Nothing makes me cringe more than seeing an old money aesthetic Get Ready With Me video on my TikTok timeline. With 9.2 billion views, #oldmoney is on TikTok’s top list of trending topics. This trend points to our society’s obsession with the rich, and Gen Z’s specific version of being enamoured with their lifestyle.
Although I like the preppy style of what is deemed ‘old money’ on TikTok, the trend perpetuates dangerous racial and socioeconomic bias by ridiculing any other form of wealth that accumulated later than ‘old money,’ and glamourizing stereotypes that only white people can be associated with ‘class.’ As a black woman, this fascination with emulating a group connected to racism and inequality does not appeal to me.
#Oldmoney versus #newmoney
#Oldmoney, #quietluxury, and #stealthwealth are all trendy terms affiliated with people who were born into wealth. Old money is specifically defined as those who have inherited wealth from their families who have been wealthy for generations. One might think of the British Royal Family, the Rockefeller family or individuals like Beatrice Borromeo, a journalist who is the daughter of an Italian aristocrat. The stealth wealth trend isn’t only about wearing high-quality brands, as content creators also show how to emulate the aesthetic on a budget, making this style supposedly attainable.
In my view, TikTok’s romanticization of the old money aesthetic could be because the status of #oldmoney isn’t attainable today like #newmoney. New money is considered extreme wealth created in the current day and age. Individuals with new money have had wealth created in their lifetime and usually are self-made entrepreneurs, celebrities, and athletes.
“New money shouts, old money whispers” is a quote from Emily Post’s Etiquette that highlights the stark differences between the two. On TikTok, the old money life is the refined and classy private school and trust fund life with a nothing-to-prove mentality. In contrast, TikTok denotes new money — or the ‘nouveau riche’ — as pretentious and conspicuous because they openly display their wealth through flashy labels, and ‘lack class’ by bragging endlessly about the obscene amounts of money they spend to maintain their lifestyle.
Style determines much of the essence of the old money and new money trends. Minimalism is one of the ways to attain TikTok’s quiet luxury style, and shows such as Gossip Girl and Succession are major inspirations for it. According to TikTok, the old money aesthetic requires wearing everyday clothes from brands known among wealthy circles. Some examples include wearing brands known for the quality of their clothing, such as Brunello Cucinelli or Loro Piana, whose t-shirts and sweaters sell upwards of $2,000. This also contrasts with the ostentatious style of new money because it rejects logomania.
#Oldmoney versus race
The old money rhetoric has had real life implications. In a 2021 interview with Oprah, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle said that members of the ‘old money’ royal family were concerned about the skin colour of their unborn first child. Meghan is the first Black woman in nearly three centuries to join the British royal family, and the royal family’s treatment of her is symbolic of the relationship with ‘old money’ and racialized people. True to form, the royals were exempt from following legislation that prohibited hiring discrimination practices and did not hire minorities in clerical positions until at least the 1960s.
In my view, the old money aesthetic in itself has various racist undertones that enforce non-inclusive aesthetics, and its comparison with new money makes the undertone more apparent. Countless TikTok videos use examples of new money to show what they deem to be ‘unclassy,’ but these examples are often Black people dressed in designer clothing. Black people have also been ridiculed for engaging in the old money aesthetic with comments alluding to the aesthetic not being “for” them. In contrast, white people proudly don styles that resemble a J.Crew catalogue.
TikToks that glamourize old money reinforce stereotypes that only white people can be affiliated with elitism and class, especially since Black people are more likely to achieve their wealth through new money, due systemic inequality, a lack of employment opportunities, and housing loans due to discrimination. A study on accumulated wealth for Black and white families found the median accumulated wealth for Black households with a college degree families was 70 per cent of that of white families who didn’t have a college degree.
I believe that perpetuating the ‘new money versus old money’ paradigm endorses dangerous racial and socioeconomic bias. It suggests that white people have a unique right to inhabit wealth and prestige and incorrectly minimizes the work it takes to attain wealth for those who weren’t born into wealthy families.
Ruth Baker is a fourth-year student at UTM, studying Communications, Culture, Information and Technology and Professional Writing. Baker is the Event Director for the UTM Book Discovery Club and Blog lead and Peer Support Mentor for the UTM Health and Counseling Centre.