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Old Money VS New Money

Photographed by Paige Hassen of Ella See, Jazmin Anderson, Amanda Whitaker, Jenna Nguyen, & Lakshmi Narayana
Styled by Jhovany Rodriguez & Cheveney Koski
Directed by Layla Castro
Hair and Makeup: Skylar Medes
Photography Assist: Ava Darbyshire

By Ella See

Old money versus new money; a concept we have heard for years, a comparison now misconstrued by fashion enthusiasts and critics. Can we create barriers for these kinds of aesthetics, and what do they really entail?

Old money holds the visual of elegance and wealth in its highest, most powerful form. Old money is just as it states, it’s a kind of status that is established throughout generations. It’s not something attained by climbing up the work ladder and becoming a CEO. It’s captivating due to its unattainability. According to dictionaries, the term is defined along the lines of individuals whose families have been wealthy for lengthy periods of time. As for new money, it’s a concept interpreted as modern wealth; rich but not generationally. It is recently built, it is freshly acquired, and it is youthful. What is compelling is how this difference in monetary status has reached the realm of fashion, décor, and visuals in general.

This contrast in fashion is most observable in real time where we can see the behaviors of different statuses. Since new money is just as it sounds, more modern and relevant, we often see the habits and behaviors of this wealth among social media. Platforms like Instagram, Tik Tok, and even Pinterest were not around until recently, therefore modern fashion is now expressed heavily through these types of media. It’s how we are exposed to current trends, brands, and even the designers behind the brands. High end fashion on both ends, new and old money, have built a stereo-typical image for themselves. Modern wealth can be commonly linked to branding, mostly due to the rise in luxury brand trends in our society. New money is easier to detect, not only is it a different aesthetic, but the tone, colors, and accessories prove to be different. Where the old money image is timeless, new money fashion is drowning in Gucci, Balenciaga, Dior, and other highly acclaimed designers. Labels tend to overwhelm modern fashion sense, and this could be due to the difference in values and education of those labeled by ‘new money’. Typically, people who’ve attained modern wealth want to flaunt their fashion, belongings, and general way of life. Families who come from old money are generationally educated in ways that others are not, and their history of wealth takes away the urgency to show off their status. They’ve been handed money from older family members for various decades, even centuries, so wealth is nothing new to them. It’s almost as if some of these individuals have a jaded view of prosperity. Security and abundance are all they know, so we don’t see them spending money as evident.

Delving more heavily into the specifics of fashion between the two statuses, there’s a diverse range of branding. Old money is all about steering from the fast fashion we see today, it’s a kind of style that doesn’t get overused, it’s simple, almost quiet. Old money is typically basic colors, grays, crème, whites and soft blues. Occasionally we see stripes in pants or sweaters, but the overall concept isn’t obnoxious or busy. Old money tends to be preppy with tennis skirts, polos, and subtle statement pieces like a belt or hat. Given this image, brands like Ralph Lauren capture the sense of timelessness and class that comes with generational wealth. Ralph Lauren has always advertised and marketed in ways that paint elegance and old money, so inherently, it’s a common brand used for this aesthetic. Burberry and Hermés are two other examples of luxury brands that imitate tradition and class. The craftmanship behind these brands is tedious and excessive, making them so expensive and well acclaimed. Typically, we see pant suits, trench coats, clean blouses, and other crisp more serious designs from Burberry and Hermés, making their target audience anyone who wants to attain the old money aesthetic, but who can also afford it. As for new money, we often see heavy patterns, and gaudy jewelry. Louis Vuitton is commonly seen in younger, wealthy people, however, even a jacket or purse from their brand isn’t subtle in the ways other fashion is. The trademark Louis Vuitton pattern is often plastered all over their clothing, making it easy to spot wealth when it's worn. The same goes for brands like Gucci. The Gucci belt trend took hold of pop culture just a few years ago, but the only thing making it a trend was the recognizability of status. Wearing a Gucci belt meant you could afford a Gucci belt, once again, pushing this behavior of flaunting status. We see these trends die extremely quickly, in ways that old money fashion does not. Elegance and class don’t weave in and out of trendiness, it stays how it has been for decades. The fashion we see with modern richness is completely the opposite, ever changing, and never quite predictable.

