Is Recession Core Just An Opportunity For Celebrities To Cosplay Being Poor?

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On red carpets around the world, one item has been glaringly missing of late: the humble necklace. It all started at the Golden Globes a few weeks ago, when all eyes turned to stars like Daisy Edgar-Jones (of Normal People fame) for her muted corset gown, with a silhouette that demanded diamonds along her décolletage — which were notably missing. Then, less than a week later and many seas away, Margot Robbie wore a baby blue Versace number at the Sydney premiere of Babylon, which also lacked accompanying jewellery.
But history tells us that this trend isn't just bold creative license. It points towards a return to a humbler manner of dressing that pivots away from maximalism in what TikTok has dubbed "recession core" — a move by the rich and elite from appearing ostentatious during economic strife. Just take it from Marie Antoinette: when the general public is doing it tough, shows of flashiness from the higher-ups in society aren't exactly well-received.
It's easy to dismiss the existence of this move to simplicity, especially after dopamine dressing and Euphoria-inspired looks have held a firm grip on the trend cycle for the last couple of years. Maybe it makes sense that the next natural evolution in the trend cycle to veer as far as possible in the other direction because there's nowhere left to go. Perhaps we're all simply tired of dressing like Portia in The White Lotus — who is famously known for her clashing prints and lack of personal style. However, it's not the first time we've seen recession core in the last two decades, even if that's not what we called it then.
TikTok trend predictions anticipate a move towards bigger bags, fewer accessories, outfit repeating and androgyny, alongside messy hair and makeup that prioritise utilitarian practicality during this time. Gone are the days of resin jewellery and checkerboard print, with versatile and minimalist brands like The Row, Paloma Wool and Polène emerging in their place as clean and crisp alternatives.
"Many people say, 'no jewellery will never go out of style. What celebrities wear doesn't matter'. And while jewellery will never really go out of style, we all know from this Devil Wears Prada scene that everything in fashion is connected to everything," says fashion commentator @ufodelaney, referring to how what we see on the red carpets will inevitably make their way into the everyday consumer's wardrobe.
In a TikTok that has amassed nearly a million views on TikTok, she refers to the Great Recession of 2008 and how the economic downturn affected fashion in the United States the year after. Muted tones and simple silhouettes became popular, while high-end purchases tried not to draw attention to themselves, like the popular Hermès Courchevel Evelyne bag, which opted for a subtler perforated logo in place of the prevailing logomania at the time.
"I mean, there's always going to be personal style, but many consumers are reverting back to that 2009 minimalism look — it's more modest, it's less flashy," she shares, pointing to influencers (whose whole job is to push their followers towards buying new products) also leaning towards pared-back outfits on Instagram.
After the Y2K revival, fashion is now fast-forwarding to a decade ahead, just in time for discussions of an impending international recession in 2023. In the same vein that an explosion of dance music in popular culture indicates that a recession is on the cards, so too does a scaled-back fashion industry. The Loewe Autumn/Winter 2023 menswear runway stripped back staples to just boxers, while the Dior equivalent predominantly leaned on beiges and whites — indicating more reservedness to come with their sister shows.
The last thing the average person wants to see amid a cost of living crisis is unattainable and exorbitant fashion trends, when all economic forces are seemingly working against them. So why does it matter if celebrities are skimping on accessories we know they can afford?
The upper echelons of society usually distinguish themselves from the upper middle class by looking rich without the labels. In what is referred to as "quiet luxury" or "stealth wealth", you can tell just by looking at someone that their simple outfit is not only high quality but expensive, even if you have no idea where they bought it.
Here's my take: we know that the rich get richer during financial strife, and they're using that wealth to subtly distinguish themselves by how they dress in a way that won't cause backlash. So while we may be dressing more conservatively out of financial necessity, celebrities are doing so to prove a point — and necklaces, or the lack thereof, are only the beginning.
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