‘Old money’ is the new aesthetic

8 Mins read

The cost of living crisis is on everyone’s mind. But how is our fascination with ‘Old Money’ playing into this?

Our fascination with the rich has existed for as long as time itself; whether it be the Royals or a reality show on your favourite celebrity family and if you spend any time on social media you will know that this interest has infiltrated our screens too.

From insights into day-in-the-lives of private chefs to street interviews with those that live in the most affluent parts of the city, there is something intriguing about the often unattainable. But what has interested the internet like nothing else is the idea of ‘Old Money’.

Bearing in mind that this trend carries many synonyms such as ‘quiet luxury’ or ‘stealth wealth’, it can be hard to keep up with the ever moving cycles of popularity, but what does #OldMoney even mean?

The Cambridge dictionary states it to be a term “used to refer to rich people whose families have been rich for a long time”, in other words it is generational.

The old ‘Old Money’

When we think of rich families, the first to come to mind for many is undoubtedly the Kardashians. But in the universe of Old Money these are just the examples we are being expected to steer clear of.

For a long time, the Kardashians have represented a type of wealth and celebrity dynamic that had never been seen before. With their father being a successful lawyer, and them starring on what began as a lighthearted family reality TV show, back in the early 2000s no one could predict where their fame would lead to.

By the mid 2010s, they were synonymous with a type of glamorous luxury that involved private yachts, hourly social media updates, and 72-day marriages.

Six women (The Kardashians and Jenners) posing in a line
The Kardashians [Disney]

Whilst they have effectively changed the way in which they brand themselves over the years, a similarly extroverted nature to their wealth remains.

It was only a few birthdays ago that Kim Kardashian spent her 40th on a private island during a global pandemic, before going on to caption a picture from this getaway “40 and feeling so humbled and blessed.”

As you can imagine, this was not read well.

How to do it

Since then, people have reimagined what their pinnacle of wealth might be and it’s no longer the Kardashian-esque brand new designer attire that once reigned in the most Instagram likes. 

Fashion is central to the Old Money aesthetic. Some staples include cashmere sweaters, absolutely anything Chanel, pearls, borderline businesswear and always muted tones – a large focus on being understated and effortlessly put together.

And luckily for the Gen-Zers who are pushing this trend to greater strengths, the logistics of such fashion trends work in their favour. 

As this generation begins to enter their 20s and employment, traditionally this would have come with the added bonus of a greater disposable income and more financial freedom, but due to the global cost of living crisis this has not been the case.

Flashy designer wear would be out of reach anyways, so those with Old Money aspirations have benefited from the timeless attire that is expected of such a look.

Much of these staples can be found on second hand clothing sites or even as simple as raiding a parent’s wardrobe, allowing them to be trendy whilst also on a budget.

Maddie Josephine is a fashion content creator on TikTok who gives tricks and tips on relevant trends. Her video on ‘Old Money on a budget’ has amassed just over 26 thousand views and involves vintage pieces as well as clothing from Target and Amazon, all pocket-friendly options.

With those in her comments asking for “more”, it is clear to see that whilst many of us will never attain the lifestyle to its full, the fascination with it has led to convenient fashion choices.

@maddiejosephinee How to get that old money outfit aesthetic on a budget! Featuring some of my favorite amazon clothes, and vintage pieces! #oldmoneyoutfitinspo #oldmoneyoutfitideas #trendyamazonclothes #bestamazonclothing #amazonoutfitidea #neutraloutfitidea ♬ Lo-fi hip hop – NAO-K

But there is some irony in that during a time of most significant financial insecurity, we are looking to imitate a group of people that seem most out of reach.

A similar phenomenon was seen during the 2008 recession in which fashion took a huge hit. Research shows that whilst the wealthy continued to spend in their usual ways, more uniformly, the fashion and retail industry shifted towards a more understated look. There were even reports that during this period the luxury retailer, Hermes, swapped their bright orange gift bags for a more modest brown paper prototype.

Once the recession was over in the summer of 2009, the logos, glitz and glamour were predictably back, but where does this leave those navigating those cultural changes?

The Sofia Richie Effect

No one has been the poster face for the Old Money aesthetic like Sofia Richie. Once exclusively known as the daughter of 70s pop icon Lionel Richie, the model and social media personality has since gone through various rebrands, and her more mature style of late is the internet’s favourite.

It was her wedding to fellow music nepo-baby, Elliot Grainge, this past summer that first launched her into this realm as she unexpectedly started her TikTok account during this week too. Sofia gave details into her opulent South of France wedding both on her personal account and through a collaboration with Vogue Magazine.

The bride had three separate Chanel dresses custom made for her, a long list of high profile attendees including Paris Hilton and Cameron Diaz, and her father as the wedding singer.

Man in a suit nd woman in a wedding dress, stood by the sea
Sofia Richie and Elliot Grainge wedding [Instagram: @SofiaRichieGrainge]

But the old money aesthetic influence didn’t stop there. It extended into her hair and beauty too as she repped a light and natural face for the most of the weekend (a majority of it done by herself!), leaving her now 3.4 million followers on the app to comment “omg I never want this wedding to end” and “I didn’t know how much I loved Sofia Richie till this year.”

So whilst Sofia has certainly benefited from her father’s $200 million (£158m) net worth, her affiliation with the Old Money style itself has been very recent. Prior to this year, the last time we heard of her was when the then 19 year-old was dating the infamous Scott Disick.

