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The rise of the old money aesthetic

Grab your linen shirts and Ralph Lauren loafers. Old Money is back with a vengeance. Amassing a hefty 54.3 million views on TikTok alone, the Old Money Aesthetic is dominating social media at the moment. But with some videos recommending outfits upwards of thousands of pounds, should we really be glamorising a trend that excludes so many wealth groups?

The Old Money aesthetic found its roots on TikTok in the summer of 2023. It’s a hashtag associated with “quiet luxury”, quality garments and the lifestyle to match. Popular videos see montages of champagne flutes, signet rings and – you guessed it – plenty of Oxbridge content too. The aesthetic is best embodied in an upper-class twentieth-century style found in the likes of the Kennedys, Princess Diana and even fictional characters like Blair Waldorf of Gossip Girl. Many have credited the TV show Succession with this revitalised fascination with inherited wealth, but the rise of “nepo baby” influencers like Sofia Richie and Hailey Bieber has also had a huge part to play. 

The trend for looking quietly (but obviously) expensive has found a new muse for the internet age. Sofia Richie, described by Business Insider as being the “epitome of Old Money,” is a social media influencer and daughter of singer Lionel Richie. Well known for adopting Vintage Chanel, tailored Ralph Lauren and “clean girl” aesthetics, Richie has become an aspirational figure on Instagram and TikTok. This natural progression of trends from one generation to the next is to be expected, but our desire to imitate someone who has inherited such enormous wealth in a society so crippled by inequality is also undeniably strange. With Rishi Sunak reportedly considering cutting the inheritance tax and recent studies predicting a rise in premature deaths following the cost of living crisis, it might be time for us to reconsider our casual idealisation of the wealthy online. 

Amidst a torrent of content advising lifestyles possible only to the top 1%, there are an equal number of posts recommending cheaper fashion duplicates that can help you “cheat” the Old Money look. Old Money isn’t as unattainable as it was in the mid-20th century, and yet the internet is abuzz with articles dedicated to uncovering the “subtle differences” between someone from “old” and “new money”. Old money “imposters” are being simultaneously encouraged to exist and exposed online in a move so egregiously classist it’s hard to believe we won’t look back on it with horror. 

In a post-pandemic world of economic instability and cost-of-living crises, we have to wonder why we’re choosing Old Money and expensive-looking clothes now. Naturally, fashion, and how much people are willing to spend on it, has always been influenced by the rise and fall of economies. Following the bedazzled OTT-ness of the early 2000s, for instance, the 2008 recession saw a spiked trend for minimalism. Such minimalism is also a clear feature of the Old Money aesthetic but luxury items (another key Old Money staple) saw a notable downturn in popularity after the 2008 financial crisis. 

Another possible reason for the popularity of Old Money is that it offers escapism at a time when many countries have been plagued by cost-of-living crises. Fashion, in some way, has always been able to offer a break from reality. Following the 1929 Wall Street Crash, a desire for fashion escapism manifested in cinema. The 1930s was a period that saw the chief wardrobe or costume consultant credited for the first time on screen. Clothes were important, expensive and exuberant, as actresses offered something most movie-goers could only dream of. Today, microtrends like #Europecore and resort fashion have provided Americans with a rest bite from the turmoil of US politics. Many people, clearly, are seeking some kind of distraction online and in what they choose to wear.

But it’s what these trends are distracting us from that proves most important of all. The Old Money aesthetic may just be playful escapism for some, a desire to forget the economic bleakness that surrounds them. But the hashtag is a powerful symbol and one with a damaging and problematic history. The Old Money lifestyle, for all its glamour, is a product of centuries of wealth inequality. It’s built on the fantasy of belonging to a certain class that has excluded those of lesser means and prospered whilst others struggled. It’s not the dressing up to look expensive that’s the problem here but the mindset behind it: one that, intentionally or not, romanticises classist and elitist ideals and perpetrates the notion that inherited money is somehow worthy of our adoration. 

Image Source: Eric Longden/CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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