In the backwash of a display of pomp, power and money that involved air-conditioned gold coaches and more diamonds than you could shake a stick at (namely the coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla) are we in the mood for something subtler where the super-rich and their demonstrations are concerned? When even an Italian described the royal festivities to me sorrowfully as “kitsch”, perhaps we are.
Not of course that the “stealth wealth” phenomenon, so called by publications from the New Yorker to Grazia, is a response to royal bling: it’s been building for some time. We aren’t talking about the “one per cent” abandoning their private jet or shopping at Aldi. Some outliers among the elites might well indulge in such eccentric behaviour, but it’s not what lands them on the feature pages: what they wear does. Dating fairly precisely to the first series of HBO’s Succession – when Kendall Roy strode into the boardroom in what, to you and me, might have looked like a perfectly ordinary, nay infra dig, unbranded black baseball cap, but which to those in the know shrieked money – the term is stealth wealth dressing.
The cap in question – Kendall’s father Logan also wears one – was made by the purveyors of extraordinarily luxurious Italian cashmere to the super-rich, Loro Piana, and retails for upwards of £400. The hallmarks of the brands of choice for the stealthy wealthy are labels either so tiny as to be invisible or concealed entirely, and a staggering price tag. American brand The Row, which retails an anonymous ankle-length coat for £4000, serves as an exemplar par excellence. This is the batsqueak of power and privilege and discrimination, destined to reach only the ears of those who matter.
But does it – whisper it – actually look any good? Step aside Kendall Roy, because we need a good, hard look at your sister. Siobhan Roy. Universally known as Shiv, she has become the world’s most talked-about redhead and very quickly overtook the men of the family to become stealthy dressing’s figurehead.
We’re used to businessmen dressing with expensive anonymity, but the restraint applied to Shiv Roy’s wardrobe is meticulous bordering on perverse. She wears loose trouser suits in shades of beige and sludge, she wears brown polo-necks and bodies – until we find ourselves shrieking: give her some teal! some burnt orange! And she barely accessorises. Can this really be dressing for succession to her father’s throne or is it (as claimed by online magazine The Fashion) actually suppression? Is Shiv subduing her considerable beauty, striking colouring and strong physique under dun-coloured fabrics because she’s used to being elbowed into the background by her father and brothers, and is unconsciously complying? She looks so consistently uncomfortable in her wardrobe choices that this explanation rings true.
Of course against Shiv Roy we can set that other poster girl for expensive discretion, Gwyneth Paltrow, whose recent appearances in court over a skiing incident with a retired optometrist (in the aforementioned The Row coat as well as a range of Prada boots and costly Loro Piana neutrals) gave the stealth wealth debate a healthy bump in the media. This is the IRL phenomenon, for Paltrow is the WASP queen. Slim, blonde and well-born, she is imbued with the tribe’s Protestant work ethic and concomitant imperative not to be flashy. The driver and frontwoman for a very successful business, she dresses accordingly in cream funnel-necks and cashmere coats, an unbranded £4,000 bag slung carelessly over one forearm.
Succession’s Shiv Roy is stealthy dressing’s figurehead
Why buy a bag for that much when you could carry a cotton tote? Why wear a baseball cap for the price of a second-hand car when you could get one for £4.99? Because you want to have your cake and eat it, because you want to be fantastically wealthy but to secure your anonymity, and because you can. You’re never going to need a second-hand car but you’re sending a message: IYKYK. To you and me (who don’t) that stands for: If You Know, You Know.
But the million-dollar question is, is it any fun? Because dressing up is a sad affair without that, and the odds are that if it sounds boring and looks boring, boring is what it is. After all, along with paying their taxes don’t the rich owe the rest of us a little more gaiety in the wardrobe department than seven different shades of ecru? Let us look away from the WASP to the original wearer of Loro Piana: the sciura or wealthy Milanese matron of a certain age, descended in a direct line from the queen of Italian good taste, Marella Agnelli. Does she abjure accessories, does she leave off the bling? She does not, but she employs it judiciously: a velvet ribbon here, a giant earring there – and she has fun. Because for my money a coat that costs four grand should have diamond buttons. At the very least.
Christobel Kent is a Gold Dagger-nominated author. Her latest novel “In Deep Water” is out now