For centuries, dress codes dictated by laws and social habits have made us communicate our social status through clothing. In Ancient China, the commoners (people who were not nobles or royals) were prohibited from wearing silk. This sophisticated and expensive material was exclusive to the rich. 

Clothes made of silk could only be used by the upper class in Ancient China. Everyone else was prohibited to wear it. Silk clothing illustrated luxury. Image Courtesy of Newhanfu.

During the 17th century, male aristocrats in France used to wear the highest heels. These kinds of footwear impeded them from walking long distances and moving to do physical labor. This is how they communicated their privileged status that working men could not replicate.

The idea of communicating wealth through our clothing has been introduced previously.

However, our strategies to communicate it change depending on our culture, fashion trends, and the cultural and political scenario. 

As quiet luxury reaches its peak of popularity in the runway and mainstream media, let’s unwrap the causes, origins, and characteristics of the “quiet luxury style.”

A movement of contrast

Khloe Kardashian wears a bodysuit from the collaborative collection between Skims and Fendi. Image Courtesy of TMZ. 

For about five years, we saw the peak of Logomania with Balenciaga sweaters, the rise of Supreme and its highly popular collaborations. There were also the Gucci streetwear collections with logos as the main design feature. 

Maluma wears a Supreme jacket at the LA3C festival. Image Courtesy of Hola!

Fashion brands replicated this focus on logos at all levels. From Fendi, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton to Steve Madden and Converse, logos became the main feature of their designs. 

Celebrities wearing logos encouraged consumers to get on board with this trend. 

But as with art and music, there is now a countermovement in fashion to communicate wealth. Logos and flashy design elements are gone; now, we see effortlessly sophisticated cashmere, leather, and silk. 

This is the quiet luxury trend we are seeing now. 

Wealth speaks for itself. 

Richness of texture and simplicity are some characteristics of the often called “quiet luxury style”. Look from Max Mara Fall 2023. 

For the most part, the price of clothing is not arbitrary. Behind a price tag, there is a brand identity, a whole process of design, product development, material selection, patternmaking, tailoring, and sample making. The list goes on and on. Unlike fast fashion, luxurious clothing pays a lot of attention to detail. The metal of the hardware, the placement and length of the darts, and the way the whole garment is constructed as if it were an architectural piece. 

For some consumers, it may seem as if all suits are the same and clothing stores simply elevate their prices as they please. But the way the clothes wrap around someone’s body, the way they feel, and the way they look make a very sophisticated look, which ultimately ends up looking luxurious.

Idealizing wealth

Shiv Roy in Season 3 of Succession. Image Courtesy of HBO. 

Many fashion trends come from pop culture, popular series, movies, and TV Shows.

Succession was indeed a catapult for the popularity of quiet luxury style. The aspirational element of being a billionaire living in New York and traveling in private vehicles from one city to the other connects with the clothes that the characters are wearing. 

Kendall Roy’s Brioni suit is worth $11,500. Shiv Roy’s attire included several high-end fashion brands like Max Mara, Tom Ford, and the Row. Brands that are very well known for their tailoring and construction rather than logos or motifs. 

Silent wealth is not new. 

Culturally, consumers have different reactions to fashion trends. Those who have been wealthy for many years are generally less interested in logos and visible aspects of wealth. This doesn’t mean that they don’t shop for luxurious goods. It’s just that they are not interested in revealing the brand of the clothing or accessories they are wearing. Steve Jobs’ signature black turtleneck was designed by the worldwide famous Japanese designer Issey Miyake. Mark Zuckerberg wears t-shirts by Italian designer Brunello Cucinelli, also known as the King of Cashmere. The price of these T-shirts goes between $300 and $400. 

Fashion brands are aware of these meaningful distinctions among their customers. This is why many of them would have handbag collections covered with logos and bold hardware, and others that are minimal and let the material and the craftsmanship shine. 

Quiet luxury style

When Gucci presented on the runway a collection of clothing and accessories covered with milk snakes in 2016, H&M knocked off the motif in a matter of weeks. Within months, it was easy to find products that looked similar to what Gucci had originally shown to the audience at Fashion Week. 

