Old Money Style is latest in Byron Tully’s thoughtful series of books on the habits and practices those who have known the best in clothing, manner, and deportment for generations. He puts these ideas into practice, and across the series, emphasizes that old money is about much more than the money itself – and that there are lessons to be learned for everyone across income and wealth levels. Tully framed the book as a complement to the other books on the subject. It was not intended to be an encyclopedic history of the clothing items and their histories, but rather a tightly-focused book on how the right clothing choices can improve one’s wardrobe – and life. It ties in to the themes of The Old Money Book and The Old Money Guide to Marriage. He reminds readers that clothing should be the background to a well-lived, well-rounded life, not necessarily the raison d’etre. It is a thoughtful handbook for someone who wants to learn more about the basics and wants to spend prudently, rather than shopping excitedly based on retailers’ tempting Instagram posts. And this ties back to one of his key themes of frugality, which is part of how new money becomes old money.
The book is an excellent reminder that the essentials of the Ivy canon are few, and one can acquire the basics quickly and (relatively) affordably. For each item, he has a thoughtful notes on ‘if you buy only one’ and ‘things to avoid.’ Once one has acquired these, there is a secondary list of the items that are ‘nice to have’ rather than necessities. — ANV
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IVY STYLE: How does old money style similar or different between US, UK, and Europe?
BYRON TULLY: This is a really interesting question. We are constantly hearing about how different people around the world are. With aristocrats and Old Money Guys, not so much. The aristocrats in my neighborhood here in Paris dress pretty much the same way as their counterparts in Britain or the United States – dress shirts, wool sweaters, tweed jackets, and corduroy pants with brown loafers. I think that part of this is that many of the old money families tend to educate their children at the same boarding schools and elite universities, which socializes their taste at a certain level. The old money look converges across cultures, whether you’re born in Boston or Delhi, Nairobi, or Shanghai.
That said, the Italians will lean into a trimmer, more fitted silhouette, but the fabrics and attitude are the same: discreet quality, speaking in code. The shoes are always top quality and often bespoke. The Brits can let fly some eye-watering color combinations of Turnbull and Asser shirts and ties under the otherwise by-the-book, conservative jackets and suits. Some of the young OMG’s in London will throw a bespoke pinstripe suit jacket on with a white dress shirt and tie, jeans, and loafers, which sounds crazy but kind of looks great.
IS: What are some of the differences between American Ivy style and old money style in Paris?
BT: Overall, the European style has mostly the same pieces, but they are more fitted than the American versions. Also, the Boston cracked shoe look, frayed collars, and tattered tweeds are something you’ll find from New England to Virginia, but not so much in Paris. Surprisingly, tan khakis aren’t as prominent here. Instead, old money Parisians wear cotton trousers in red, French blue, or lime or forest green. And because Paris is north of Boston, it is much colder here for more of the year. People wear corduroys and gray wool slacks more often.
IS: Do Americans in Paris tend to adjust their style over time?
BT: When I meet Americans who have moved to Paris, I can look at their wardrobe and tell how long they’ve lived here. After two years, one dresses more like a Parisian than an American: the ubiquitous black sweater, white dress shirt, and black pants or jeans creep into your wardrobe. It’s a funny metamorphosis to experience, personally, and interesting to watch as it happens to others. Still, I do enjoy throwing on an orange sweater, red corduroys, and a checked tweed jacket and going to a Parisian cocktail party where everyone’s dressed head to toe in black. My Parisian friends just laugh. “The American is here! Everybody, put on your sunglasses!” That said, the French tend to get more colorful with their tweeds, incorporating pinks, purples, and lime greens fearlessly.
IS: Is there a greater appreciation for style among Parisians than, say, old money in Boston or New York?
There is. The Parisians are appreciators of style, but they do not suffer fools gladly.
The pecking order for Parisians is as follows: are the suit and shirt off the rack, made-to-measure, or bespoke – and if so, who is your tailor? No one will ever ask you. They’ll just make a head to toe appraisal with a single glance and make their own (often accurate) calculation and assessment. If you’ve made a bad choice with the ensemble, they will turn away. If you’ve done well, regardless of how much (or little) you’ve spent, they will nod in appreciation, and may even compliment you outright. “Très elegant, monsieur” is something I’ve heard more than once here in Paris; one rarely hears the equivalent in Boston or New York.
IS: In the book, you write that old money ‘thinks about their clothes, but not too much.’ Why is too much of an interest in clothing atypical for old money?
