Let me be clear: I am not a fan of stealth wealth.
Oh, I admire those with genuine stealth wealth style. The unobtrusive, casual, and subtle display of the good things in life is elegant and natural in that milieu. What I detest is the aping of these style markers by those without the budget to truly sustain it, and without the education and life perspective to match it.
When stealth wealth markers are deliberately sought out solely for their utility as stealth wealth markers (ie as a style choice), the resultant display radiates an aura of inauthenticity, of calculated deliberation, and of bourgeois social climbing. This is the very antithesis of true stealth wealth and these copyists are almost always easily detectable from their body language and from a moment’s conversation.
My own inclinations hew far more closely to a more foppish, dandyish manner of dress. I have a love of flair and eccentricity, which reflects my personal outlook on life, and I would get terribly bored wearing items consistent with a stealth wealth approach.
However, from browsing my site stats here, I know I regularly get readers arriving at this blog searching for “stealth wealth” as I have mentioned the term before. If you are one of those readers, I hope this article gets you to think about whether stealth wealth is the most authentic way for you to dress. Does it mesh smoothly with your lifestyle, your outlook, and your personality? If it does not, find your personal expression of style first, and then choose the clothing to match. Otherwise you will come across as fradulent, whatever you wear.
If the stealth wealth approach still appeals, its wardrobe can be remarkably concise. It emphasises quality and traditional good fit beyond range and scope, and eschews any major deviations from a unified personal aesthetic consistent with conservative, time-honoured cuts and silhouettes. Because of its relative brevity, it encourages spending more on each item, expecting that it will last a long time and benefit from the patina of age. It also rewards those who actively live in their clothes, not those who attempt to preserve them in aspic for fear of damaging them.
To start with, assuming an average professional career requiring business dress, I would suggest the following “starter” stealthy wardrobe:
- 3 suits – a solid mid-grey flannel, a navy herringbone worsted and a charcoal-grey worsted. The flannel will be used in the cooler months only. The navy and charcoal-grey should be in year-round weights.
- 2 odd jackets – a navy blazer in a year-round weight, and a slightly heavier tweed with a plaid pattern that’s interesting without being crazy.
- 4 pairs of odd trousers – chocolate-brown cords, light grey wool flannels, tan cotton chinos, beige or mocha linen. The cords and flannels are for the cooler months, the chinos and linens are for the rest of the year.
- 2-3 pairs of shoes – black cap-toe oxfords, brown wingtips, brown/dark-burgundy loafers, all made on a classic last with a minimum of excessive antiquing. Belts to match, so one black calf, one brown calf, and if you opted for burgundy loafers, you’ll also need a belt for that.
- 5 business-friendly shirts – cotton, predominantly white or pale-blue and certainly no unusual colours. If you opt for double/French cuffs on these rather than buttons, you’ll also need cufflinks, but one pair of sterling silver knots or double-sided gold/onyx ovals (depending on preference) will suffice.
- 5 more casual shirts – 4 cotton, one linen. Again, predominantly white or pale-blue, though larger-scale patterns and some more colour is acceptable.
- 5 ties – solid navy silk grenadine, solid grey cashmere, navy silk with a small-scale pattern (eg white dots), dark burgundy silk with a small-scale pattern (preferably different from the navy silk), diagonally-striped (“regimental”/”repp-stripe”) tie in muted earthy colours
- 3 pocket squares (optional) – solid cream/white, a multi-coloured pictorial design (the design itself won’t show when in the pocket, but many colours will give it versatility), one other of your choice that co-ordinates with the other colours you’ve chosen
- navy or maroon socks with a minimum of pattern – as many as you need
That’s it. If you are younger or have more casual occasions to attend, you will likely also need a pair of conservative, trim dark-indigo jeans, a pair of dark-brown sturdy chelsea boots and a smart casual jacket/coat of some sort. If you live in a cool climate, you’ll also need a dark business-friendly overcoat or two, and a couple scarves and pairs of leather gloves. Of course, you’ll also need a few other accessories like a discreet simple watch, pen, and so forth.
The cost of that wardrobe is somewhere around £15k, assuming mid-priced Savile Row bespoke for the suits and jackets, Jermyn Street-quality made-to-measure for the shirts, and good ready-to-wear quality for the rest (eg Edward Green or John Lobb Paris for the shoes, Drakes for the ties and accessories).
£15k is of course expensive. But this is stealth-WEALTH, after all. Running costs will be relatively low, as good items will last a long time, and their lifetime can be extended further by adding similarly discreet additional items at a slow rate over the years.
If you do it on the cheap, I really think you miss part of the point of the aesthetic. You may replicate the superficial look, but will it feel the same on you? Will the psychological effect on yourself and others be the same? Perhaps, but I think not in the majority of cases. You will obtain a very presentable wardrobe and look very smart, but something vital will be missing.
Too many apers of this stealth wealth aesthetic think that merely obtaining the look is enough. It is not. The look is completely secondary to the intent, and if they conflict you will never feel comfortable in your clothes. I would not be comfortable wearing stealth wealth because, at heart, while I can admire the look, I cannot not love it. It is too restrained for me, and I would feel that I was attempting to live according to someone else’s aesthetic if I wore it.
The photo illustrating this article is Chris Plummer, dressed for his role as banker (and former Nazi collaborator) Arthur Case in the movie Inside Man. Almost everything he wears fits the stealth-wealth aesthetic, with the possible exception of his tie-pin. The character has deliberately adopted the aesthetic as part of creating a new respectable life for himself.