Simple, yet Opulent
It might not look like much, but how much did all those yards of silk and lace cost? And what about all the work to make the dress?

"6,000 dollars? It's not even leather!"
Cynthia, Working Girl

When anything costs a lot of money, but doesn't bling itself out. It could be something that looks plain, but was made with high quality materials and workmanship; on the other hand, it could be something that is clearly expensive (or at least clear to people at the time) but doesn't overload itself with bells and whistles (so to speak). So it's still Conspicuous Consumption, but not "in your face" conspicuous.

Take a Bentley or Rolls-Royce. The look of those cars clearly shows that they are luxury cars, but they (usually) aren't tricked out enough to count as a Pimped-Out Car (but would certainly count as a Cool Car).

Or take many evening dresses from at least The Thirties onward (or dresses of the late 18th and early 19th centuries). Many are free of the frills and trimmings that were typical of evening dresses, so they wouldn't qualify as a Pimped-Out Dress. However, they're made from high quality fabric, so they would still cost a lotnote .

Men's fashion often falls into this. The difference between a bespoke suit and an off-the-rack one that costs a fifth to a tenth as much is mainly this: the bespoke suit probably has better fabric (hard to tell without touching it), and it fits really, really well. If you don't know what to look for, you don't know there's anything luxurious about the suit itself—the man wearing it just looks really good.

This also applies to high-quality minimalist architecture and design.

In fiction, this is done for three reasons:
  1. To reflect Real Life styles and trends, like Minimalism.
  2. To contrast Old Money characters buying things this way with Nouveau Riche characters buying flashy cars, gaudy houses, and Impossibly Tacky Clothes (like the above point, this also is Truth in Television).
  3. Simple cost saving, especially in animation. A ballgown with lots of trimmings would be a lot more to draw than a dress with clean lines (same with such an outfit in a video game, with or without No Flow in CGI). Also, a house that has simpler decor makes for simpler backgrounds.

A Sister Trope to Modest Royalty, Mundane Luxury, Little Black Dress, Sharp-Dressed Man (as such a nice suit wouldn't be cheap), High Class Gloves (they don't have to be flashy to mark the wearer as affluent), Ominous Opera Cape (as the cape used to be a sign of a high class gentleman), Opera Gloves.

Compare Simple, yet Awesome, More Than Meets the Eye, Worthless Yellow Rocks (something is only opulent to some cultures).

Contrast Impoverished Patrician (who can't afford even these things), All That Glitters (which looks grand but isn't), Ermine Cape Effect (opulent and obvious, to show one's power).

Compare / Contrast Costume Porn.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Azumanga Daioh, Chiyo-chan's house isn't loaded with fancy decor, but is still quite impressive - with how much land costs in Japan, the very fact that her house has a front yard automatically marks her family as at least upper-class.
  • In Interstella 5555, Stella wears a fancy dress to an awards show, but aside from the frills (including edging the Showgirl Skirt), it's this trope.
  • Lady Oscar's dress in Rose of Versailles has got some trimmings, but it's not nearly as frilly as the other noble ladies' dresses featured in the story.
  • The moon queen's and princess's dresses in Sailor Moon are actually simple dresses, especially compared to the Frills of Justice outfits in the series.
  • In both the first Slayers opening, and an Imagine Spot, Lina is wearing a simple looking frilly dress.
  • In Voltron, Princess Allura's and Princess Romelle's dresses aren't particularly grand, but are still grand enough for a princess.
  • Played for Laughs in Ouran High School Host Club: the guys of the Host Club find the Fujiokas' simple apartment to be far below their standards and in desperate need of improvement, but they know that Haruhi will object strenuously to any attempt they make to give her luxurious things or make what they consider appropriate upgrades to her living space. They hit on the idea of secretly renovating the apartment while Haruhi and her father are out, replacing everything from floor to ceiling with replacements made to look exactly the same, down to replicating the scratches on the windows, but with higher-quality materials and craftsmanship. They've only just begun enacting their renovations when Haruhi returns home early and they're forced to abandon the project with only a single door replaced, leaving Haruhi to later wonder in bemusement whether or not that doorknob was always that nice-looking.
  • In Heat Guy J, Clair wears very simple-looking, unfussy clothes, a long shirt and a pair of pants. The shirt appears to be made of silk, and the pants appear to be made of leather, two materials that are costly now and likely even more costly 20 Minutes into the Future.
  • In Bleach, Byakuya Kuchiki accents his captain's uniform with a simple white scarf, which happens to be a family heirloom crafted by a master weaver and worth more than ten mansions.
  • In the manga adaptation of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Zelda first appears in a blue, puffy-sleeved dress with a pleated front. She later appears in her more typical dress. It's based on concept art used in the manual and player's guide, but the game's sprites only depict her in her more famous pink and white dress.

