At a time when most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, the ‘quiet luxury’ trend takes over

Personal finance

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow enters the courtroom for her trial in Park City, Utah, March 24, 2023.
Rick Bowmer | Getty Images

“I wish you well.”

Gwyneth Paltrow may have had the last word at the conclusion of her ski accident trial in March, but it was her head-to-toe “old money” look that is still echoing through society today.

Also buoyed by the elite world depicted in HBO’s “Succession” and Kim Kardashian’s monochrome mega mansion, the “quiet luxury” trend has quickly caught on, even though, these days, most Americans are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck.

What is quiet luxury?

Marked by expensive materials in muted tones, quiet luxury, also known as stealth wealth, is “the complete lack of logos and anything too conspicuous,” said Thomaï Serdari, professor of marketing and director of the fashion and luxury program at NYU’s Stern School of Business. 

“Luxury brands rely on the quality of the materials, and they have techniques that are very particular to them,” she said, such as the cut, stitching or other small details only recognizable to those who are very familiar with a particular item. “That becomes a differentiator for those in the know,” Serdari said.

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In her daily courtroom appearances, Paltrow wore high-end brands such as Celine and The Row along with $1,450 black Prada boots and carried a $325 notebook by Smythson in the company’s signature blue.

“We have access to these semi-private moments, and we want to replicate their style,” Serdari said.  

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow exits a courtroom in which she is accused in a lawsuit of crashing into Terry Sanderson during a 2016 family ski vacation, Park City, Utah, March 21, 2023.
Rick Bowmer | Afp | Getty Images

Of course, understated luxury is not new.

On the heels of the financial crisis, “people who had money wanted to be a little bit more subdued,” Serdari said. In the decade and a half since, fashion became bigger and bolder, she added.

Now, the stealth-wealth style has been reborn once again as Americans’ economic circumstances get increasingly divided after the so-called K-shaped recovery left the wealthiest Americans even better off than before.

This time, however, there’s an even more understated undertone, notwithstanding the heftier price tag.

One of the central characters on “Succession” even scoffs at a tartan Burberry tote bag that retails for $2,890, calling the luxury bag “ludicrously capacious.”

How to get the stealth-wealth look for less

Can the typical American afford a $600 Loro Piana cashmere baseball hat, like the one worn on “Succession”? “I really doubt it,” Serdari said.

Fortunately, the quiet luxury trend is less about buying the exact item, but rather replicating the look with clothes that fit well, in neutral tones or monochrome, she said.  

Carolyn McClanahan, a certified financial planner and founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida, suggests purchasing a few signature staples, such as a coat or handbag, on sale or from a local consignment store, and pairing them with less-expensive jeans and T-shirts from Target or Walmartjust as Roman Roy did in the final season of “Succession.”

This type of quiet luxury, without the name brands and logos, is “overdue,” added McClanahan, who also is a member of CNBC’s Advisor Council

As the economy slows and persistent inflation makes many Americans feel stretched too thin, it’s time to shift away from a “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality.

“Find quality things that last a lot longer — that’s better than throwaway pieces,” McClanahan said.

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