A new aesthetic trend is emerging on social media. It began on TikTok late last year, and has been slowly spreading to other platforms such as Youtube and Instagram. This trend is known as the “old money aesthetic.” Similar to many TikTok aesthetics, it focuses on achieving a certain look in both personal style and home decor.
Some common images associated with this aesthetic are people wearing blazers and prep school outfits, going sailing in white leisure outfits, playing tennis or polo, lunching at country clubs, and lounging around their stunning historic homes. The idea is to appear discreetly wealthy, elegant, and put-together. The old money aesthetic, according to Hillary Hoffower of Business Insider, is “an aesthetic that romanticizes the aristocratic upper-crust lifestyle, and a certain form of privilege untouchable for many.”
The “old money” trend is not new. In the 2000s, it was known as the “preppy” style – which was historically associated with American prep schools – but Gen Z has given it a new name. However, this new version of the trend isn’t only about aesthetics. It’s also creating discussions about old money in general, and how people of that social class live and operate in society. And trends and aesthetics often point to something that is happening in our society as well, particularly among young people. So what could be happening here?
According to Business Insider, Gen Z is rejecting the “new money” trends of the 2010s (think the Kardashians and the conspicuous consumption favoured by many wealthy people in Los Angeles) in favour of something different. While this may certainly be true, I think there is also something deeper at play. With many young people struggling with crushing student debt, poor job prospects, and unlikely dreams of home ownership, many of us want an escape from reality. Many of us dream of luxuries that we are not able to attain. The world of old money could seem like a beautiful, stress-free fantasy to escape into, if only for a little while.
There are some positives to this aesthetic. For example, dressing in the style associated with this aesthetic often gives a professional look that could be useful for job interviews, business dinners, and the like. Also, the focus tends to be on purchasing quality clothing and accessories. This can help us avoid fast-fashion purchases that wear out quickly and need to be constantly replaced, which feeds the fast-fashion cycle of cheap, often unethical labour practices and overconsumption.
However, the old money trend is not without its issues. Achieving this style requires a certain amount of money that may make the trend cost-prohibitive for many, especially if you are looking to buy high-quality pieces. Aesthetics such as old money and its sister aesthetic, “dark academia” (which romanticizes studying at elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge), are also often rooted in a level of wealth and privilege that many people cannot attain. In a sense, the old money aesthetic glamourizes wealth. Idolizing the wealth of the upper classes can be dangerous, especially when that generational wealth has, in many cases, been historically based on exploiting others (such as underpaid workers or relying on slave labour). These types of aesthetics also tend to promote an exclusive beauty standard that can make many people feel like they don’t belong. The standard, in many of the images associated with these aesthetics, generally tends to be people who are Caucasian, thin, and deemed attractive by Western standards.
Thankfully, Gen Z seems to be aware of some of these issues. What sets this new version of the preppy/old money trend apart from its predecessors, according to Rebecca Jennings of Vox, is that there are also people who are providing context about the darker history of prep style and generational wealth on the online platforms where the old money trend is gaining popularity. Some people on TikTok, for example, are pointing out the often racist, classist, and conservative history of old money. Others show examples of “old money style” while providing tongue-in-cheek commentary along the way.
Personally, I think that when new aesthetics emerge, it’s important to understand where they come from. This is not to say that we can’t find aesthetics beautiful! However, some styles have unfortunately been associated with people or societies that historically mistreated or degraded others. When investigating a new style, we must be conscious of these historic views and perspectives. As the vintage fashion community likes to say – the focus should always be on vintage style, not vintage values.
What do you think about the “old money” aesthetic? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!