‘Old money aesthetic’: the TikTok trend that’s all about faking generational wealth

Want to look rich and give off trust fund vibes? TikTok’s latest #oldmoney trend seeks inspiration in dynastic families, famous surnames and discreet style

The fashion of Princess Diana, left, Jackie Kennedy and her sister Lee Radziwill, are being used as examples of how to dress to emulate generational wealth in the TikTok lifestyle trend. Getty Images
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As far as style crazes go, TikTok has recently given us cottagecore, chaotic academia, and coastal grandmother. The latest trend to gain over a billion views on the platform are the hashtags #oldmoney and #oldmoneyaesthetic.

The point of this latest fad is to post videos sharing what it takes to look like you come from generational wealth, even if your surname isn’t Rockefeller, Hearst, Carnegie or Tata.

This isn’t the first trend dedicated to faking wealth. Last year, “rich girl skin” and “rich person hair” blew up on the platform, showcasing the likes of Gigi Hadid, Lily-Rose Depp, and Hailey Bieber’s glowing, pore-free visages and sleek locks.

Interestingly, for a Gen Z trend, #oldmoney is overwhelmingly class-conscious and exclusionary, promoting the kind of you-can’t-sit-with-us message that sounded the death knell for preppy brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch, which famously leaned into it and paid the price.

Who is ‘old money’?

Highclere Castle, where 'Downton Abbey' is filmed, pictured with chatelain Lady Carnarvon, appears in many TikTok videos espousing the 'old money aesthetic'. AFP

“Old money” means different things in different countries.

In the US, old money goes hand in hand with a famous surname. Whether Vanderbilt, Rothschild, DuPont or Astor, old money stateside is concerned with storied ancestry and wealth that was built off the back of the actions of “robber barons” — industrialists and financiers who monopolised industry through exploitation in 19th-century America.

Further, old money inspiration can be found among Truman Capote’s “swans”, the name he gave to the New York socialites who flocked to befriend the Breakfast At Tiffany’s author. They included Babe Paley, Slim Keith, Jackie Kennedy’s sister Lee Radziwill, C Z Guest, Gloria Guinness of the famous beverage dynasty, and Marella Agnelli of the Italian industrialist family.

In the UK, old money is inextricably tied to the aristocracy and landed gentry. Family trees that go back centuries, close relationships with monarchs, grand estates and hereditary peerages. Think anyone with a title, several surnames, a castle and who makes regular appearances in the pages of the aristocratic chronicler Tatler.

Old money tends to marry old money, and keeping wealth within the family remains an inviolable trait across generations.

What is the ‘old money aesthetic’?

Polo and Guzman from Netflix show 'Elite', left, and Chuck and Nate from 'Gossip Girl' epitomise TikTok's 'old money aesthetic' for men. Photo: Netflix, HBO

An example of the #oldmoneyaesthetic can be found on HBO’s Gossip Girl, in which privileged teens run riot around Manhattan, live in penthouses and mansions, and use their parents’ connections to get out of trouble. Similarly, Elite on Netflix, which follows the lives of private school teens in Spain, including children of marchionesses, diplomats and industrialists, is jam-packed with old money aesthetic.

Old money dresses discreetly, meaning handmade loafers, heirloom pearls and cashmere. If worn at all, designer labels are low-key, think Chanel and Hermes, as opposed to Balenciaga and Dolce & Gabbana.

In the UK, old money is often asset-rich and cash-poor. Holes in jumpers, decades-old Barbour jackets, Savile Row suits: clothes are excellent quality, shoes are handmade, and all are purchased with the understanding that they will be worn until they fall apart.

Women are always immaculately tailored. Elastic waistbands are a no-no, headscarves are de rigueur. Princess Diana and the Sloane Ranger aesthetic, as recently showcased in the Oscar-nominated Spencer, epitomises old money.

Men dress like Gossip Girl’s Nate Archibald or Elite’s Guzman Nunier. Fraternity style rules and Prince Harry is a style inspiration.

New money, nouveau riche and ‘California rich’

Old money has long looked down on and been dismissive of new money. Old money sees itself as having class, new money is viewed as crass; old money is discreet, new money flashes the cash; old money wears great-grandmother’s pearls, new money is head-to-toe in visible brand names.

With the concept drenched in class snobbery, what used to be called “new money” has been renamed “California rich” by Gen Z.

In Legally Blonde terms: Warner Huntington III is old money, while Elle Woods is California rich.

TikTok users have been leaning hard into the comparisons, posting videos asking: “Why be California rich, when you can be Connecticut rich?” alongside images of country manors, polo matches, ponies, dogs and yachts.

Spin-off trends have included “old money names” (William, Henry, Meredith), “old money houses” (gated mansions), and “old money lifestyle” (polo, tennis, charity galas).

Although some fans have fallen hook, line and sinker for an aesthetic steeped in issues of race and privilege, a few voices on the platform point out that problems lie beneath the superficiality of the trend. “As a fashion aesthetic it seems to be something people are very fascinated about because it is sophisticated, it is understated,” says user @stylehard. “But old money is not always pure class.”

Updated: May 26, 2022, 6:10 AM
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