‘Recession-core’ is the fashion world’s morally dubious answer to the economic downturn taking hold around the globe. HBO’s Succession not only provides the perfect case study for the trend but also proves it’s far from a fleeting fad.
These days, everything in fashion has a ‘core’: normcore, gorpcore, cottagecore… And as nations around the world teeter on the edge of economic uncertainty, the fashion industry has offered up its latest stylistic response: recession-core.
Defined by an absence of glitzy jewellery and an all-around return to minimalism with a focus on sleek, understated silhouettes, this trend has been spotted on runways and red carpets around the world in recent months.
Contrary to what may think, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of trend come into play. The Y2K and McBling aesthetics of the early-to-mid noughties were defined by bright colours, statement pieces, and glittering jewels galore. As soon as the 2008 financial crisis hit, the tide was quick to change. ‘Stealth wealth’ was all the rage among the 1% as rich and poor alike suffered.
Similarly, the last few months have seen designers and celebrities switch out their overstated finery for simpler, sleeker looks: necklaces were nowhere to be seen at the Golden Globes and menswear runways were awash with neutral tones, endlessly layered but strikingly simple garments, and bags that screamed utility rather than desirability.
This is taken, by many, to be an attempt to create garms that are as indulgent and expensive as the designer pieces we’re used to, but that don’t look as if they are. One show does recession-core better than any other and – most strikingly – always has done, long before this current wave of economic difficulties came to pass: HBO’s masterpiece Succession (the fourth season of which is taking all too long to land on our screens…)
This may come as a surprise. Surely a show about super-rich media moguls would be jam-packed with all the glitz and glamour you can imagine? Especially since the Roys and their cohort aren’t necessarily known for their modesty…
When it comes to style, however, they play a careful game: all their pieces are unbranded, minimal, and incredibly simplistic in design, but no less shockingly expensive and luxurious than you’d expect. This can be seen in Shiv’s boxy but basic Savile Row power suits and Kendall’s turn to the simple silhouettes of turtlenecks and jeans.
However, nowhere is this philosophy embodied more clearly than in the unbranded baseball cap worn by Logan throughout Season 3: his dark blue baseball cap. Unbranded, inconspicuous, and only three and a half thousand dollars each according to the girls over at Polyester Zine… If you’re after some cheaper options, try these.
Even their watches are mostly unflashy… Except for maybe Kendall’s Patek Philippe Nautilus (and who can forget that cringey scene in the first episode where Tom tries to foist another Patek on Logan…) Like their outfits, they’re expensive, but they’re not overly ostentatious; you have to be in the know to know that they’re worth a pretty penny.
The question is: why do they do this? And why have the Roys been doing this for so much longer than everyone else? Unfortunately, the answer is incredibly simple and speaks to a much wider and deep-rooted cynicism: the super-rich want all the excessive luxuries that their endless money can buy, but they don’t want you to know about it.
When you see millionaires wearing flashy designer brands, flaunting their wealth during a global economic crisis, doesn’t it just make you want to reach for your pitchfork and torches? Instead, the Roys and their recession-core fits look normal but belie the fact that they’re just as exorbitant as if they were draped head to toe in Balenciaga or Gucci. They fly under the radar.
It also speaks to the fact that truly wealthy people don’t need to wear designer labels for people to know they’re worth enormous amounts of money.
The Roys may not be real, but recession-core is, and real millionaires love it. Recession-core may produce some good-looking clothes, but it raises serious questions about the ethics of the fashion industry writ large: if you’re going to produce clothes so expensive that many of us will never lay our hands on them, surely you should at least be shameless enough to make them look like it?