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When I started researching my latest topic, I quickly felt myself falling down the rabbit hole: my Google soon had as many opened tabs as there are TikTok trends. A gazillion, that is. It started with me typing ‘old money aesthetics’, and ended with my head in my hands, lost in Wiki Aesthetic pages by the names of Preppy, Boujee, and Sloanie (which, I know, sound like mischievous Bichon Frisé triplets but are in fact names of different styles).
Each of these fashion tendencies, which have only confused us millennials with their swiftness of change, is described in detail and illustrated by examples, but one term captured my attention: Quiet Luxury. What an oxymoron, I thought. Is luxury ever really quiet?
This Vogue article is calling it a ‘trend’, but the less is more aesthetic has been around for at least a 100 years, so could it really still be considered a trend?
This recently coined phrase seems to be depicting something that has long been known as old money style. It is characterized by clean cuts, colors that don’t leave the realm of neutral (think white, beige, navy, and brown), and discrete or rather non-existent logos. Do not be fooled, however; these items are definitely highly priced and not available to the masses.
If you’re having trouble picturing it, just think Gwyneth Paltrow in her recent courtroom drama.
Newton’s third law states that “for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
And the old money aesthetic is no exception—it has its nemesis that has been around for as long. It is at its core everything the new money disdains: loud, exuberant, and commonly logo-drenched.
Interestingly enough, when I looked up the hashtag #newmoney on Instagram, I was unable to find anything. Contrary to #oldmoney, it seems that “new money” is still very much a derogatory term.
Naturally, one wouldn’t exist without the other, and trying to decipher which one came first would be like trying to answer the age-old question: the chicken or the egg?
But, if so, what would be the philosophies behind this stylistic rivalry?
Old money aesthetics stands for a certain nonchalance, which is the last word we would use to describe the new money style. The former implies the wearer’s wealth, which has been around for generations, is constant and thus not a worrying matter. The latter, however, is associated with sending a loud message: These items have cost a lot, and everybody must know that.
On the other hand, the logic behind the nouveau riche aesthetic is that wearing a distinguishable Dior saddle bag with a heavy golden ‘D’ hanging off of it or Chanel rubber boots with two gargantuan Cs intertwined makes it clear to even the least fashion-interested person in the world: I paid a lot of money for this.
On top of that, it also shouts the message across: I am so well-off that even my rubber boots are of a high-end French brand; you can only imagine what other possessions I have.
It’s not even only about being embedded in logos, but about maximalist style applied to every clothing item.
This means that there is no one ‘statement piece’ with subtle pieces around it. Everything is a statement piece; cuts are atypical, colors are eclectic, and as a whole, it is in your face.
Au contraire, the concept of quiet luxury, most recently rocked on the runway by the English brand Tove, lies in the premise that those who know—know. To a layman’s eye, a quiet luxury item might seem like another regular t-shirt, coat, or sweater. But it takes one to know one, and enjoyers of this style will be mutually recognized by a beige coat by the Olsen twins’ The Row or a Khaite silk dress.
However, I cannot brush past the hypocrisy of it all. Talking about money or acknowledging it in any way is considered vulgar in circles of people who’ve got a lot of it, and wearing over-the-top clothes that display your wealth in a too obvious manner fall into this category.
But, the truth is, cultivating old money style means you’re speaking louder than words—it’s talking about money without actually mentioning it. Brands like LoroPiana are seemingly saying “I am down-to-earth and humble in my ways”, but are in fact saying “I casually pay a thousand dollars for a T-shirt”. Quiet luxury brands were actually made as a sign language for those too classy to speak about the actual ducats.
What about sustainability?
Let him who is completely resistant to trends cast the first stone. They’ve been around since the dawn of time and have played a major role in the world economy since the Industrial Revolution. If something is in style, it means it will be sold and thus profited from—a business model that will never fail to deliver.
Truth be told, the classical pieces made of high-quality materials are way more sustainable than an HM x Giambattista Valli hot pink tulle dress, which I am going to go out on a limb and say is made to be worn once and thrown out afterwards.
Luckily, all hope is not lost: the vintage market has really become a thing, and in fifteen-ish years time, some excited Generation Alpha will rave about finding a rare treasure: a retro HM x Giambattista Valli pink tulle dress. Similarly, those insanely pointed high heels from the beginning of the century found their way back into mainstream fashion, even though they were so peculiar that nobody would have thought they would ever come back.
The truth is, it is a concept that uses fashion merely as a communication tool. A society divided into social classes has been around since the beginning of time, and as some of them were deemed better than others, people felt the need to make it clear where they belong. Where we live, the books we read, the music we listen to, and most definitely what we wear are instruments for differentiating ourselves from some all the while identifying with others.
This got me thinking: Is what lies behind this whole power play the Survival of the fittest? This would certainly explain why Instagram personalities have gone out of their way to convince me, a noodle-eating, couch-potatoing lass trying to write while repelling intrusive thoughts of strawberry ice cream, that their logo parade is actually a display of power.
Bougie or pretenders
I’ll go right back to the thousand open tabs on my computer and entertain the notion of Bougie (or Boujee) for a second.
The Wiki Aesthetics page defines this particular style as characterized by rose gold, heavily sequined everything, and flashy makeup, and according to it, “Boujee people are concerned with wealth, status, and all things luxury.” and spend a significant amount of time showcasing it on social media in order to gain followers.
What I found interesting is that, apparently, this style is often adopted by people with the “fake it till you make it” attitude, and when you come to think of it, it is not unheard of that people go out of their way to present themselves as something they’re essentially not, especially in the era of social media imposed perfection.
Since I believe we use fashion to express who we are, I have been thinking about where in the ocean of cores and aesthetics the way I dress could find its place in the Sun, because I simply felt that neither Boujee nor Baddie could accurately depict my stack of jeans and my favorite white sweatshirt.
This is when I stumbled upon the phrase “normcore”. As I learned on Wikipedia, “normcore wearers are people who do not wish to distinguish themselves from others by their clothing”. The article goes on to explain that it doesn’t mean the wearer has no interest in fashion; it’s just that they make a conscious effort to choose clothes that are not affected by trends or too distinguishable. Apparently, characters from the 90s hit sitcom Seinfeld are the embodiment of this style, along with brands such as Superdry, The Gap, Jack & Jones, etc.
Could Normcore be the one that threatens to overthrow the way things were functioning up until now? Or is it just another way of blending in, going unnoticed, and trying to deny the existing social classes?
Could this ancient rivalry between old money and new money style ever be overcome? That would perhaps be a bit too blue-eyed of me to wish for since, essentially it is an everlasting rivalry between social classes. As a human race, we aspire to belong; it is the way we’re wired in order to survive. And, since we live in the capitalist era, we unite in categories depending on our wealth, or more precisely, on things or experiences our wealth can buy. This is how we ended up using something as essential to our everyday functioning like clothes as a social tool in a never-ending competition called “who wore it best.”