From the seventh grade to the second year of high school, my outfit on the first day of school was almost always the same: a denim mini skirt that barely adhered to the rule of “has to reach the end of the fingertips”, ballerinas, a pearl necklace, and an Abercrombie polo. It was the mid-2000s and that was the height of cool in my opinion.
I think of this outfit genre a lot, not because it looked particularly good, but because arguably the biggest fashion trend right now is Y2K, or a modern take on the bright, busy chewing gum styles of the early 2000s, influenced by those 70s psychedelics and themselves overt sexiness. This style is loving at times referred to as “waste”. It’s in contrast to the aesthetic I’d say it played a more crucial role in the 2000s, at least for other middle-class white girls in New England: preparation.
Nobody really uses that word anymore, but in the past few years I’ve started seeing his offspring on TikTok, Pinterest, and Instagram. Smooth whites in khakis and oxford shirts laze on a sailboat; Tweed blazer inside a Ivy League library; Tennis skirts and croquet in front of someone’s summer house; Blair Waldorf and The talented Mr. Ripley. It goes online under various monikers, sometimes categorized as dark science (or light science if it’s a picture of a sunny setting), the WASP look, or the celebrity lifestyle, but the most common descriptor I see is “Altgeld Aesthetics”.
It’s kind of a hilarious name on the nose; “Old money” sums up what all fashion trends are, namely abnormal consumption. And yet it seems to arrive on time, as a counterweight and companion to the loud, whimsical design associated with Gen Z and the name brand-heavy “California rich” Look how the Kardashians were made inevitable.
While GQ predicted the preppy Comeback in 2018, it referred to menswear brands pairing prep with streetwear in a semi-ironic nod. This is not what #oldmoneyaesthetic pictures and videos crave for: you want to the uncompromisingly presumptuous Ivy League-Slash-Oxbridge Kennedy’s fourth cousin Country club Mood. They want to name their children like “Thrive” and “Montgomery”, after the many old money baby names TikToks that are out there. “WHY BE LA RICH, IF YOU CAN BE SO RICH?” Reads a comment below such a video (although the fact that many of them are set to Lana Del Rey adds an additional absurdity).
Unlike the years I’ve had several Abercrombie tote bags pinned to the inside of my closet as a kind of deranged shrine, the difference is that there are people out there who have context about the less Pinterest-friendly story of. deliver prepared and rooted wealth on the same platforms on which it spreads. It’s not that no one noticed how racist and classicistic the Abercrombie aesthetic is (remember, terrible “look politics”?) was at the time, but the review didn’t necessarily reach its target audience of teenagers obsessed with the brand. Social media has helped change that: on TikTok, for example, the popular story and film account @deadhollywood made a recent video about how the trappings of the leisure class are actually “the high point of white supremacist fashion, not rednecks and camouflage”.
“This style is the absence of flesh, the absence of blackness, the absence of extravagance. And that’s why it’s so damn boring, ”she explains. “It particularly relies on the slimness, refinement and elegance of white women as opposed to the fleshy, maternal, non-sexual but overly sexual body of the black woman.” The slightly fascist influences of minimalism and Coco Chanels Relationship with the Nazis. While the biggest indictment of the 2000s preparation came from places like Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel of the same name, in which the protagonist recognizes the emptiness of boarding school hierarchies on the east coast, the backlash this time around is much more direct.
Prep has always been conservative by nature, although a lot of young, progressive blacks and queer people are embracing the 2021 iteration online. Ana Quiring argued in the LA Review of Books Earlier this year, that an aesthetic like dark science “de-exceptionalizes the elite school environment as much as it romanticizes it,” and argued against the cynical view that the visual subculture glorifies photos of books and libraries rather than the actual books themselves, or the longing for the old money lifestyle only serves to revere the upper class.
Beyond that, however, the old money aesthetic strikes me as a pendulum swing against the ubiquitous display of wealth in society today, much like the way Prep was both a backlash and an inclusion of “Trashion” in the 2000s. Billionaires and influencers, both symbols of “new money”, set the standards and expectations for a dignified lifestyle, while old institutions such as royalty and high society buckle under the weight of social and economic change (see also: Society of New Yorkers complain that the Met Gala has too many influencers and wealthy Hamptons residents resent their even richer new neighbors). The new upper class doesn’t seem to care or care about good taste even dress yourself. Note to the tech bros: If you want to secure your place in cultural history, you might want to dress better.
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