Can you think of anything much more annoying than this? A new girl showing up dressed head to toe in the most extravert clothing that you can imagine. Bright pink designer sunglasses, some flamboyant printed flairs with a matching top, and to top it all off the most ridiculous, eye-catching, but dirt-cheap looking jewellery. She is exceptionally outgoing, drives this hideous Lamborghini (pink again), and according to rumors, her family owns some enormous swimming pool which looks like it has come straight out of Butlins! To be fair to her, she is rather sweet, but you convince yourself that it is only in a superficial way. Plus, the reason she is so rich is only thanks to her parents, so now she is choosing to work her bum off to ensure she can continue their newly established, prosperous lifestyle. Nonetheless, you are mature enough now to realise that you do not really want to be cracking out 60+ hours of work a week, to have exclusive access to that kind of life. Yet, it would be nice to be able to have something a little more secure than what you have, which does not involve showing off, which seems to go with possessing a lot of money today and does not involve having to work too hard. That way, rather than being far below these people who love to flex their wealth, you will be above them, and you will not even have the need to show off! No harm in turning to nostalgia toward a life that you know that you will never experience…
What is Old Money?
Old Money refers to money that is accumulated over a prolonged period, which is passed on through generations, in contrast to money, which is accumulated by one individual throughout their lives, often referred to as new money. Those in possession of old money tend to be more discreet about their wealth compared to those with “new money.” There is often a heavy focus on image, top quality education (such as boarding schools, ivy league colleges and if you are in the UK, then Oxbridge) and a strong focus on tradition. Also, those born into families with substantial amounts of “old money” are more likely to have access to the connections required for them to enter careers of their choice. It is “most prominent” in countries where there was not an aristocracy but an “elite social class”, such as the USA. Most recently however, “old money inspiration” has been shared on sites like TikTok, a platform popular with Gen Z and younger millennials.
The Revival of Old Money
We only need to consider fashion trend cycles to think about why the revival of “old money”, at this moment in time, should not come to us as much of a surprise. This is because when Y2K was in fashion (back in the 00s, not now), “2000s prep” came in, as a “backlash”. These two styles were vastly different, with Y2K, as you guess resembling bright colours and outfits which are out there, and “2000s prep”, offering what I would say would be a more sophisticated style. And whilst “2000s prep” and “old money” are two distinctive styles, there are certainly parallels. Therefore, it should not come as too much of a surprise with old money becoming popular, during the time that Y2K makes a major comeback! Something can also be said about the implications of these contrasting styles, with Y2K resembling more of the new money style, while in contrast old money resembles, well, the style of old money!
The Appeal of Old Money
Another reason old money became popular when it did, is due to its appeal during covid times. For instance, during covid many people had their usual social activities disrupted, meanwhile some have been forced to take time off work. Naturally, this will lead people to seek out other activities to take part in, and what could be much nicer than a game of golf in the sunshine? That is of course providing one has the money, lives in an area green and grassy enough to have a golf course, and of course is not working so much throughout lockdown that they do not have the energy available. Furthermore, the whole style of old money, whether you were able to play golf or not, may have been appealing to those during lockdown, considering that it is a lifestyle miles away from the lives which most of us lead. Therefore, as an escape from the resent and anxiety most will have felt during this period, it is not surprising that they may have looked toward the lifestyle associated with “old money” as an escape, whether conscious of this or not.
Dark and Light Academia
I have also noticed that a few sources have linked “old money” to “dark” and “light academia”. While the aesthetic of academia focuses on the aesthetic appeal of high-quality education, I would say the reason for the association would be because for most of us, pursuing a good education can feel rather strenuous. And for me personally, while I am enjoying the course I am taking at university, a large motive for working hard and for choosing to take the course in the first place is that it is more likely I will have some stable, decent paying job at the end of it. Yet, would it not be nice if we really were able to just read, and learn, primarily as a pleasure, rather than doing so in the hope of being more likely to end up with a semi stable career. This way, as with dark/light academic, I would say old money can be linked to a desire to be in a privileged enough position, to learn for the joys of it, rather than merely learning for the sake of hopefully establishing financial stability in the future.
The Economic Appeal
So now we can understand how we, poor, anxious, and most likely living in some polluted town or city, would find the whole essence of old money appealing. Nonetheless, there is no one who is going to find more delight in old money than the lovely people who possess it themselves! As already mentioned, those in possession of old money do not tend to hold the urge to make a show of themselves. Therefore, with less interest in pursuing material items, including flashy cars, posh penthouses and hanging out in the glitziest of hotels, they are more likely to choose to spend their money smartly. This is known as non-conspicuous consumption. Understandably, the average Tesco goer may be wondering how this may be relevant? Nonetheless, spending on education, which has increased 3.5 times for the top 1% while it has remained flat for middle income spenders, enables those at the very top to maintain their social standing. This is by ensuring that their children are equipped with the appropriate skills for the top paying firms; meaning that as a result, their middle-class university educated counterparts would just not make the cut for. And what could be a better option than education, when the cost of it has gone up significantly in recent decades? Moreover, those with “old money” are also spending more than ever on “security and privacy”, which includes purchasing homes which are hidden from google street view! Henceforth, they really are choosing to be a world away, and a cut above the rest of us!
Why this has Happened?
In the past, only those at the very top were able to afford the most expensive goods. Yet in recent years, mass consumption has allowed those from the middle classes to access similar material goods. This way, the super wealthy need to find new ways to distinguish themselves. And what is better than spending more on education to ensure that the top jobs can continue to be exclusive to those within their social circle! Furthermore, I guess the thought of no one being able to look up your house (or mansion) on google maps does sound cool! Another element included under inconspicuous consumption is cultural capital, where people in the relevant social socials are aware of exclusive behaviors enabling them to win over someone outside these circles. Which can be as simple as knowing the appropriate small talk.
Everything Else Wrong with Old Money
It should not come as much of a surprise that the style of old money has been described as having the “absence of flesh, the absence of blackness and the absence of extravagance.” Most of us recognise that this is a problem continuously in the fashion industry, but moreover the initial accumulation of old money was very exploitative for people of colour, and highly dependent on the slave trade. For instance, Beckford’s experts estimated Britain’s debt to Africans in the continent and diaspora to be in the trillions, which had fueled British and European industries to initially thrive in those early days. And while I am not here to change anyone’s political standpoint, I will leave you to sit with the fact that the richest 400 Americans have enjoyed a 40% rise in wealth since the pandemic.
To sum this up, I hope that this post has made you aware of some of the problematic implications concerning old money. Nonetheless, while it is important to understand the numerous issues associated with this: from a historic, political, and economic perspective; there is no harm in dipping our noses into it, when concerning fashion and lifestyle, as a form of enjoyment and escapism. Which is something that we all need.