Fascinated by old money: worrisome development or harmless phenomenon?
Tennis courts, vintage cars, mansions, and a fascination with the closets of Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy. A new trend is visible on social media: the noble and aristocratic lifestyle and clothing style is in vogue. Is this a glorification of colonialism or is it a harmless phenomenon? Univers asked Associate Professor of Digital Culture Tom Van Hout.
Videos in which you can recreate the so-called “old money aesthetic look” are popping up like mushrooms. In these videos, people from wealthy backgrounds—old money—are the main source of inspiration. Their clothing styles, sports, vacation destinations and names are glorified en masse. Influencers explain to their followers how, according to the chic old school, it is really “how it should be”: dress like John F. Kennedy, act like Princess Diana, go on vacation to Saint-Tropez, and feel exalted if you wear the first name Eloise or Alexander. The inspiration videos are immensely popular as the videos have been viewed billions of times on TikTok alone.
Polder snob Jort Kelder also seems to be on a new popularity march. Together with fellow snob Yvo van Regteren Altena, he discusses proper etiquette, traditions, the drab present, and nostalgic past every two weeks in his podcast The Snobcast (in Dutch). The episodes bear titles such as: “whining about signet rings” and “chattering castle lords.” The ironic and humorous undertones are abundantly present and yet the exaltation for the old elite spills over. For example, Van Regteren Altena wears a watch with a leather strap that has only one hole in it. Why? It is of course custom-made, exactly as it should be according to proper custom.
Old money aesthetic look: worrisome development?
Despite its popularity and humorous resonance, there are also growing concerns (in Dutch) about this emerging trend. The reason? According to critics, the noble and aristocratic lifestyle and dress style is inextricably linked to the way these families made their money in the past. Thanks to colonialism, slavery (in Dutch), exploitation of workers, and often unfair business deals, they built their family capital. In addition, these families were so influential that they used their wealth to make laws and regulations work in their favor.
Another critical note focuses on the exclusive nature of old money families. People of color, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, and those who are independently building their own capital do not get a foot in the elitist door. So the question critics are asking aloud: should we want to make an example of these families?
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To answer that question, Tom Van Hout, associate professor of Digital Culture at Tilburg University, says it is important to know where the fascination with the rich comes from. He explains that the fascination with the lifestyle of the rich-and-famous is of all times: “For decades there have been programs on television that depict the lives of the rich. Consider television programs such as ‘Hoe heurt het eigenlijk’, ‘Gooische Vrouwen,’ and ‘Echte Gooische Moeders.’ Ordinary citizens find it hard to imagine living in mansions and bearing noble titles. This makes the lives of the rich fascinating to many people.”
Fascination with old money
Van Hout explains that this fascination is related to a form of escapism: “In uncertain times, people like to seek solace in nostalgia. Vintage photographs of rich people from the last century and entertaining television programs and podcasts about elite customs fulfill this need. Therefore, it is logical that right now—in times of COVID-19, the energy crisis, the housing crisis, and the climate crisis—this trend is (re)emerging.”
The fascination with old money is, therefore, not a worrying development, according to him: “In nostalgia-driven television programs, podcasts, and TikTok videos, political issues such as the colonial past are not central. So when the viewer or listener marvels at the clothing and lifestyle of the rich, it does not necessarily glorify the dark pages of accumulated family capital. And while the ‘old money aesthetic look’ is related to colonialism, a person on TikTok does not perpetuate racial inequality when liking or sharing a vintage photograph.”
According to Van Hout, it is, in fact, hopeful that this new TikTok trend raises such questions: “It is important that we are aware of the dark pages of the colonial past. We also do not need to make a secret of the fact that capitalism, both then and now, goes hand in hand with exploitation, unfair business deals and exclusion. That this subject is being raised again thanks to a TikTok trend is a step forward.”
Translated by Language Center, Riet Bettonviel