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We Are Not Supposed to Like the Stealth-Wealth Fashion of 'Succession'

By Alberto Cox Délano | Miscellaneous | April 30, 2023 |

By Alberto Cox Délano | Miscellaneous | April 30, 2023 |


There are many things you can say about Chile’s Traditional (White) Elite: they can be classist, racist, casteist, lastnameist, reactionary, bitter, intellectually lazy, uncurious, cowardly, cold, endogamic, boring, and dour-looking (for Latin American standards) and they haven’t made a single worthwhile contribution to Chilean Culture (except for its rejects). But one thing you cannot call them is profligate, or even boisterous about their wealth. They take as a matter of pride, in fact, the “sensible” ways they go about their disposable income, in comparison to the more extravagant elites in the rest of the Continent. Austerity and sobriety are the ultimate symbols of status, and any sort of visible ostentation of wealth is considered a major faux pas, or at least what every successive generation deems a visible ostentation of wealth. And when I mean austerity and sobriety, I mean they can reach almost Puritan levels of anxiety about showing off. Sort of, we are still talking about Latin American standards. And when I mean austerity and sobriety, I actually mean boring, repressive, and outright disgust towards anything colorful and vibrant. And since their cultural hegemony permeates downwards, Chile at times can appear to be a country painted in pastels, deep blues, browns, greys, silvers, and every shade of white. But the Traditional Elite claims this is what has made us so stable, so serious, and so successful: their aesthetic ethics. They conveniently leave out the fact that their austerity has less to do with being the most Protestant of Catholics and more with the fact that Chile has been, throughout most of our history, poor as fuck. As in, the elites were poor as fuck, poorer compared to the Peruvians, paupers compared to the Mexican ones, misers compared to the Brazilian ones, and derelict compared to the Argentinian ones, to whom we are always comparing ourselves.

Things have changed a lot as Chile went, very quickly, from South American-poor to European-poor, but the mindset remains. They now change the Benz every year and actually Porsches, but only in black or grey, the lawyers suit up in boxy cuts, and color and variety is still the province of the new rich or the Queer… or the artsy, leftist cousins, but they are kind of the same thing to them. There were, of course, plenty of outliers, and plenty of gorgeous, classy things that the elites funded throughout our history, which they promptly left behind when too many middle-class people started moving in, or they were torn down in the name of perpetual progress. If you are ever in Downtown Santiago, take note of how many Parisian-style buildings you can find that are now being used as shanty hotels and auto-repair workshops. With all this being said, Chile’s Traditional Elite has been pioneers in something: perhaps more than any other elite anywhere in the World, they embody Stealth Wealth Fashion. It is the very definition of their ethics as aesthetics. Case in point, the traditional country garments come in two versions: the one for peasants and the “elegant” one for the landlords.

And I fucking hate everything about it. Chile’s Traditional Elite’s claims to Stealth Wealth and good taste are just the disingenuous narrative from people that confuse their lack of creativity with elegance. In fact, the aesthetics of Stealth Wealth are founded on taste devoid of style.

Aggregation must aggregate, and clicks must be harvested, and with Succession going out on style, the SEO words of the moment is Stealth Wealth. If you Google it, you will find many uncritical articles dissecting the wardrobe choices of the characters, including pieces from the BBC that almost celebrate the understated styles of the ultra-rich. In just a few weeks, the internet’s hive mind has tried to make Stealth Wealth fashion happen, as if Succession were just Euphoria for adults (DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!), while missing the very point the series is trying to make with its on-point wardrobe choices. And, of course, there are the themes and plot. We’re not supposed to be awed by plain Tom Ford jackets, gray Maison Margiela T-shirts, and Loro Piana baseball caps that cost from the high three figures to mid four figures, because their clothes are meant to convey that these people are completely repressed and miserable. These are not the clothes worn by people who are capable of just enjoying themselves. These are not the clothes of people who are always hiding something about themselves from others. These are clothes that are not meant to be flattering, idiosyncratic, or just… pretty. They’re not ugly; they’re too expensive and well-designed to be drab, but they’re devoid of style and expression. They’re earthy clothes for people who couldn’t care less about standing in the prettiest places in the world. They’re serious clothes for people who lack a sense of humor. They are, to quote Roman burning Tom, filled with their lost hopes and dreams, for people who think too highly of themselves to even consider those two things. For god’s sake, this is the fashion that can make someone like Sarah Snook almost unappealing. Almost. And it’s a testament to the stellar job done by the series’ wardrobe department.

I was inspired to write this after reading a brilliant article by Leticia García in El País, titled “Against the farce of Stealth Wealth”, where she points out the hypocrisy underlying this entire concept of the ultra-wealthy’s obsession with creating ever-more complex codes and perverse ways to create their own differentiated circles, always moving the goalposts of the plebeians’ aspirations. As technology democratizes fashion, the only way to set yourself apart is by dressing just like the middle-classers, but the items have price tags higher than the median plebeian’s entire wardrobe, that only other people like you could identify. But to complete the illusion, you also need to wear the garments as if they were just another off-the-rack item from H&M, as if they were just a shirt, just a sweater, just some pants. According to García:

Still, it is one thing to aspire to luxury, in whatever shape or form, and it is a whole other thing to emulate Stealth Wealth. There is nothing attractive about it other than wasteful spending, supported by arguments as disparate as they are empty. “Less austere than minimalism, but more refined than normcore,” as defined by Vogue. It does not put forward the rigorous, almost monastic aesthetics of the former, but it is also indistinguishable from the norm if not because it is tailored with silks, cashmere, and Egyptian cotton. The only thing that matters is paying what 99% of the population cannot afford, justifying the expenses based on the rarity and exquisiteness of the materials.

Materials and, ironically, the type of labor involved. Paradoxically, the very class that has thrived by undermining labor rights and salaries seeks luxury on the products made by well-paid, First World highly qualified workers that are probably unionized.

But there is one more thing that makes Stealth Wealth just the aesthetic reflection of the moral and creative emptiness of the global elites, and it’s something that Succession cleverly depicts in a way that must be deliberate. When you think of major aesthetic transformations, in particular, the artistic revolutions that have impacted the world of fashion for the better, who is always driving the charge forward?

It is always Queer people, Black People and/or People of Color.

The people that are nearly non-existent in the spaces inhabited by the characters of Succession, and, for that matter, so much of the global elites, be it in the First World or in South America. Stealth Wealth is, ultimately, just another way for whiteness to assert itself as the default aesthetic standard. But that should’ve become obvious when looking at the color palette of their blazers.

Alberto Cox is thankful every day for his colorful selection of sweaters. He also insists that article by Leticia García should be translated, and he knows just the guy.