    Comic Books 
  • Scrooge McDuck of the Disney Ducks Comic Universe is largely The Scrooge (as he was named), but he does have some expensive things, like his mansion and limo, but they aren't that ostentatious (just old fashioned, as he would have had them for years).
  • Jean Grey's wedding dress in X-Men, which just has a mermaid dress, gloves, and a long hooded cape.

     Fan Works 
  • RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse: Since Vicereine Wallflower's family ruled the Canterlot region before it became the capitol, she is the one pony (unless you count the Princess) with enough Canterlot real estate to "waste" on things like gardens.

    Films — Animated 
  • In Anastasia, Anya's dress for the opera is a simple long, sleek column of sparkling navy blue with white opera-length gloves.
  • The Disney Princess main dresses are mostly this. Although some count as pimped out dresses as well, most are also simple. This includes Snow White, Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, and Rapunzel (as in her princess dress at the end).
    • In Beauty and the Beast Belle's ballgown is outright pimped out, but the green and pink dresses she wears count as this trope.
    • Likewise the Beast manages to look pretty damn regal simply by putting on a shirt.
    • Same apples to Tiana in The Princess and the Frog. Her green dress isn't simple, but her blue dress is.
  • Brave: The dress Merida was forced to wear for the three Lords' visit. Despite its simplicity, it's still too much for her.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Discworld:
    • Lady Sybil Ramkin live like this, as she's described as being so rich, she can afford not to look rich, even though she doesn't buy things cheap (even her dragon caring gear). She does annoy her husband, Vimes, by getting him grander clothing than he likes to wear. In Men at Arms, she is described as such:
      Women who were merely well-off saved up and bought dresses made of silk edged with lace and pearls, but Lady Ramkin was so rich she could afford to stomp around the place in rubber boots and a tweed skirt that had belonged to her mother.
    • In that same book, Vimes notes that really good boots cost a lot, but it's mainly so that they last far longer than low cost boots (which Vimes prefers anyway), rather than the boots being obviously fancy.
    • The Assassins' Guild all wear black silk, but avoid jewelry and other overly-flashy things that would make them more noticeable. (Granted, the black outfits themselves are still not invisible, but being able to identify Assassins is part of how they operate, so that's all right. Being able to hear Assassins before they inhume you is not.)
  • Solon in One Good Knight is in love with this trope. His "simple wool and linen" clothing is actually fine lambswool and silk, his plain furniture was custom-made to his exact measure, the mattress on his bed is softer than it looks.
  • In Tortall Universe by Tamora Pierce, King Jonathan tends to wear very simple but clearly expensive clothing. So does his queen, Thayet, unless she's at a court function.
    • Pierce likes this style for nobility; it also shows up frequently in the Circle of Magic series (particularly Sandry and her family). However, Pierce's penchant for describing any clothing in meticulous detail can sometimes lose the reader on whether an outfit is elaborate or not.
  • In The Wheel of Time, this is how the borderlanders approach decoration. Not having time to waste on frills, they mark status with gilt and fine materials, but don't bother to work these into fancy shapes.
  • Discussed in the X-Wing novels. When Imperial Intelligence agent Kirtan Loor visits the director's office, it strikes him as spacious, but he finds the decorations almost ridiculously spartan, and wonders why it isn't filled with expensive, intimidating artifacts. Then it occurs to him: on a City Planet, being able to afford that amount of space and not use it is the height of conspicuous consumption.
