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Money talks, wealth whispers.
No show embodies this adage better than HBO’s “Succession,” with expansive Manhattan penthouses and dazzling superyachts serving as the backdrop for the lives of the wealthy Roy family. The most notable display of the family’s wealth, though, is their fashion, with the clothing of each character telling a nuanced story of what they wish to present to the world, and what they’d rather try to hide.
As Kendall (Jeremy Strong) states bluntly in the show’s most recent episode, he’s “already rich.” With nothing to prove in regard to wealth, he often dresses in simple well-fitting suits, complete with a $600 cashmere Loro Piana baseball cap or chunky pair of Valentino Garavani sneakers to show off his pseudo-edgy hip-hop-loving side (cue his infamous L to the OG rap).
His outfits demonstrate the trademark quiet luxury style of “Succession”: timeless, high-quality, well-tailored pieces with a sophisticated yet understated essence. Neutral tones and expensive materials reign supreme in this subtle display of wealth, rather than the recognizable logos and eye-catching jewelry that are typically donned by the rich.
The fashion of the other Roy children similarly conveys aspects of their characters. Shiv (Sarah Snook)’s transition from soft silhouettes and jewel-toned knits at the beginning of the series to cooler colors and sharper pantsuits by Season Two parallels her descent into the trappings of the Waystar Royco family drama. Roman (Kieran Culkin) dresses in suits without ties, demonstrating the illusion of carelessness he tries so hard to cultivate.
Common signifiers of wealth like fancy cars, expensive coats, and luxury handbags are also notably absent from the show. The Roys don’t drive, they are driven, so they have no need for a personal car, and with mere seconds spent walking between their office, car, and private jet, the characters don’t experience enough of the elements to merit a winter coat. Likewise, assistants hold onto any important items for them, so bags and purses are unnecessary, if not actively discouraged, for the characters. These counterintuitive details are so accurately portrayed due to advice from the show’s very own team of wealth consultants, a role revealed by Culkin in an interview with fellow actor Dan Levy.
When Greg (Nicholas Braun)’s date violates these unspoken rules in the recent Season Four premiere episode, she is mercilessly ridiculed by Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) for her “ludicrously capacious bag” that Tom posits is large enough to hold both a lunch pail and shoes to wear on the subway — two experiences laughably beneath the echelon of the Roys.
Notably, Tom is the individual to raise this faux pas not only because he has learned the rules of wealthy society in his quest to join the ranks of the Roy family, but also because he is one of the few characters insecure enough to comment on others’ fashion shortcomings. The journey of the interloper Tom is best tracked through his fashion evolution throughout the series.
“Here’s the thing about being rich,” the nouveau riche Tom tells Roy-adjacent cousin Greg back in Season One. “It’s fucking great. It’s like being a superhero, only better.… You get to wear a costume, but it’s designed by Armani, and it doesn’t make you look like a prick.” If any of the real Roys heard this statement, they’d ridicule Tom immediately. Teeming with effort, his fragile ego betrays him. He wears flashy Italian suits and overstated designer brands, puffy vests and unblemished shoes, all of which demonstrate Tom’s tremendous desire to appear rich.
Unfortunately, this desire is precisely what exposes Tom as an outsider. Roman approaches him in Season Two, casually dropping the devastating line: “Nice vest, Wambsgans. It's so puffy. What's it stuffed with, your hopes and dreams?”
What Roman is getting at, and what the entire quiet luxury trend truly implies, is that effort isn’t cool. The truly wealthy don’t care about the conspicuous consumption of interlopers and social climbers. Having the security and the confidence to put in no effort at all — or at least exercise one’s wealth with a bit more subtlety — is what sets the insiders apart from the rest. This balance is what the Roy children were born knowing, and what the phonies fail to pick up on.
Ultimately the fashion of “Succession” tells a story: who fits in, who doesn’t, and who’s trying their hardest to claw their way to the top of the heap.
—Staff writer Stella A. Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com.
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