Gen Z is trying to dress like they're 'old money,' and it's changing what status symbols look like
- Gen Z is lusting after an "old money aesthetic" on social media, reported Vox's Rebecca Jennings.
- She argues it's a response to the new money look seen among influencers and billionaires.
- Gen Z's fashion choices are influencing the evolution of status symbols.
It really is the millennium all over again - at least in the fashion world.
Tinted sunglasses, claw clips, and spaghetti straps have taken over TikTok as Gen Z evokes nostalgia for Y2k trends. But they're also reviving another 2000s-era trend on TikTok, Instagram, and Pinterest, reports Vox's Rebecca Jennings: prep, which has evolved from polo shirts and ballet flats to oxford shirts and tennis skirts.
It's known as the "old money aesthetic," which Jennings said pinpoints the conspicuous consumption that characterizes all fashion trends. The images of this aesthetic cropping up on social media are lusting after "the unapologetically pretentious Ivy League-slash-Oxbridge fourth-cousin-of-a-Kennedy country club vibe," she wrote.
She argues that, in the same way 2000s prep was a backlash to Y2K fashion, the trend is a response to the billionaire class' casual dressing and the "California rich" influencer look - both of which embody new money.
It's not the first time that Gen Z has elicited an aesthetic that stemmed from the rejection of an ongoing trend. The summer of 2019, the VSCO girl had the internet buzzing. Characterized by a natural look that embodied a crossover between '90s fashion and a surfer lifestyle, she was a contrast to the contoured faces and lip fillers of Instagram influencers. Because she flaunted certain name brands, the VSCO girl was typically associated with being wealthy.
Gen Z's fashion choices are proof, then, that conspicuous consumption is here to stay.
Gen Z is evolving status symbols
Discreet wealth has been on the rise since the early 2000s. In the US, the top 1% have been spending less on material goods since 2007, per the US Consumer Expenditure Survey.
Such inconspicuous consumption, wrote Elizabeth Currid-Halkett in her 2017 book, "The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class," is the opposite of "conspicuous consumption," a term conceived by 19th-century economist Thorstein Veblen referring to the concept of using material items to signify social status.
It's been a growing trend among "the aspirational class" who hope to cement their status and propel social mobility by spending on immaterial means like health or education, according to Currid-Halkett. In its simplest form, that looks like buying a $30 SoulCycle class or reading a New Yorker article. Discreet wealth "reproduces privilege" in a way that flaunting luxury couldn't, she said.
But while discreet wealth has found its place among society, the revolving cycle of fashion trends shows that there will always be room for conspicuous consumption. Gen Z is just shifting what that looks like.
Shiny Rolexes and Louis Vuitton bags may have been the items of choice over a decade ago, but Gen Z is less about labels and logos and more about what a certain aesthetic evokes. The VSCO girl's preferred brands leaned toward a more cult-like, niche audience only recognizable by their peers. And the old money aesthetic both symbolized and romanticized the aristocratic upper crust, embodying a certain form of privilege untouchable for many.
Now that Gen Z is on track to lead the way in consumer influence, they're playing a role in the evolution of status symbols.
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