  • In the Aunt Dimity series, Fairworth House, Willis Sr.'s Georgian-period home, is described this way, mostly due to its architecture and moderate size.
  • The Maer Alveron in The Wise Man's Fear opts to display his wealth with a simple set of clothes that always looks like new. The implication is that he is wealthy enough to wear nothing but new clothes. The first-person narrator, Kvothe, is perennially broke and so does not serve as a particularly good foil in terms of wealth, but there was a period when he had to make do with one shirt and no shoes.
  • Lydia's wedding dress in Redoubt is described this way.
    Quite good enough for a princess, but it said without words that this was a lady who would not break the Treasury for the sake of a dress.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: In Braavos, poor people wear gaudy, colorful and strikingly patterned or boldly embroidered clothing (often clashing), while the aristocrats prefers plain greys, blacks and other low-key, blend-into-the-background neutrals... yet, the clothing remains very high quality, even if you, presumably, need to lean in to hope see the tiny stitching of the dense and elaborately intricate, similarly coloured and expensively embroidered panels that are quietly there. For most of the rest of both Essos and Westeros, plain neutrals = low status/ cheap; colourful dyes and intricate stitching mean status. And, predominantly single-toned clothing generally signals "I'm in a religious order or some other form of service", however cheap or expensive the material it is made from is, or ornate or sparce the embroidery. Naturally, the more important the position within the organisation, generally the more opulent the single-toned outfit (silly robes or not) becomes.
    • King Stannis expresses this in the unusual form of his preferred drink. Although by modern standards ice water with a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of salt would be a very Spartan beverage, in a medieval setting having such reliable access to clean water and lemons would be something of a luxury when one lives on a volcanic island in the middle of nowhere. Not that it isn't still Spartan, of course.
  • In The Belgariad:
    • In keeping with the setting's Modest Royalty, Brador, the Chief of Internal Affairs to the Mallorean Empire, wears plain brown robes of extremely expensive fabric, decorated with his gold chain of office.
    • Belgarath the Sorcerer's clothes fit this trope despite making him look like The Tramp. The mismatched boots and patched robe cost him a lot of money and were designed for comfort and durability — and since he's been Walking the Earth for seven thousand years, he has very high standards on those counts.
  • Honor Harrington opts for this when she has to start wearing dresses while on Grayson (after a lifetime of wearing trousers). Her dresses are very plain by Grayson standards but since she's a Steadholder they are very opulent.
  • Played with a straight bat for the upper classes in the Village Tales novels. Lady Agatha resembles an animated aristocratic, tweedy jumble stall held together with diamond brooches and booted in wellies; the Duke (his Savile Row tailors being Anderson & Sheppard) is unshowily bespoke to his very socks; old Lord Mallerstang has tweeds as old as he is, and so on. The Nawab in English dress follows suit; his sherwani, on State occasions, is also subfusc but the lining is in the MCC colors, as befits a great cricketer. The trope also applies to the ducal motorcars, and to the ducal properties, Hugo Mallerstang's Hellgill Hall, Lady Agatha's Plas Buallt, and the like.