BT: By ‘think about your clothes,’ I mean this: purchase quality pieces that are versatile, classic, and durable. Take care of them properly. These aren’t ‘investments’ in the traditional sense, but choosing timeless pieces and caring for them ensures you won’t need to replace them as often. You want to understand clothing well enough to wear the ensemble appropriate for the occasion, but not obsess over them. After that, you should forget about your clothes, do your work, fulfill your responsibilities, and have a good time. Clothing is just the backdrop to a life well-lived.
The idea of ‘dressing to impress’ is foreign to old money. They don’t have to, so they don’t. They dress appropriately, and that’s the full extent of it most of the time. Also, they learned early on not to call undue attention to themselves. The dandy dressing in exaggerated version of old money style looks like a caricature.
IS: The style, without the broader approach to life, would feel like nothing more than a costume?
BT: Exactly. Old Money Style isn’t just about changing one’s clothing, it is about changing one’s life. In it, I advise, “You will need to become familiar with the rules of etiquette, pick up a second language, travel, and read broadly. You will need to mold and shape yourself into a gentleman.”
IS: In the book, you wrote, “True style is noticed by others slowly if at all.” Could I ask you to expand on this idea?
BT: True style emphasizes the wearer, not the garment. There are no logos front and center meant to quickly signal status. The quality and cut of garments speak to those who can hear the message, but not to everyone. This is why it may take a while for the average person to recognize that someone is well-dressed. With more astute observers – your boss, other people in positions of influence – this style is noted almost immediately. Then, as I say in the book, they watch to see if your manners, speech, and performance match the look, and rise to the same level.
IS: Your books are almost a vaccine against consumer culture. After reading them, one is cured of any desire to follow the latest fashions or spend too much money.
BT: Good! You’re paying attention.
IS: Along these lines, you wrote, “There must be a time when comfortable people say, ‘I don’t need to show everyone how rich I am, how different and special I am, or how much I can get away with. I need to show everyone how much we have in common and how we should all behave.”
BT: I’m not going to condemn the dandy, but I will say this: it’s easy to have a great Instagram life and a mediocre real life. Putting too much attention on your wardrobe and not enough on your education, career skills, manners, reading list, and relationships is not a new problem for men, but it is exacerbated by social media. It’s also counterproductive to being financially independent: very few men can chase the season’s latest fashion and have any money left in to save and invest. What many men are trying to communicate by being well dressed is a sense of being worldly, of know what’s really going on in the world, of being in control of some part of it.
But this is about more than clothing. You can’t be worldly if you’re not well-read. You have to educate yourself, consistently, over a lifetime, inside the classroom and outside of it. And you can’t be control of much of anything if you’ve spent all your money on your wardrobe. A financially independent man in khakis and a button-down is much more stylish than a fashion plate who has to go to a job he hates every day.
IS: Who is the intended audience for Old Money Style, and what lessons do you most hope that they can take away from the book?
BT: I’d like a young man who’s just graduated high school or college to be able to read the book, absorb the ‘Starting Five’ concept of a limited but versatile wardrobe, and feel like they’ve got a handle on dressing well, regardless of how much (or little) money they have to spend. I’d like a young man who’s in line for a promotion at work to have a style manual he can turn to and upgrade confidently, again, without breaking the bank.
Here’s the heart-wrenching – and avoidable – experience that I don’t want any man to experience. Consider someone who is qualified and has worked hard, who is putting themself on the line every day to put food on their family’s table and to give his kids a better life. He’s in line for a promotion, but he may not know how to dress well or present himself well. He deserves the promotion – but he may not receive that opportunity for something as minor as his choice in clothing.
I’m in that guy’s corner, saying: Follow these rules on dressing well. Know these fundamentals. Put these ensembles together. Avoid fashion. Know that you’re being watch and judged on weekends, when you’re off the clock, and adjust accordingly. Upgrade. I never want anyone to feel ‘less than’ because of the way they’ve dressed.
The guy I’m coming down hard on is the guy who’s just made or inherited money, or who’s been born with it. It’s time you put a sock in the bottle service at the club and set an example on the street. It’s time you did what you should do and not just what you can do, simply because you’ve got money to burn. There’s a blog post I wrote entitled Will the American Aristocracy Please Step Forward. It’s about accepting the obligations of your position, and not just enjoying the privileges. This is much more a part of the fabric of European life, where families have had wealth, position, and privilege for centuries. Men know what’s expected of them, and it’s not trivial. They enjoy their horses, whiskey, and, let’s say, liberties, with full abandon, but when it’s time to stand up to injustice, they do that with equal if not greater commitment, consequences be damned.
I hope, in addition to dressing subtly, simply, and well, young men will recognize this, look for the common ground we all share and common goals we all aspire to, and do their part, great or small, to build a better world.