Very interestingly, the media has portrayed this comparison of status through various popular films. Much like fashion, cinematography is an influential way to capture the demeanor of both aesthetics. A well-known example of this concept in film is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, which has been adapted into four different motion picture pieces, the most recent being released in 2013. In each reimagined film, the two main characters from the novel are brought to life: Daisy Buchanan who’s married to Tom Buchanan, and the lead Jay Gatsby. An article written by Hakar Taha Khalid analyzes the depiction of class between the characters. “Tom is a member of the upper class and his fortune, and possessions are inherited. On the contrary, Gatsby is a nouveau riche who comes from a modest background and has built his fortune in the land of opportunities” writes Khalid. Tom and Daisy represent the term ‘old money’ because they come from families of wealth, they were raised in it, and had done next to nothing to grow that wealth. They were simply rooted in it. While Gatsby has, as the book displays, built his prosperity from the ground up. The plot follows Jay Gatsby’s unadornment with Daisy, using his acquired riches to draw her attention. Yet her social and class status isolates her. Internally she rejects his advances and appears untouchable due to her long line of prestige, and wealthy upbringing. This film does an excellent job of proving how in many cases, old money is held to a higher standard due to its power, and even the wealthiest people can be looked down on for their lack of generational relevance. It didn’t matter what kind of parties Gatsby threw with his riches, or the fashion he flaunted, he didn’t have the long history behind his name like other characters. The film successfully captures a setting that is practically dripping with money. The styling, home décor, and lifestyle of the characters perfectly illustrate inherited wealth and excessive materialism, especially considering it takes place in the 20’s which reflects an era where many generations of wealth began.

Recently, pop culture has been rapidly consumed by the fame of Saltburn, a twisted, lust filled film produced by Emerald Fennell. Its unique plot and strange character set makes the movie more attractive. However, the luxurious, strange, yet vibrant fashion throughout the film makes an interesting contrast with the elegance of the movie's setting. The highly acclaimed film takes old and new money and intertwines them in a way that is unusual and exciting. Saltburn is the name of Felix’s family estate, a classy looking mansion located in the English countryside. While the estate proves to be everything that is ‘old money,’ some of the younger characters represent the opposite. Felix Catton is the son of this wealthy family, and one of the main characters. His parents, Elspeth and Sir James reflect inherited, generational luxury. Their family embodies old money with seduction and a regal attitude. Their manor is anything but subtle, with a towering brick building, chandeliers decorating the ceilings, and elaborate furniture. The setting displays a rare virtue that comes only with long-lasting inheritance, a lifestyle beyond our reality. What is most admired by casual viewers and cinematography experts alike is the wildly fun element of fashion throughout the film. The Catton parents maintain a vision of classy attire over the movie, which illustrates the concept of older wealth. Elspeth often is shot wearing stunning gowns, some more flamboyant than others. Sir James also appears in suites and well-tailored outfits that give off a sense of power and timelessness. Overall, this is the image ‘old money’ aims to capture, a look of sophistication. Adversely, Felix, Venetia and Farleigh are the younger residents of Saltburn. While they come from a family of long-lasting money, their youth blends with their sense of fashion resulting in a modern take on style. Their costume designs are nothing like that of the older characters. There’s a heavy sense of y2k throughout their outfits. Venetia is seen sporting purple sequins with a tasseled pink jacket, and in one of the most prominent party scenes, she wears a stunning black dress with detailed, spider-web-like gems drooping from the back. Farleigh is seen in numerous colors and patterns. Even the more casual attire among the characters is tasteful, refreshing and adds to each persona. While these outfits aren’t exactly the depiction of class and old money, they still outwardly prove the wealth and confidence of the family. Where ‘old money’ fashion pushes a narrative of seriousness, this ‘new money’ look we see in films, media and daily life aims to be much more expressive.

Whether you are simply aiming to capture the look of these contrast styles, or if you have the financial status to uphold them, both categories of fashion are vastly different but nevertheless present in society today. We see them worn by influencers and fashion icons, we see them in films, and in stores. At the end of the day, fashion has no borders, and expression is completely up for interpretation. Everyone comprehends and reflects style to their own preference, however aesthetics like old and new money can harbor creativity in the aspect of film, costume design and daily life. Barriers or not, fashion is in the eye of the beholder and the labels we place on clothing are simply ideas and suggestions.

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