With the quiet luxury style, fast fashion companies are having a harder time. The whole concept of quiet luxury is for the clothes to show high-end quality by using expensive materials, sophisticated techniques, tailoring, and craftsmanship. Fast fashion companies are not able to achieve this feeling due to their limited budget when it comes to establishing the price points for their clothing. For instance, an Armani suit jacket is over $1,000 because it’s made of virgin wool (wool that hasn’t been used before has a higher and stronger quality than recycled wool). It’s made in Italy, where the cost of labor is significantly high, and it goes through a series of samples to ensure the fit of the blazer is right. 

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Ski Crash Trial received more attention about the savvy clothing selection of the actress to blend with residents while maintaining her celebrity status, than about the relevance of the case itself. Image Courtesy of The New York Times. 

Although fast fashion companies cannot replicate high-end, simply because they don’t have the budget, they attempt to interpret it in their own way.

The loudness of logos and boldness of branding were colorful and involved lots of color blocking and oversized design elements. Now, we see in fast fashion brands some collections that are more minimal and focus on the richness of textures and silhouettes. These strategies of reinterpretation are important because fast fashion companies know that their consumers want to look like those who own high-end clothing. Fast fashion companies are making this effort to make their consumers live this aspirational moment with minimal elements that focus on the simplicity of the clothes. 

Quiet luxury bags

Ferragamo introduced the cage bag. A high end quiet luxury bag with only a very discreet engraving of the brand in the top panel. Image Courtesy of Ferragamo. 

For decades, we have been using bags as a trophy of wealth. Bags are those accessories that people can use multiple times and style for different occasions without seeming repetitive.

Mark Cross calf leather Grace box bag valued for $2,495 at Barney’s, Image Courtesy of New York Times. 

Fashion brands are aware that a huge segment of their consumer base is not the multi-millionaire 1%. Many consumers who purchase these brands are working-class people who have saved money for a very long time and are celebrating that they can afford a bag created by a certain fashion house. This is why logomania in bags has been prevalent for decades. Logos cover bags at all price points, from Coach and Michael Kors to Louis Vuitton and Gucci. 

So, when we talk about quiet luxury bags, fashion houses leave aside logos, initials, and loud hardware and use other elements to communicate luxury.  

For some brands, however, craftsmanship and material quality have always been part of their brand identity. Their impeccable ways of constructing a product with artisanal techniques and best-quality leathers made their price points go as high as five figures. 

Jacob Elordi wearing a Bottega Veneta bag. This italian brand is well known for its quiet luxury bags, which are retailed for over $1,000. Image Courtesy of In Style. 

Bottega Veneta is a brand that has been very well known for being quiet luxury bags before these became a global trend. 

Bottega Veneta creates leather accessories with excellent craftsmanship, particularly known for its leather weave and resilient material selection. This has become a distinctive element for the fashion brand. 

The bigger lesson in quiet luxury

Kieran Culkin for Ermenegildo Zegna’s campaign. Image Courtesy of Zegna. 

After all the years of rappers and new elites making it seem as if logos were the only way to show off their wealth and the most tasteful way to make fashion investments, quiet luxury is communicating the opposite. 

Quiet luxury is a countermovement to the whole American culture of purchasing clothing to show off and pretend to have wealth that many Americans do not. Many people will not be able to recognize an Armani jacket from the other side of the street the way you can see a color-blocked Supreme hoodie. In many ways, quiet luxury is about reconnecting the clothes to the person who owns them. The consumer is meant to know the worth and value of their clothes more than the people who don’t know them, and you may be trying to impress with the labels. 

It is the taste, the tailoring, the richness of textures, and the confidence that you have when you wear quiet luxury clothes that make the whole story come together. 

For now, quiet luxury seems to be reaching its peak of popularity with several collections in fashion weeks and reinterpretations of fashion designers throughout the last collections. However, we are accustomed to a fast-paced hyper visual fashion industry that we can see and admire when we scroll on social media and see celebrities on TV caught by paparazzi. The next fashion trend might be coming in a new show, a celebrity, a subculture, or a prevalent idea that we share in our society. 

Throughout history, we have seen that luxury doesn’t like to stay silent, especially for those who don’t have it. We are eager to see how long luxury will remain quiet.

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