter-in-law, Jackie Kennedy hailed from wealth. But when images of the family are filed for contemporary style inspiration, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s nineties chic wins over Jackie’s over the top accessories.

Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, 90s chic icon

When someone rich opts for this uniform, it has meaning. Succession’s Shiv Roy knows the game she’s playing, chopping off her wavy ends when being the heir looks a lot more likely. In the court room, Gwyneth Paltrow casted aside all public associations of woo by opting for no nonsense sweaters and blazers, a far cry from the fairytale she chose to accept her Oscar in.

But what appeal does dressing intentionally have for the average Joe who isn’t taking over their father’s monopoly, or spending time in court for a skiing incident? To a lesser degree, all of us are in the public eye. While we don’t need to anticipate global criticism for our presentation, what we deal with in our personal life is a microcosm of the public perception celebrities face.

One of Gwyneth Paltrow's court looks from earlier this year

Dressing plainly has its appeal when you’re not looking to rock any boats. If there’s nothing to say, there can’t be anything to critique either. But we need to step back and ask why we’re so devoted to being inoffensive.

Saving up for a piece off The Row won’t make anyone think you’re rich. Why throw so many resources into being someone you’re not? No matter how much surveillance is the norm, I could go out with ridiculously overgrown roots in a Shein dress, and the most judgement I’ll be getting is from myself.

The rich don’t have a secret guide book to life, and they certainly don’t have one to style. A 'glazed donut' manicure doesn’t make you a nepo baby, and the longest skincare routine in the world won’t take you out of the day to day.

We have one life. No matter how much you make, you should take risks with it. I don’t know if I’ll ever see her in Ibiza, but Paris’ flower crown/headband hybrid sparks a lot more optimism about fashion than another influencer wearing a beige Aritzia set. Some of us suit Euphoria’s graphic eyeliner above the glowy not makeup-makeup of the mythical ‘that girl’ — but most importantly, some of us prefer it.

DJ Paris in Ibiza

I daydream about having their resources, and wonder what designer piece I’ll buy once I win the lottery. It won’t be a tasteful cashmere sweater or a Prada kitten heel. It’s a tie between the tackiest platforms I can find, or the shortest Burberry miniskirt which I’ll sport like it’s 2004 and my name is Gretchen Wieners.

Words by Hannah Dixon

Edited by Lucy Eaton


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