In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’, more than just the Long Island Sound separates the West Egg from the East Egg. While the ‘new money’ inhabitants of the West Egg host extravagant parties with overflowing champagne, live music, and breathtaking fireworks in their opulent mansions, those who reside on the opposite end of the bay choose to exercise the privilege granted by their family name – and inherited wealth – to engage in seemingly high-brow pursuits such as horseback riding, charity galas, sailing, tennis, literature, and art. While some might point out that they weren’t that dissimilar as both had amassed significant fortunes at the expense of others — it didn’t stop the East Eggers from viewing their neighbours as gauche and crass while the West Eggers saw them as entitled and arrogant – and yet they couldn’t fight the impulse to be one of them.
Nearly a century has passed since the release of the Jazz Age classic, but the debate between new money and old money continues to rage on social media platforms such as TikTok and Pinterest, thanks to Gen Z. Although most Gen Z still live under their parent’s roof and barely have enough money for an iced latte, they almost unanimously agree that they’d rather channel the quiet luxury of the old-money lifestyle than adopt new money’s proclivity for frivolity. Of course, it is quite impossible to emulate the old-money lifestyle without being a distant relative of the royal family or boasting a net worth that ends in six zeroes. Hence, Gen Z choose to treat old money as more of an aesthetic trend rather than a lifestyle goal and clown on the various shenanigans of the new money crowd from their bedrooms instead. So, let’s explore Gen Z’s interpretation of the age-old debate between the two!
The East Egg
From Gossip Girl’s holidays in the Hamptons to Succession’s crisp suits, the old-money aesthetic has long fascinated the masses with its promise of an idyllic lifestyle. Old money can be associated with surnames such as the Vanderbilts and Astors, who accumulated their wealth in the 19th and 20th centuries or were aristocrats who hailed from noble families with close ties to the monarchy. However, most of their wealth has dissipated over the years, and all that remains is their status.
Old-money families don’t flaunt their wealth by driving flashy Ferraris or sporting T-shirts plastered with logos. Instead, they favour elegance, quality, and craftsmanship – think Chanel, Hermès, The Row, Ralph Lauren, and Prada – as well as understated designs – think cashmere sweaters, silk scarves, linen dresses, and polo shirts – and pass them down generations. Additionally, they often have a deep appreciation for cultural and intellectual pursuits such as the arts, literature, and classical music and have a place emphasis on manners and etiquette.
But, why is Gen Z making – and watching – TikToks on the old-money lifestyle starring attractive white people sticking their noses in the air while Lana Del Rey plays in the background if it is so unattainable? Why the sudden urge to look like you just walked off a tennis court and cut a ribbon at a charity gala when it’s so out-of-reach? Well, this obsession could simply be a logical response to the excessive consumption and materialism perpetrated by our capitalistic society. This is especially true in the wake of fast-fashion brands like SHEIN forsaking the rights of its workers and the environment to capitalise on the biggest fashion trends. Thus, Gen Z could opt to be more conscious of the consequences of their buying habits and may be intrigued by the idea of investing in high-quality and timeless pieces as well as shopping second-hand. In turn, the old-money aesthetic could serve as a form of escapism from the endless pursuit of material possessions and the pressure to conform to the trend cycle.
As we transition to life post-covid and reacquaint ourselves with deadlines, traffic, and the other trappings of the modern world, we can’t help but long for the sweeter parts of lockdown where most of us could spend our days as we pleased. Hence, it’s no surprise that we envy those who can afford to pursue their passions and spend their days at leisure, without being tethered by financial constraints.
The West Egg
The American Dream posits that everyone has a shot at achieving success through hard work and determination. This certainly was the case with the Rockefellers and the Hiltons who made their fortunes in the oil and gas and hotel industry respectively in the early 20th century. But, what of their children and grandchildren who were born with a silver spoon in their mouths? Should we really be putting them up on a pedestal, while we ridicule those who toiled for their treasures? Yet, despite their massive wealth – which usually surpasses that of old-money families – the nouveau rich have always been considered imposters and cheap materialistic imitations of the dream; that is until the passage of time places them on the other end of the island.
New money refers to those who have only recently come into their wealth, usually through their own hard work or sheer dumb luck. This can include self-made tech billionaires, athletes, actors, models, musicians, reality TV stars, influencers, and even lottery winners. They are known for ostentatious displays of wealth such as throwing lavish parties, buying expensive gadgets, travelling in luxury, and dressing head-to-toe in designer pieces, which can be attributed to short-term wish fulfilment after years of struggling, and desperate attempts to gain the approval and validation of established social circles. From little things like wearing bold leopard prints and clunky gold jewellery to owning flashy cars and luxury penthouses – see the Kardashians, and Georgina Rodriguez – those who come from new money stick out like a sore thumb in a room full of people who come from generational wealth.
It’s plain to see why old money has such a disdain for the nouveau riche, but why has Gen Z joined their side? It could be said that the conspicuous nature of new money makes it easier to criticise in these times of economic uncertainty and wealth disparities, causing us to reject hustle culture and the pursuit of wealth and material possessions as a singular measure of wealth. But, considering the fact that influencer Sofia Richie’s – daughter of musician Lionel Richie – wedding to fellow nepotism baby Elliot Grainge on the French Riviera was considered the peak of the old money aesthetic by TikTok users, it’s safe to say that their reasons could be just as superficial, as the new-money celebrities they deem ‘tacky’ and ‘trashy’. All you have to do to gain TikTok’s approval is ditch the crop tops in favour of tailored shirts and swap the shorts for some Chanel, and you’ll be hailed as ‘old money’ and ‘classy’. Could this be why Kylie and Kendall Jenner have also – unsuccessfully – flocked to this aesthetic?
The Valley of Ashes
In ‘The Great Gatsby’, between the bustling city of New York and the sprawling mansion of the East and West Eggs, is the valley of ashes – a graveyard for the dreams of the working class. Although they dream of working their way up the corporate ladder and buying their own mansion in the East Egg like Jay Gatsby or remain content as the mistress of an affluent man like Myrtle Wilson, they will always be inextricably linked to this desolate place and will never be truly accepted by the upper-class – whether be it new or old money. Thus, although taking style inspiration from the ultra-wealthy and day-dreaming about horseback riding in a stately mansion is quite harmless, it is important to remember that these are the same people who exploit or look down on the working class – despite the fact that their lifestyles would not be possible without us – and it’s pretty impossible to fake it till you make it in a historically racist and classist society. So, maybe let’s just eat the rich instead…?
Written By: Priyanka
Edited By: Poorani