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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!"
Simply put it's when anything cost a lot of money, but doesn't bling itself out. It could be something that looks like an everyday thing but was made with high quality materials and workmanship, or it could be something that is clearly expensive (or at least clear to people at the time
) but doesn't load itself with extra things. 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 wouldn't qualify as a Pimped-Out Dress
, but still are made of high quality fabrics, so they would still cost a lot.note
Men's fashions often fall into this even more. The difference between a bespoke suit and an off-the-rack one that costs a fifth to a tenth as much is mainly: 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 fancy about the suit—the man wearing it just looks really good.
Or how a Big Fancy House
can be light on the fancy and big, but have just enough to count as a mansion.
In fiction, this is done for three reasons:
- To reflect Real Life styles and trends. Like Minimalism for example.
- 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).
- 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). Or a house that has simpler decor makes 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), 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 truly isn't), Ermine Cape Effect
(opulent and obvious, to show one's power).
Compare / Contrast Costume Porn
Anime and 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-income.
- 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 is both this and a pimped out dress, because it's got some trimmings, but it's not nearly as frilly as the other noble ladies' dresses featured in the story.
- The moon queen and princess 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 Twenty Minutes into the Future.
- 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.
- 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.
- Also the dress Merida was forced to wear for the three Lords' visit. Despite its simplicity, it's still too much for her.
- In 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.
- Building on this, it's stated that one of the reason the Ramkin family STAYED rich was that they bought extremely good quality possessions, like furniture, which will outlast multiple generations of family members, so their outgoings are greatly reduced as they don't need to replace anything very often, with most of their stuff being inherited, not bought.
- 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 the 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.
- 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 consumtion.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 enough trimmings to be a pimped out dress (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 wears. 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.
- In Goldie Gold and Action Jack, Goldie is part of the Fiction 500, but she has a Limited Wardrobe. Some of her outfits are grand, like her white fur coat and Stylish Protection Gear, but she also has simple outfits, like her red evening dress.
- Suyin Bei Fong of the Metal Clan in The Legend of Korra wears a simple yet commanding set of green robes most of the time, complete with a necklace set specific to the Metal Clan. Her older half-sister Lin is forced to wear similar robes at one point, complete with a Metal Clan necklace as well.
- In ancient times, simply wearing clothes that had colors other than shades of brown or grey was a sign of wealth. It's why colors known by such names as "Royal Blue" and "Royal Purple" exist: those colors hardest to come by were worn most famously by the royalty.
- In most Chinese Kingdoms and Empires, yellow has been a royalty-only color. Likewise, Purple was a King/Emperor-only colour in the Roman and Byzantine Empires.
- Until the advance of chemical industry and the invention of artificial dyes, blue and purple dyes, especially, were extremely difficult to produce from natural sources. Only the most extremely wealthy and/or powerful could afford them.
- Ultramarine was a dark blue pigment that could only be created naturally by crushing Lapis Lazuli gemstones. It's price was so astronomical that at one point it was only used in depictions of the Virgin Mary.
- 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 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.
- 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.