Whether you scarfed the finale down or are yet to watch it, going about with your fingers in your eyes and yelling “lalala” in case anyone spoils the ending, we will collectively mourn the passing of Succession.
Some of us for the plot. But many for the hidden social codes of the super wealthy revealed in every episode. The post-show think-pieces overwhelmingly skip the psychology of the characters to focus on titles which all sound vaguely like this: How Succession nails the ‘stealth wealth’ fashion of the ultra rich.
In other words, here are things only the poor wear and this is how everyone knows you are a yachtless pauper just in case you thought your outlet-bought Micheal Kors watch was fooling anyone.
And like the class anxious, social climbing Hyacinth Buckets we are, we were there with our notebooks out eager to learn just what sets us apart from the one per cent so that we may adjust and amend.
One of the show’s standout lines taught us that wearing “a ludicrously capacious bag” marked us out as street urchins because it gave away our vulgar human needs.
“What’s even in there, huh? Flat shoes for the subway? Her lunch pail?” mocked Tom, who thought cousin Greg’s date’s need for a practical work tote to be the ultimate insult.
That’s because the truly wealthy have drivers (no need for flat shoes) and trust funds (no need to have an office bag) and tend not to bring leftover lasagne for lunch, forever forfeiting knowing just how much better it is the second day.
In an interview Kieran Culkin, who plays Roman, said he had learned from the show that the truly wealthy don’t wear coats. Why would they need them? There is no waiting at the chilly bus stop. They are shepherded from climate controlled space to climate controlled space, from private cars to offices to hotel lobbies. They do not have to let anything as trifling as the elements dictate their outfit.
The “wealth whispers” brand Loro Piana, long loved by those who use the term “summer” as a verb (as in, “we summer in Greece”) could be a victim of the show’s success. Online there are rumblings that upper-middle classes are snapping up the brand as wealth camouflage, now making it desperately gauche to old money. Dubbed “Uniqlo for billionaires” by GQ, the label is famous for its nondescript clothing at eye watering prices like Kendal’s €460 plain black cashmere baseball hat.
Why are we so desperate to understand ‘coded luxury’ in order to cosplay rich? It’s the belief that if we try hard enough we’ll be accepted into their circles
If they want to stop luxury “dilution” they can always take a leaf out of Hermes’ book, which doesn’t allow customers to just walk in and buy a €12,000 Birkin. They must first spend thousands with the brand on other leather goods to make sure they are really the kind of clientele who can afford a bag. Not desperate paupers who can merely scrape together the price of a car from coins down the back of the couch and splurge it on a handbag which will end up being filled with old receipts and half unwrapped tampons anyway.
One of the biggest lies being spread on TikTok is “you don’t need a lot of money, you just need to invest in a few good quality basics” to participate in “stealth wealth”.
The term “investing” makes it sound like a financially wise decision to drop €1,000 on a pair of nude embellished Louboutins “that go with everything”. It makes it seem like you will get a return on that asset, which you might have done had you put the money in a pension or in an index fund. However, your actual result is likely to be bunions, scuffed up red soles and maybe, if you’re lucky, a stranger in the toilet queue telling you “oooh nice shoes”.
It also overlooks the vital fact that splurging all your money a few items of clothing is a risk most of us can’t take. We don’t have the privilege of maxing-out our yearly clothing budget on one coat. What if it gets robbed from the cloakroom? What if it gets stained? What if people notice we only have one jacket? Then they’ll know we’re poor, which was the entire point of buying the bloody thing in the first place.
Having new items of clothing used to be a sign someone had money. Jumpers without telltale pilling. White T-shirts without yellow discolouration under the arms. The latest logos on the chest. Then the advent of fast fashion made it possible for people on low incomes to replace clothes with similar regularity to other social classes.
Around the same time a boom in sustainable shopping and vintage fashion took off, particularly within trendsetting middle-class art student cohorts. People who feel “allowed” to wear old clothes that might have holes in them for aesthetic reasons. People who do not know the shame of people called “pov” at school because their mother had to use charity shop vouchers to buy them jumpers that still bore the names of other kids on the tags.
Rejoice in your ludicrously capacious bag and it’s comforting space for your coats, flat shoes and microwaveable containers
When you are poor or working class, you spend a lot of mental energy and money trying not to look like it. Meanwhile those with money know they can get away with wearing tatty boots and handed-down tweed. In fact, it sets them apart. The show’s costume designer Michelle Matland explained to the New Yorker about the differences between dressing the old money Pierce family versus the flashing upstart Roys.
“The Pierces are not ostentatious,” Matland said
“I could see one of the sons wearing the sweater his grandfather wore 20 years ago. They have absolutely nothing to prove.”
So a brand new Hermes Birkin sells you out as nouveau riche while a battered second-hand one from your mother’s closet is better. However, the real product that shows off wealth is the Hermes saddle – not only is it incredibly expensive but it means you have horses, somewhere to store them and had lessons growing up. All much harder signs of wealth to replicate than just buying a bag.
The tastes of the ultra-wealthy are often defined by the things poor people are not doing and not wearing. The goalposts just simply shift.
So why are we so desperate to understand “coded luxury” in order to cosplay rich? It’s the belief that if we try hard enough we’ll be accepted into their circles, invited to the country houses and on to the yachts. Just search “how to dress old money” into TikTok to reveal advice to young women on how to jump their social class by wearing the right tennis skirt and snagging a rich husband. Even though academic research has overwhelmingly shown that we tend to marry within our social class where social and educational circles overlap.
When she was studying working class women in northern England and their bids to be seem “respectable”, sociologist Bev Skeggs observed: “Proximity to the right knowledge and standards does not guarantee acceptance. They just generate more awareness of how ‘wrong’ your practices, appearance and knowledge are.”
Meaning the more we feel outraged that Shiv wore a Ted Baker dress to a wedding, the further we get from ever being invited on a private jet.
So rejoice in your ludicrously capacious bag and it’s comforting space for your coats, flat shoes and microwaveable containers.