Table of Contents
- The “old money” aesthetic is making a comeback in the new decade, a reversal of 2010 new money trends.
- The trend is showing up in fashion, decor, and hobbies among Gen Z and millennials.
- It’s aspirational and nostalgic, and reflects an economy that changed a lot in a short amount of time.
Prep is back, and it’s bigger than ever.
Think WASPy dinner parties, country clubs, and summer sailboat vibes. Over the last year, Gen Z and millennials have cultivated an “old money” aesthetic that romanticizes the aristocratic upper-crust lifestyle, and a certain form of privilege untouchable for many.
It says a lot about what people disliked about the decade we just left behind — and what we want the next one to look like.
The aesthetic first gained a foothold among Gen Z, who took to TikTok to share “old money” inspiration: polo, croquet, lush gardens, and Italian villages. These scenes became inspiration for both fashion and decor: riding boots, Gucci crossbody bags, floral wallpaper, and lots of vintage. Meanwhile, millennials picked up leisure-class hobbies like sailing and golfing during the “solitary leisure” days of quarantine.
In some ways, it’s a rejection of the casual, new money looks of the 2010s, on display both by Instagram influencers and the hoodie-wearing millennial billionaire class. In other ways, it’s a practical consequence of how a supply shortage and a lockdown changed the economy in ways that will be permanent. And in still another sense, it’s an expression of escape: away from the traumatic events of the young 2020s and toward a nostalgia for another time.
Old money fashion is aspirational
Oxford shirts, tennis skirts, and tweed blazers are taking over social media. Gen Z is plastering Ralph Lauren campaign ads from the ’90s and vintage tennis photos all over TikTok and Instagram — and they’re spending big to recreate the looks.
Vox’s Rebecca Jennings first reported on the “old money” aesthetic in fashion, writing that Gen Z lusts after “the unapologetically pretentious Ivy League-slash-Oxbridge fourth-cousin-of-a-Kennedy country club vibe.”
TikTok users have rediscovered prep and are driving the trend, Morgane Le Caer, content lead at Lyst, told Insider. The global fashion shopping platform has seen increasing demand for preppy styles. Over the week ending on September 24, searches for leather loafers were up by 28%, pleated skirts by 16%, Peter Pan collar shirts by 23%, and pearl necklaces by 29%.
The trend is also referred to as “dark academia” or “light academia” depending on the setting, La Caer said. “It embodies the socialite lifestyle represented in culture by shows and films such as ‘Gossip Girl’ and ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley,’ and is the perfect opposite to the ‘California Rich’ aesthetic that was made popular by the Kardashian family,” she said.
It’s also a response to the casual outfits that typifies the new millennial billionaire class: Dressing in the polished way of a northeastern socialite is ultimately a rejection of the tech CEO’s hoodie and sneaker ensemble.
Old money on the walls
The old money aesthetic has also made its way inside homes.
The posh look first took root in form of the “grandmillennial” vibe that some millennials gravitated towards pre-pandemic, rich in porcelain figurines, English antiques, chintz wallpaper, and brocade curtains. They were seeking décor inspiration everywhere from English country houses to neo-preppy brands like Rodarte.
This maximalist vibe was a response to the minimalist, neutral trends that have reigned over Instagram’s early days. It picked up during the pandemic as millennials and Gen Z eschewed mass-market home decor for vintage furniture, partly a result of supply chain issues and partly as a quest for sustainable and stylish items, Insider’s Avery Hartmans reported.
But the pandemic also morphed the desired look into one with old money vibes. Look no further than The Wall Street Journal’s recent advice on decorating with “old money tastefulness.”
Both trends have the same classic appeal, said Alexandria Kochinsky, a former event planner and writer who runs a grandmillennial inspo Instagram account, but how they manifest in fashion and decor has an important distinction.
The grandmillennial aesthetic, she told Insider, carries the air of a sophisticated parent or grandparent, whereas the old money aesthetic is slightly preppier and more appealing to a younger audience.
“Old money is about projecting an impressive born-into-it wealth, whereas grandmillennial can be more sentimental and approachable,” she said. “If I were to personify the two, I’d say Blair Waldorf is a good example of the old money aesthetic, and Zsa Zsa Gabor is grandmillennial.”
Old money leisure has taken over
Country clubs, yacht clubs, and old money hobbies like golfing and boating have enjoyed a pandemic boom.
During quarantine, these pastimes replaced the group activities typical of social leisure, like amusement parks, concerts, and crowded bars and restaurants. And they continued to remain popular even as the economy reopened, especially as people grew wary of indoor activities again during the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
US boat sales hit a 13-year high last year, per the National Marine Manufacturers Association, with younger first-time boat buyers leading the way. Online resource Discover Boating saw site traffic increase by 90% year-over-year through May among those ages 18- to 24-years-old, with millennials comprising the largest number of visitors overall. Experts expect the upswing in interest to last for a long time.
A similar story is unfolding out on the green. Golf play in the US increased by 14% from 2019 to 2020, according to Golf Datatech, the largest uptick since the industry market research company began tracking the data in 1998. Even spending on golf equipment is on the rise, with retail sales up by nearly 50% in June, July, and August compared to those months two years prior, per data from The NPD Group.
Millennials in particular are feeling the pull of the game. In a study by global consulting firm GGA Partners and Nextgengolf, 60% of them said golf became more important to them during the pandemic. It found that millennials are also more willing to invest their time and money in the country club lifestyle, favoring private clubs — a key part of the old money lifestyle.
The old money aesthetic is a search for nostalgia
The rise of the old money aesthetic is a tale of aspiration, but at its roots is a desire for nostalgia. Research has shown that, in moments of instability, we are more likely to feel nostalgia.
It explains why nostalgia marketing has reached a fever pitch during the pandemic, why the wealthy have turned to collectibles as a hobby, and why Gen Z sent the world into a Y2K craze. The old money aesthetic is just the latest nostalgic trend, reminiscent of a time when WASP culture dominated.
A return to these classic vibes is a backlash to everything that characterized the past decade: the tech billionaires, the influencer class, and even the experience economy.
But younger generations have lost the ability to escape the tech of the 2010s. They are taking this inspo to the same platforms that spawned the very trends they’re rejecting. And, ironically, they’re aspiring to the looks of inherited wealth while lambasting actual generational wealth as income inequality rises during the pandemic.
As author Kurt Andersen wrote in his 2020 book, “Evil Geniuses,” which explored how changes in the postwar economy increasingly encouraged a turn toward nostalgia after the 1960s, “It is ironic how digital technology — newness incarnate, the essence of the present and future — has reinforced our fixed backward stare and helped mesmerize us into cultural stasis.”
At its core, though, the rise of the old money aesthetic signifies a search for a different time period than the one we were just in, an escape from the trauma of an unprecedented time.