Back in 2017, Sofia Richie was a regular member of the Kar-Jenner clan, often featuring on episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, both as Kylie Jenner’s best friends and later on as the new girlfriend of Kourtney Kardashian’s ex. All whilst her father was in disagreement with her very public relationship.

But this turbulence is all simply a tale of the past now that she is the style revolution that so many women are aspiring towards.

Personal stories

Millie, a final year student at Cardiff University, reflects on her own personal style evolution.

“When I first started Uni towards the end of the pandemic my style was definitely fit for my age. I was 18 and obviously clubbing and meeting a lot of people at the same time so my outfits were definitely fun.” says Millie.

“I wore a lot of cargo trousers because they were versatile and typically matched those with one of my many tops that I had separated into a ‘going out’ collection and others that were more for everyday use. Plus maybe four pairs of trainers that I would rotate,” she added.

“Especially during my first year away from home, I felt a lot of pressure to buy new clothes and outfits for each event or any time I had to go out and I would do that. But because this cycle wasn’t the cheapest, most of these pieces would be from high street or fast fashion places.”

Now coming towards the end of her biochemistry degree, Millie looks back on how her style has affected her consumption.

“When I compare my wardrobe now to two years back there are so many differences. The most obvious one being that it’s much smaller. Part of this is probably to do with the fact that my timetable doesn’t allow me to go out as much as I used to so I have not needed as many new clothes.” she explains.

“But even with the clothes I do have, I think it is definitely trendier to have a capsule wardrobe of a few good pieces that are more. You see more and more people doing it. It makes me feel more put together.”

This is clearly more than the clothing styles that the Old Money aesthetic has encouraged, as with the sense of maturity comes a feeling of order too.

On screen

Traditional media is no exception either. Mid-2023 saw Succession return for its fourth and final season. Since its debut in 2018, the Netflix and HBO drama series has followed the affluent Roy family, and the trials and tribulations that come with deciding which of the children will inherit their father’s media empire.

Whilst on the surface the show playfully critiques right-wing media corporations and the ultra billionaires behind them, this has been executed in a way that is both accurate and caters for the audience’s fantasy of quiet wealth.

Kieran Culkin, who plays one of the Roy sons, revealed in an interview that HBO hired wealth consultants to give both the writers and producers an insight into how their characters would typically behave socially and financially.

“We did a take where we all got out of the helicopter, and they told us, ‘You would have been doing this your whole lives. You know where the propeller is. You wouldn’t be ducking your head.'”

A family posing in a decadent room
Succession [HBO]

But this effortlessness that is associated with Old Money can be found in the details too.

Whilst the Roy’s would imaginably have the money and wardrobe space to home as many logo heavy shoes and bags as their hearts could desire, the inconspicuous nature of fashion choices amongst the elite, instead end up steering them towards brands that certainly carry the price but perhaps not the status to match the wearer.

The top 1% are notorious for wearing names that you would only know if you too were a part of this inner circle and the costume team behind Succession nail this perfectly.

To name a few, within the final episode, Shiv, the youngest and only daughter of the Roy family played by Sarah Snook, can be seen rewearing an outfit from episode 2. Whilst this feeds into the idea that traditional wealth is less showy and there is more leeway for outfit repeaters, the numbers behind these pieces give a different perspective.

With the co-ord being from Altuzarra, the blazer retails at $1,795 (£1,409) and the matching trousers at $995 (£781).

Generally, Succession has received praise for the way that such families and the ultra rich have been represented, commending them for accuracy and attention to details.

But on a larger scale, the discourse around accuracy and the authenticity surrounding being rich proves the idea that it is the aesthetic that is appealing, and there is reward in ‘playing the role’ correctly, more so than how long the money has actually existed within such families.

And off screen

No one knows how to play a role better than an actress herself. In early 2023, Gwyneth Paltrow gave testimony in a civil court case that dates back to 2016. A retired optometrist claimed that due to Paltrow colliding into him during their time at a ski resort, he was facing life-changing injuries and was seeking $300,000 (£235,479) in damages.

As if a Hollywood court case set amongst the same slopes that were used for the 2002 Olympics, wasn’t stealth wealth enough, there were many details to note on the cinematics of Paltrow’s run-in with the law.

To begin with, her proposed counter suit for $1 (79p) really decentralised her wealth from the hearing. In opposition to the hundreds of thousands her opposition was asking for, Paltrow denied charges and just asked that any legal fees be covered.

But the drama, as discovered, truly lies in the dressing.

As someone who is noted for usually opting for her bohemian-esque style that fits in with the aesthetic of many of her health and wellness ventures over the recent years, the internet went into a frenzy over her muted colour choices, cashmere knitwear (much of which was from her self-founded clothing brand G. Label by Goop) and preppy glasses.

Whilst on the surface, the dramatics of a typical celebrity court case had spectators hooked, the general fascination with how those in top financial brackets ‘behave’ during these settings is what makes it clear that whether money be old or new is far less important than how things at least appear.

During a cost of living crisis, where everyday expenses rise disproportionately compared to income, the allure and performance of traditional wealth has become an escape for many people.

It’s a lifestyle aesthetic that they can both observe whilst picking and choosing what parts to adopt accordingly and it’s just that; an aesthetic.

Featured image courtesy of HBO.

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