Stealth wealth is the new flex of the one percent

With their subtle luxury style you can’t tell who’s a billionaire anymore—until they arrive in their private jets.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote one of life’s enduring truths in “The Rich Boy” when he said, “The rich are different from you and me.”

Almost a hundred years since the short story was first published in 1926, the disparity between the rich and poor, and the rich and ultrarich has never been wider. The prolific Jazz Age writer’s keen observation of society, the widening difference of values, and unequal access to opportunities underlined his works like The Great Gatsby and This Side of Paradise.

What Fitzgerald didn’t predict was how the ultrawealthy, the generational wealthy, and the just wealthy would have their own low-key culture wars as well. Or that the middle class would be so obsessed with emulating the changing styles of the one percent—the richest segment of society—in the hope of looking like they were monied, too.  

There are 2,781 billionaires and 59,000,000 millionaires in the world. The term ‘one percent’ to refer to the richest people on the planet is statistically wrong. Billionaires make up only .00003% of the world population.

While the ‘90s and early 2000s were all about flashy cars, big designer logos, and obscenely sprawling glass-walled beach houses—some of these remain but I’m getting ahead of the story—what we’ve been seeing in the recent past is that many billionaires are choosing the stealth wealth lifestyle or the practice of intentionally concealing one’s wealth by adopting an understated, refined lifestyle. Whether for fear of criticism in a world where the 99% gets poorer by the day or for the simple fact that it’s their inherent style matters very little.

Warren Buffet, the world’s most successful investor, has a net worth of $139 billion. For context, that’s P8 trillion in our currency; the Philippine budget for 2024 is only P5.7 trillion, which means that Buffet can theoretically fund the entire Philippine government for a year—and still have P2.3 billion in change.

Buffet belongs to the Silent Generation (born between the 1920s and 1940s), which saw the Great Depression as children, and World War II as young adults. He made his first million in 1962 when he was 32 years old. He is notoriously frugal and incredibly generous. He still lives in the four-bedroom Omaha house he bought for $31,500 (P1.8 million) in 1958. He has also given away $51 billion of his wealth to charities, making him the most generous philanthropist in the world, according to Forbes.

McKenzie Scott has donated $12 billion to NGOs since her split from Jeff Bezos in 2019. Photo from

McKenzie Scott is the fourth richest woman in the world with a net worth of $40.6 billion. She received a four percent stake in Amazon after her divorce from Jeff Bezos in 2019. Only 54, the Gen X philanthropist promised that she would give away her entire fortune in her lifetime after she received her settlement from Bezos. In only five years, Scott has donated over $12 billion to more than 1,200 nonprofit organizations, including $436 million to Habitat for Humanity.

A million vs. a billion

There are 2,781 billionaires and 59,000,000 millionaires in the world, according to various sources online. The term “one percent” to refer to the richest people against the world population is statistically wrong—at least for billionaires, who make up only .00003% of the world population. It is accurate, meanwhile, for millionaires, who make up 1.1%.

It’s hard to imagine what $1 billion (P58 billion) is without putting it in different concepts and contexts. We can fantasize about having a hundred million and buying a house in this or that location, a luxury vacation around the world, cars that go from 0 to 60 in five seconds.

If money shouts and wealth whispers, this current version of quiet luxury is barely audible. It looks more polished yet dressed down, inspired by the ultrawealthy who have shunned brands the middle class patronize.

But one billion? There are only three zeroes between a million and a billion but they mean a huge difference in scale. It becomes a little clearer in terms of time and distance: a million seconds is equivalent to 11.6 days; a billion seconds is 31.7 years. A million meters is equivalent to 1,000 kilometers; a billion meters is 1,000,000 kilometers.

When you calculate how far money would go, the difference becomes even more comprehensible: if you spend $1,000 every day, it would take 2.7 years to finish a million; if you spend $1,000 every day, it would take 2,740 years to deplete a billion.  

Quiet luxury brands

Subtle luxury, according to billionaire daughter Shiv Roy (Sarah Snook) on Succession.
Adrian Brody’s character Josh Aaronson on Succession was reportedly based on several tech billionaires. His outfit (puffer vest and all) was praised for being on point .

With people choosing this aesthetic, you can’t tell if one is a billionaire, a millionaire or even middle class because quiet luxury—a style that’s understated, subtle, streamlined, and elegant—has become a popular trend since 2023, largely inspired by Shiv Roy’s fashion on Succession. And it’s here to stay, according to fashion experts.  

Quiet luxury is nothing new, of course. If anything, it proves yet again that fashion and design are circular. But the minimalism of the ‘90s, which followed the elaborate ‘80s, seems so far removed from today, 30 years later. Which is why, to many young people who grew up with the 2000s’ metallics, blacks and grays, and industrial style, quiet luxury seems entirely new.

The Row by twins Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen

If money shouts and wealth whispers, this current version of quiet luxury is barely audible. It looks more polished yet dressed down, inspired by the ultrawealthy who have shunned some brands (some of them with open derision) that the middle class patronize.

Snobbery is well and alive in this age—and it makes me wonder why people on both sides still care so much about other people’s business, and spend so much effort faking what they’re not.

