For the last five years HBO’s “Succession” has resonated with fans for its witty dialogue, dysfunctional family relationships and finely curated wardrobe that has helped popularize a niche trend within minimalist fashion. And along the way it’s fueled demand for many of those understated products.
The hit TV show, which is airing new episodes of its final season on Sundays, has become one of the prime examples of the “stealth wealth” fashion phenomenon, one that Fashion Institute of Technology professor Cathleen Sheehan explained has been around long before “Succession” debuted.
“It’s things that are understated and polished,” Sheehan said. “They’re not saying, ‘look at me,’ but it’s more like, ‘look a little closer in order to really see what’s going on.’ You have to study it. It’s like when you’re sitting in a waiting room or on an airplane and you find yourself studying someone and looking closer at their sweater or shoes. It’s the care and the materials, and if you’re in the fashion business, you might recognize some of the pieces.”
Sheehan explained “stealth wealth” can be seen as an extension of previous minimalist fashion trends like ‘90s minimalism or the normcore of the 2010s. But “stealth wealth” is unique in its emphasis on quality and discretion.
This has been seen on many of the characters in “Succession,” which focuses on the dysfunctional relationships among patriarch Logan Roy (played by Brian Cox), who helms the international media conglomerate Waystar Royco, and his children, who are fighting for leadership of the company.
For the last three seasons, fans have come to expect the characters to be dressed in nondescript clothing, such as blank baseball caps, cashmere sweaters and neutral-colored suits that rarely jump off the screen. For superfans of the show, the logo-less clothing has become an Easter egg-style game of determining the brand behind the styles, which are typically luxury brands like Loro Piana, Brunello Cucinelli, Tom Ford, Paul Stuart, Ralph Lauren and others.
A still from “Succession” season four.
Courtesy of HBO
“We did our research of the Rupert Murdochs, Sumner Redstones and Jeff Bezos of the world,” said Jonathan Schwartz, the assistant costume designer on “Succession.” “We don’t follow necessarily what they are wearing. We follow who the character is and where they would shop. Whereas Roman might be shopping more downtown, Tom would be shopping on Madison Avenue. It fits into this overall theme of billionaires because they’re definitely going to those high-priced stores, but it’s really the character that dictates the types of clothing they would wear.”
Or the items that wannabe billionaires want to buy. There have been numerous articles over the last five years of how “Succession” has helped fuel demand for certain luxury items — from Loro Piana’s baseball cap to its white-soled shoes. Both can cost in the hundreds of dollars but often have sold out at retail after a “Succession” character wears them.
Over the four seasons, Schwartz noted that Kendall Roy (played by Jeremy Strong) has had the biggest style evolution, which was meant to reflect the changes in his character. The character started off the show in corporate-style suits and has since evolved to more casual, yet pricey leather and suede jackets and streetwear sneakers. The character’s casual style still plays into “stealth wealth” as his clothing is typically from Loro Piana, Tom Ford or Gucci.
Schwartz stated that besides Kendall Roy, the show’s characters have had little evolution style-wise in the four seasons, which perhaps reflects a larger message.
“The funny thing about this show is even in the characters, nobody changes,” he said. “In writing, people are supposed to change and transform. That’s the funny thing about ‘Succession.’ They start off as bastards and they end up unchanged from that.”
Schwartz thinks the show’s costumes have worked because of their authenticity to the characters and how they don’t distract from the dialogue.
The show’s season four premiere episode seemingly addressed the characters’ inclination to “stealth wealth” when Nicholas Braun’s character (who is referred to as cousin Greg) brings a date to Logan Roy’s birthday party who accessorizes her look with what character Tom Wambsgans described as a “ludicrously capacious bag.” The bag in question was the Burberry Title Vintage Check Tote Bag, which despite a high price tag of $2,890, doesn’t fit in with the logo-free aesthetic prominent in “stealth wealth.”
It’s another example of viewers’ eagerness to “find the label.” After the episode aired, Google searches for the Burberry bag skyrocketed.
Both Schwartz and Sheehan believe the show’s costumes and “stealth wealth” have appealed to the masses for their aspirational quality. Sheehan also noted “stealth wealth” can be seen as an extension of the pandemic-influenced fashion trend of paring down wardrobes and investing in better quality pieces.
“It’s aspirational because they’re wearing Loro Piana sweaters that most of us might not be able to afford,” she said. “It’s a classic black turtleneck, but you have to study it and see why it looks good, what it is about it, so it’s aspirational. There’s something interesting about that that it feels like a shift from ‘look at me’ fashion to look a little closer.”