    Live-Action Television 
  • In the Firefly episode "Shindig", this is how the Alpha Bitch can tell Kaylee doesn't belong in high society: Kaylee's ostentatiously frilly dress is store-bought, whereas the high society women's more conservative dresses are custom-made.
  • Frasier played with this when Martin's favorite chair is destroyed, and Frasier ends up paying a small fortune to recreate it, due to how out of date the materials were. Thus the new chair became the most expensive thing in his apartment.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Equipment in Dungeons & Dragons is generally either this or Rainbow Pimp Gear, since most of the value — and expense — comes from rare materials and enchantments. By example, a Good-aligned Robe of the Archmagi is a simple white garment worth five times its wearer's weight in gold.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Quest VIII, Princess Medea's dress and cape aren't too grand, but still more grand than the peasant women's dresses.
  • Ada's red evening dress in Resident Evil 4 doesn't have much decoration other than the butterfly embroidery, but it doesn't look like an off-the-shelf dress (not to mention she likes Kicking Ass in All Her Finery).
  • In the manual for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Zelda's pink dress has some fancy elements (the puff sleeves and the ribbons on the poofy skirt), but just a few, so the dress looks mostly simple.
  • In Super Mario Bros., Rosalina goes for this instead of the Pimped Out Dresses that Peach and Daisy wear. Rosalina's dress is invariably a cyan gown that never gets anything more than a star motif added on, (as is the case in Super Smash Bros.) yet still is an elegant attire befitting of the Mother of the Cosmos.
  • Street Fighter V has two rich characters, Rashid (the eldest son of a respected Middle Eastern family) and Karin (the heiress of a very rich Zaibatsu). Both of them have alternate outfits with this theme. Rashid has a causal shirt-slacks-sandals ensemble with some bling added on the chest and feet, and Karin has a Little Black Dress with an expensive looking pendant and Modesty Shorts.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • In Premodern Europe, simply wearing clothes that had colors other than those natural to a textile (e.g. brown and gray and most especially off-white) was a sign of wealth, and wearing bright colors even more so. It's why colors known by such names as "Royal Blue" and "Royal Purple" exist. This is because until the advance of chemical industry and the invention of artificial dyes, permanent dyes in certain bright colors were extremely difficult to produce from natural sources. Only the most extremely wealthy and/or powerful could afford them.
    • Royal crimson was made with cochineal, produced by crushing an exotic (New World) insect.
    • White also signified wealth because even though it usually didn't need dye, cleaning or replacing it was expensive.
    • In most Chinese Kingdoms and Empires, yellow has been a royalty-only color, as it symbolizes gold and the dye can be made with saffron, an absurdly expensive spice.
    • Likewise, Purple was a King/Emperor-only colour in the Roman and Byzantine Empires. It was made from sea snails through a process that was lost for a very long time outside of a few small communities in Egypt and Tunisia. Lost for even longer was the technique for using these snails' secretions to produce a blue dye, which the Phoenicians knew how to do but didn't leave any record of the process; the technique was rediscovered by Jewish researchers looking for the identity of the historical tekhelet (a blue dye used to color the tzitzit—fringes—of the tallit—prayer shawl), widely suspected to be this dye.
    • In east Asia particularly, black was a royal color. Giving fabric a true black color that doesn't wash out is much harder than it sounds.
  • Beau Brummell, a leading style-setter in early 19th century England, made this the basis of his look, which became quite influential. Men's styles of the 18th century were much more ornate and used a wide variety of colors; Brummell rejected overly ornate fashions and instead went for understated, but perfectly fitted and tailored garments. The cornerstones of his style were dark coats, full-length trousers (rather than knee breeches and stockings), immaculate shirt linen, and an elaborately knotted cravat. So influential was he that the Prince of Wales (later King George IV) would spend hours with Brummell each morning to take notes on how he got dressed and ready in the morning, and he was called upon to write up the dress code for several of the major social clubs of London, which all called for his sober but elegant style—to the point where this dress code—or at least the principles underlying it—became the basis of modern men's fashion, to this day (think: what's a business suit but a highly-derived version of a dark coat, dark trousers, linen shirt, and cravat?).