That aside, the emphasis of quiet luxury is on classic designs that include simple silhouettes, luxurious fabrics like cashmere, neutral colors (camel and beige especially), minimalist aesthetics, and quality craftsmanship.

Fashion labels commonly associated with quiet luxury today are The Row (by twins Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen), Brunello Cucinelli, Khaite, Loro Piana, Max Mara, Bottega Veneta, Loewe, Hermes, and Jil Sander.

Where to park your private jet

Full parking at the airport in Sun Valley, Idaho where tech, media, and Hollywood billionaires converge annually. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The “Billionaires’ Summer Camp” in Sun Valley, Idaho takes place annually and is attended by tech, media, and investment moguls the likes of Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffet, Apple’s Tim Cook, Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, Disney’s Bob Iger and OpenAI’s Sam Altman. Bezos closed his deal with the Graham family here when he bought The Washington Post for $250 million in 2013.

The resort town becomes a huge parking lot for private jets—where did you think Succession got that scene from?—when the ultrarich arrive.  Zuckerberg and other tech founders dress in T-shirts and shorts like they were going to pick up their sons from a children’s birthday party at McDonald’s, proving that billionaires really don’t care what you think of them.

Even as they live the stealth wealth life, billionaires cannot hide their private planes. Bill Gates and Elon Musk own four Gulfstreams each. Bernard Arnault had to sell his $72-million Bombardier when pesky people began tracking it and calculating its carbon emission.

Zuckerberg is known for his plain gray crewneck T-shirts (the black turtleneck was taken), which are Brunello Cucinelli at $400 a pop but his are customized. Zuckerberg said when he shared a photo of his monochromatic closet that he wears the same thing every day because that was one less decision he had to make. (Barack Obama said the same thing of his black and gray suits—oh, but he just had to wear that one tan suit!)

Bill Gates famously wears the $50 Casio 200M Duro Analog watch; the $32 Casio MRW-200H; and the $24 Casio Illuminator Sports Digital Crono. One of the world’s richest and smartest men has a collection of modest Casio watches that he’s very proud of.

But then again, he also has a collection of four private jets: two Gulfstream G650ERs ($70 million each) and two Bombardier Challenger 350s ($27 million each). And a fleet of cars that include the very rare Porsche 959, Jaguar XJ6, and several Mercedes Benz. 

Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg with Kevin Sabet at the 2021 Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference in Idaho. Photos above and below from

Even as these billionaires are living the low-key, stealth wealth life, transportation is the one thing they sink millions in for privacy and security. No matter how high Emirates or Singapore Airlines designs their first-class doors, they’re never going to be high enough for easily recognizable billionaires. Let alone a terminal swarming with fans and potential crazies.

Like Gates, Zuckerberg owns a Gulfstream jet while Elon Musk owns four that are parked in airports around California. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose net worth is $200 billion, owns two Gulfstream G650 ERs.  

In 2022, the world’s richest man Bernard Arnault of LVMH sold his $72-million Bombardier 7500 because pesky people were tracking his plane and calculating its carbon emission wherever he went. So he now rents a private plane for his travels.

Heir to the Rothschild fortune David Mayer de Rothschild—whose net worth is reportedly $10 billion (the internet can’t agree on the figure)—is an environmentalist, film producer, and adventurer (he set a world record by traversing Antarctica in 70 days). He has at his disposal the private planes and yachts of the Rothschild family, one of Europe’s richest and oldest families, though his carbon footprint via private plane hasn’t been scrutinized yet.

David de Rothschild in Los Angeles. Photo by Jake Michaels/New York Times

Walmart heiress Alice Walton, whose net worth is $72 billion, also flies around the US on a private jet. She has an art collection worth more than $500 million and is giving $40 million in grants to museums across the US.

The one percent are often accused of being out of touch with reality—or at least the reality that common people live. Bill Gates once guested on Ellen where he had to guess the prices of common grocery items and was surprised that a tub of Tide Pods cost $19.97 (he guessed $10). Well, why would he know the price of laundry detergent if he has a staff to do his and then wife Melinda Gates’ groceries for them?

But Alice, the only daughter of Walmart founder Sam Walton, does know the price of produce. “I know the price of lettuce,” she said. “You need to understand price and value. You buy the best lettuce you can at the best price you can.”

Back in the early 2000s, Hilton heiress Paris Hilton had no idea what Walmart was. Last year she launched her own cookware—exclusively for Walmart. Photo by Brendan Forbes/KGM Entertainment

Which is more than what you can say for Paris Hilton, great-granddaughter of Hilton Hotels founder Conrad Hilton. On her reality TV show Simple Life in the early 2000s, where she and Nicole Richie hill-billied with a farm family for five weeks, she asked, “What is Walmart? Is that a place where they sell wall stuff?”

Forks suspended in the air around the dinner table of their shocked hosts, the crickets outside were deafening as they began planning memes that would define the first seven years of the new century.

In 2023, Hilton released a cookware collection called Be an Icon, exclusively for Walmart. Maybe that’s one more reason the rich are different from you and me. They know how to grab an opportunity to make even more money.

The new lifestyle.