‘Old Money Aesthetics’ and Dark Universities Take Over TikTok and Pinterest
In Grades 7 through 2 in high school, my outfit from the first day of school was almost always the same: a denim miniskirt that barely met the ‘must reach your fingertips’ rule, ballerinas, a necklace. pearls, and an Abercrombie polo shirt. It was in the mid-2000s, and that’s what I understood to be the pinnacle of cool.
I often think of this kind of outfit, not because it looked particularly good, but because arguably the biggest fashion trend right now is Y2K, or a modern take on shiny gum styles. and busy early 2000s, which themselves were swayed with ’70s psychedelic and overt sex appeal. This style is sometimes affectionately called “trash”. This contrasts with the aesthetic that I think played a more defining role during the 2000s, at least for other middle-class white girls in New England: prep.
No one really uses that word anymore, but over the past few years I’ve started to see his descendants sneaking up on TikTok, Pinterest, and Instagram. Supple whites in khaki pants and oxford shirts bask on a sailboat; tweed blazers inside a Ivy League Library; tennis and croquet skirts in front of someone’s summer residence; Blair Waldorf and The talented Mr. Ripley. It goes through different nicknames online, sometimes categorized as dark college (or light college if it’s a picture of a sunny setting), the WASP look, or the mundane lifestyle, but the descriptor I see more often than not is “the aesthetics of old money.” “”
It’s sort of a hilarious name on the nose; The “old money” gets right to the point of what all fashion trends ultimately are, which are manifestations of conspicuous consumption. Yet it seems to arrive just in time, as a counterweight and companion to the loud and whimsical design associated with gen Z and brand name-heavy “Rich California” look at the Kardashians made inescapable.
While GQ predicted the preppy back in 2018, he was referring to menswear brands incorporating streetwear prep in a semi-ironic nod. This is not what #oldmoneyesthetic images and videos covet: They want to the shameless pretentious Ivy League-slash-Oxbridge fourth-cousin-of-a-Kennedy Country Club atmosphere. They want to give their children names like “Prosper” and “Montgomery”, according to the many old TikToks baby names that exist. “WHY BE RICH WHEN YOU CAN BE SO RICH?” read a comment under such a video (although the fact that many of them have a Lana Del Rey soundtrack adds an extra layer of absurdity).
What’s different this time around, compared to the years when I kept several Abercrombie shopping bags stuck inside my closet like some sort of deranged sanctuary, is that there are people who provide some context on Pinterest’s less user-friendly history of brewing and rooting wealth on the same platforms where it spreads. It’s not that no one has noticed how racist and classist the Abercrombie aesthetic is (remember its awful “politics of appearance”?) was at the time, but the review wasn’t necessarily reaching its target audience of brand-obsessed teens. Social media helped change that: on TikTok, for example, the popular story and the movie account @deadhollywood made a recent video on the fact that the attributes of the leisure class are “the pinnacle of white supremacist fashion, not rednecks and camouflage”.
“This style is the absence of flesh, the absence of Darkness, the absence of extravagance. And that’s why it’s so boring, ”she explains. “It relies particularly on the thinness, cuteness and elegance of white women in contrast to the fleshy, maternal, non-sexual but overly sexual body of the black woman.” The same kinds of discussions take place about, say, slightly fascist influences of minimalism and Coco Chanel relationship with the nazis. While the biggest indictment of 2000s readiness has come from places like Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel of the same name, in which the protagonist realizes the emptiness of the East Coast residential school hierarchies, this time around. the backlash is much more direct.
The readiness has always been inherently conservative, although many young and progressive of color and queer are embracing its 2021 iteration online. Ana Quiring argued in the LA book review earlier this year that an aesthetic like the dark academy “de-exceptionalizes elite school environments as much as it romanticizes them,” arguing against the cynical view that the visual subculture glorifies photos from books and of libraries rather than the books themselves, or who aspires to the lifestyle of old money only serves to revere the upper classes.
More than that, however, the aesthetic of old money strikes me as a pendulum against the ubiquitous displays of wealth in today’s society, just like how the preparation was both a backlash and an embodiment of the ‘trashion’ in the 2000s. Billionaires and influencers, both emblematic of the ‘new money’, set the standards and expectations for what counts as a dignified lifestyle, while old institutions like royalty and high society give way under the weight of social and economic changes (see also: new Yorker society complain that the Met Gala has too many influencers and wealthy residents of the Hamptons resent their new even richer neighbors). The new upper classes don’t seem to care about good taste or even the clothes themselves. Note to Techs: If you want to secure a place in cultural history, maybe start dressing better.
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