I’m in Las Vegas for work this week, and despite being away for years it feels like nothing has changed. This includes what people are wearing, which ranges from garishly coloured dresses and blazers to neon or pastel T-shirts. It’s the kind of place that almost makes you cry out for a bit of “quiet luxury” instead.
Like most people, I had not heard the term quiet luxury until a couple of months ago, when Gwyneth Paltrow’s attire during a courtroom case had the Internet buzzing about her discreet beige and black outfits. They were simple, tasteful, but (once the brands were identified) also extremely expensive. This suggested they had to be good quality too. It makes you think: maybe more of us should dress like this.
For many men, of course, quiet luxury has always been their preferred approach to style, even if they never used that term. They stick with their solid browns, navy blues and greys whether they’re choosing a sweater, pair of pants or a coat. They didn’t want something that would fall apart, so they would spend good money on these clothes. But the idea was to look good without really standing out.
At some point in the early Aughts this changed considerably. Suiting became more form-fitting and skinny jeans became the norm as men wanted to show they worked out. Accessories like socks and pocket squares started appearing with incredibly bold, complex patterns and colours. Some guys started wearing dress shoes with coloured laces and cloth boutonnieres, and not just at weddings.
If the pendulum is now swinging back in the other direction, the root causes aren’t hard to figure out. More of us continue to work at home, where there’s no one to admire over-the-top accessories that advertise how stylish we are. The desire to be comfortable may also take precedence when you’re not often at a traditional office.
Even as many of us go back to conferences and other business functions, meanwhile, there may be a certain cautious uncertainty in how best to present ourselves. I have no illusions that I will probably be overdressed at the event I’m currently attending, and I don’t care, but others might be nervous about patterns and colours that make them look as though they’re trying too hard.
Throw in a bad economy where you have to think twice about major purchases and the shift to quiet luxury seems all but inevitable. That doesn’t mean everyone knows how to pull it off successfully.
With that in mind, here’s a few principles I would suggest applying as you decide whether to jump on this trend or not, and how to make it work for you:
1. Develop your own definition of ‘luxury’
Yes, the characters on Succession have been given wardrobes of exquisite understatement. As much as I would enjoy wearing Loro Piana loafers, however, spending $1,000 on footwear is not in my budget. I imagine the same is true for a lot of men who are still trying to figure out what assortment of clothing and shoes they need in a post-pandemic world.
The bar for what constitutes a luxury fashion item doesn’t have to be set by brands alone, however. Think about what’s in your current closet rotation and where you could introduce something a little better. This might mean trading in an acrylic or rayon sweater for cashmere, for instance, or swapping your polyester pants for something based on twill or linen. A few good versatile pieces offer the best return on investment.
2. Don’t keep quiet about the comfort factor
Toning it down in terms of design should never come at the cost of feeling great when you’re wearing a piece of clothing. You could spend a fortune on a woolen sweater, for instance, but if it’s itch you’ve wasted your money.
The same goes for fit: the label is less important than how it the fabric breathes, the way it allows you a full range of motion and how it adapts to the temperature you’ll be experiencing. There’s nothing luxurious about wearing something expensive but stiff or constricting. This means trying things on in person may be critical here versus buying online.
3. Consider how quiet luxury could support the planet’s future
A lot of cheaply produced clothes are associated with a huge – and negative – impact on our natural resources and the production of greenhouse gases.
There is a growing list of options for men in terms of brands that put a premium on sustainability (a few of which, like HyperNatural, I’ve profiled on Menswhere). Some cost more than what you might normally put towards everyday wardrobe staples, but wearing something that’s ethically produced feels great on multiple levels.
Like any fashion trend, leaning in too heavy can be the biggest mistake you make. There have already been criticisms that quiet luxury is just another term for “boring.” I wouldn’t go that far. For now, however, the calls for a less showy approach to looking your best have never been louder.