The rise of stealth wealth: Ultra-rich embrace subtle luxury
There is a tall, beautiful, sophisticated woman — who tells me she works on Wall Street and has four children at a private school on the Upper East Side — buying an oversized, white button-down shirt at Aerie on Lexington Avenue. She’s wearing light blue Dôen jeans, black Loro Piana loafers and a vintage Hermès Kelly in a vintage caramel leather. And I’m trying to make sense of it all.
I mean, Aerie is a fun, effervescent clothing store. The quality is great, especially because it’s so affordable. But Aerie is not Bergdorf Goodman. So, what gives? Why is this obviously rich woman dressed so casually? Why is she mixing a simple $24 white top with a handbag that easily costs $10,000?
And that’s when it hits me. This — staring me straight in the face — is stealth-wealth style. In the flesh. And as I stand behind this classy lady in line, I see why the low-key-chic trend is so lovely. So Cate Blanchett. So Amal Clooney. So elegant, yet so aspirational.
Peter Som, the famous fashion designer and content creator, describes stealth-wealth style as “the ultimate ‘if you know, you know’ — it’s not about designer logos or anything flashy. These are pieces that don't scream and shout — they whisper and wink. Any outward appearance of wealth is banished in favor of that $5,000 cashmere sweater in a neutral tone that could be from The Row … or is it J Crew? Again, if you know, you know.”
Speaking of cashmere, White + Warren President Catherine Morrissey can verify that the stealth-wealth trend has been excellent for business. “This trend is one that has always been inherent to our DNA, and it’s especially hot right now. Our cashmere travel wrap continues to fly off the racks. It exudes the notion of quiet luxury. Our luxe cashmere cable crewneck is a lofty and elevated take on the classic fisherman sweater, and it’s been extraordinarily popular, similar to our new cashmere button-down shirt. These styles are in constant rotation in my own wardrobe and just as easily worn with a silk skirt as they are with my favorite tailored trousers."
Another category thriving off the understated-chic look? The classic “cool girl” shoe.
According to Megan Papay, co-founder and designer of the luxurious but low-key Freda Salvador shoes (recently worn by Nicole Kidman at the U.S. Open): “Stealth wealth has been a great trend for us! Our design aesthetic is 'modernized classics,' so all of these things add up to women looking to us for effortlessly cool style. We cannot keep our hand-woven ballet flats or classic penny loafers in stock right now. We have sold 60% more penny loafers in the past two months than we did in all of 2022. They sell out as quickly as we launch them and are now on pre-order, and we are trying to order more to meet the demand.”
Another area that’s radiating in stealth-wealth style? Travel.
On a recent trip to The Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Lake Como — a destination that exudes stealth wealth like, perhaps, nowhere else on Earth — the most elite guests at the hotel wore all neutral tones, the fabrics and patterns luxe but never loud. An under-the-radar heiress was often seen walking around the villa wearing a white linen peasant dress with a classic Hermes belt and one chunky Cartier watch — with no other jewels whatsoever. In all her simplicity, she was absolutely striking.
The same look is drifting around the Caribbean, too. "At The Shore Club Turks & Caicos, we’re seeing preferences in designer beach or pool bags without logos ... nice, quality beach hats to protect you from the sun without huge emblems, and so on,” says Karen Whitt, vice president of sales and marketing for The Hartling Group which oversees The Shore Club, The Palms and The Sands.
It begs the question: Why now? Why is stealth wealth the most robust style trend at this precise moment? What does it say about our culture? About our collective state of mind?
“Fashion trends swing like a pendulum. We are just closing out an era of logo-mania, where it was stylish to wardrobe yourself in items that are overtly branded. We saw that with lots of loud trendy pieces from Fendi, Balenciaga, Gucci and even Supreme.
"Culturally, I think 'Succession' opened the window to a world of extreme wealth. How funny would Shiv look with a Balenciaga logo cardigan or Logan wearing a Supreme logo box tee? It would never happen. The audience observed these characters and noticed that their clothing was quite basic in style but enviable in quality. We all took notice and wanted to give ourselves that level of comfort and luxury combined.”
That leaves one last question: Is stealth-wealth style here to stay?
No, says Delilah. “Classic will become boring after a certain point.”
For now, however, when it comes to stealth-wealth style, wealthy shoppers are fully engaged.