    • Ironically, Brummell and his followers were known as dandies—a term typically applied today to men who wear flashier clothing (who in Brummell's day would have been called "fops" or "macaronis", and against whom the soberly-dressed "dandies" were a reaction).
    • Incidentally, Brummell's new style suited the circumstances of the rapidly-changing Britain of the early 19th century quite well; while in earlier eras, only the aristocracy could afford clothing with fancy, frilly, multicoloured outfits, industrialisation and general prosperity since at least the last quarter of the 18th century had put such clothing within reach of "commoner" industrialists. On the other hand, knowing the right tailor and the exact cut of clothing that was considered in fashion could be controlled by an elite without reference to wealth, and "class" and "refinement" cannot be bought.
  • The "Sleeper". For example, take a boring looking beige box computer but stick in some high-end parts like a $500 graphics card and a self-contained water cooler for the processor.
    • The term "Sleeper" itself comes from cars with powerful engines and good handling, clothed in a simple, discreet body, such as the 1970's Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9.
  • The Double Rifle. The Great White Hunter's weapon of choice. It has exactly 3 moving parts for each barrel. The cheapest and crappiest of them is still expensive enough to buy a bootload of modern semi-automatics for the same money. It can't be made on a production line, most of them are still manually assembled, tested and fired at the factory. Expect $8000-10000 for a good one in a strong enough caliber. "Good one" means in this case strong walnut wood, best steels, careful manual fitting of the parts. From the outside it looks plain, until you spend some more bucks to engrave it.
    • To a slightly lesser extent double-barreled shotguns as well. Even a mass-produced example will run several grand if it's a quality model like the Browning Citori (favored by the past several Presidents of the United States for skeet and trap shooting at Camp David); "mass-produced" is relative and while they don't need to be made to nearly as high tolerances as rifles, they're still hand-made.
  • Cary Grant, widely agreed to be one of the best-dressed men of the twentieth century, based his style on this principle.
  • Givenchy's dresses. Audrey Hepburn loved that style.
  • The Little Black Dress, in its well-known modern form, was developed and popularized in the 1920's by Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel and Jean Patou. It has its origin in black mourning dresses (which were very much in evidence during and immediately after World War One), but Chanel and Patou transformed the garment into a simple, elegant outfit that can be accessorized to any degree necessary for any kind of formal or informal occasion.
  • The first missionaries in Japan gave Oda Nobunaga a flask of candies as tribute while asking for permit to do their work. But back before Japan has its own industry, sugar was incredibly expensive. Even now, the traditional thank-you-for-coming gift from the Imperial House of Japan is a box of konpeito.
  • New York City is ridiculously expensive, not just to live (it and Tokyo frequently trade the title of "World's Most Expensive City" back and forth,) but also to film anything. If a show decides to film there, it's likely going to be simple (the most common are straightforward cop shows such as Law & Order,) but is likely just as expensive as the elaborate special effects-heavy shows outsourced to other locations.
    • The city itself is also an example. Walking up Park Avenue, for example, you would never suspect that the average-looking condo buildings flanking it are some of the most expensive properties in the world. This is largely a side-effect of the lack of space, since, obviously, no one has room to build mansions and there are only so many ways you can decorate a concrete tower. Averted with some of the properties in Central Park West, however (like the Dakota, where John Lennon famously lived and died), which are all done up in opulent Victorian style.
      • Likewise, it's not uncommon to see millionaires and even celebrities walking the streets or taking subways and cabs just like the rest of us, simply because they're the most practical ways to get around in one of the few car-unfriendly cities in the US.
      • Denmark and the Netherlands have what is often called "bicycle royalty," meaning rather than putting on ridiculous getups and getting driven everywhere, the royals take a bike like their subjects do. (Both countries are very bike friendly.) That of course does not mean they don't know how to put on a stunning outfit or make a graceful public appearance.
  • This article on the dress Michelle Obama wore on the first night of the 2016 Democratic National Convention.