What is quiet luxury?

Sssssssh, it’s all the rage and it might just have something quite hopeful to tell us

At a glance

  • It’s a white tank, worn by Heart Evangelista in Paris on a sweltering day, maybe paired with cargo pants and that face that has launched a thousand branding campaigns, both high like haute couture and low like instant coffee.

What is quiet luxury? It’s a trend, if we are to be reductive about it, which has been presented so loudly as a seasonal preference on the catwalks of Paris, Milan, London, and New York since 2023.

ired with luxury, it acquires a meaning that seems more rarefied, speaking of character and nobility. To me, It is what you get out of a book, something nourishing, something enriching because the effect on you is deep-seated. It’s like new knowledge, without the need for a diploma or a certificate of completion to show for it, without the need for you to get up on the stage, applauded by your family and friends. It’s an expansion of yourself, your knowledge of life, your understanding of the universe, which doesn’t need to be included in your resume in order to make an effect on your life. It’s like blue blood. It runs in your veins, even if you were Queen Anne in tatters, suffering from debilitating gout.

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SUBTLE FASHIONISTA When it comes to quiet luxury, Heart Evangelista shows how subtlety in design trumps flashy logos any day

On the fashion front in 2024, quiet luxury is a white tank, the kind men would wear under their formal shirts, worn by Heart Evangelista in Paris on a sweltering day, maybe paired with cargo pants and that face and demeanor that have launched a thousand branding campaigns, both high like haute couture and low like instant coffee or a supermarket-variety hotdog. It’s low-key, like a loafer that is probably Tod’s, but no one, except for the wearer, can tell exactly.

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It’s nonchalance, an old, worn-out boyfriend’s shirt and a Kelly mini leather handbag whose shape and craftmanship are the only giveaway, but only for those in the know. It’s a bonus if the handbag is a hand-me-down, but no one needs to know that either.

It’s also effortless. To today’s harsh, unforgiving critic, who lurks everywhere, especially on socials, watching 24/7, there is nothing more tasteless than someone trying too hard to look fashionable or rich.

In fashion terms, this trend or this development is synonymous to “old money,” but old money has a ring of snobbery to it, a mindset that has gone passé in a more democratic, more inclusive world or one that, at least by principle, has finally recognized that democracy, inclusivity, and equality make a better world.

Still, quiet luxury, as Women’s Wear Daily or WWD has put it, “refers to understated clothing made with very highquality materials,” which only means that, without calling attention to itself, it must cost a lot. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those aspiring for luxury on a budget, now that fast fashion comes up too often as a culprit at climate summits and missions. The rule of thumb, when faced with this conundrum, always redounds to choosing quality over quantity. An expensive shirt that will last you 10 seasons is worth 100 cheap shirts that get frayed after two washings.

Conscience, indeed, is an underlying force in the propagation of quiet luxury. Conspicuous consumption was a thing for a generation that today’s young blame— without exactly pointing a finger on them— for climate change, for the rapidly diminishing resources, for the mass extinction that is threatening the planet at the rate of 150 species a day, at least according to estimates, still highly contested, at global discussions on biodiversity loss.

Because conscience is now a factor in purchasing decisions, even sustainability has become a buzzword even among the most clueless of fashionistas and style aspirants. My hope is that sustainability has gone so mainstream because the need for it is now a fact of life, even a matter of life and death by 2030, that is if global warming continues beyond this deadline set by climate experts. My fear is that, like quiet luxury, it could just be a craze, a trend, a fad, a passing fancy that everybody, whether big business or nano-influencer, is capitalizing on for image-building or what they call CSR or corporate social responsibility.

But there’s no denying that the power of the conscience as a marketing consideration is also now demanding for business to be good not only to the planet but also to their people. Miranda Priestly is probably going to be canceled in today’s world, but, though she seems heartless, impossibly hard to please, and brutal, it seems she pays her Emilys good money, so maybe not, my point being that quiet luxury also promotes goodness, kindness, justice.

To love animals, to be fair, if not even generous, toward the people you work with and who work for you, to be generous with what you have, to be around when the earth shakes and volcanoes erupt and storms wash villages away, all that is as fashionable as, if not more fashionable than Gucci’s Horsebit Chain bag, especially if all that your Gucci can say about you is that you can afford it on a zero percent installment plan.

Speaking of Gucci or Louis Vuitton or Hermès or Fauré Le Page, nothing is more priceless, speaking loudly of quiet luxury, than one you have inherited from your grandmother, if I must emphasize the value of hand-me-downs in this time of reuse, reduce, recycle.

I’d like to believe that quiet luxury is ushering in a new age that is less brash, more polite, more considerate, more conscientious after many seasons of peacocks preening, gorillas chest-beating, and everyone else just tooting their own horns.

Maybe I’m overthinking quiet luxury, but what did Diana Vreeland, the late fashion editrix, the High Priestess of Vogue in the 1960s, the reason I ended up in this career, said of fashion? “Fashion is part of the daily air and it changes all the time, with all the events,” she declared. “You can even see the approaching of a revolution in clothes. You can see and feel everything in clothes.” 

So what are you seeing and feeling beyond the quiet luxury that is all the rage now?