Survive 2020 The Old Money Way

The first edition of the Old Money Book was published in 2013. Byron Tully, an American writer living in Paris, recently updated the book to reflect changes in the world since the coronavirus pandemic began. This is a carefully researched, thoughtful, and practical book. It is a must-have for anyone interested in Ivy or traditional style. In its pure form, that style is an eloquent and elegant expression of a set of values and a particular way of moving through the world. Those values are sometimes reduced to terms like understatement, dignity, sprezzatura or duende – with perhaps too much emphasis on the latter two. This book explores the former two values, and explores why they are not only timeless, but why they are particularly relevant as we go through a global pandemic that will likely be followed by a period of economic uncertainty.

In normal times, the lessons in this book are a valuable reminder that clothing – even if it is a closet full of the “right” clothing, with jackets tailored to show the ideal amount of shirt cuff or trousers that break perfectly – will not make one a gentleman. Mr. Tully offers vivid examples of how the clothing will look like costume on those who do not have the manner and outlook that aligns with the style. Indeed, if one were the same size as the late Charlie Davidson of The Andover Shop, wearing his hand-me-downs would not necessarily confer the same sense of dignity or panache upon the wearer. Mr. Tully emphasizes how style is about much, much more than the clothing alone.

His book asks a central question for anyone interested in traditional clothing: why? Is it to signal alignment with a set of values, or a social aspiration? To signal respectability in order to represent trust and probity for clients? To demonstrate a certain sense of cultivation of taste? Mr. Tully emphasizes that clothing alone will never convey status if, the minute one opens one’s mouth, that the tone and words suggest a person at odds with the sartorial framing.

The core values of Old Money are intended to help weather storms like the one we’re currently experiencing. Mr. Tully outlines the principles by which new money survives these periods to become old money. He emphasizes that most old money families live well within their means, and don’t live with anything approaching the glamour of a 1990s Ralph Lauren advertising spread. He highlights the importance of understatement: financial reversals in times like the current pandemic won’t be as visible if one isn’t living paycheck to paycheck. Even if those checks were substantial.

Mr. Tully is rightly critical of the manic consumerism inherent in mass-market fashion, and gently points out that the same kind of consumerism can be found among proponents of traditional clothing. The pandemic underscores the importance of delayed gratification when it comes to purchases. The money spent on the fifth suit, the sixth blazer, or the bespoke whatever might be better off saved or invested, earning compound interest or capital gains.

He urges us to remember that an off-the-rack suit in the hands of a good tailor can become something highly flattering. But he pulls no punches. He cautions readers not to put too much faith in the power of any suit to solve their problems. No suit, no matter how bespoke the tailoring or how proper the fabric, will fill the void of low self-esteem. He notes that while a bad suit can cost one the job, the good suit will not necessarily win one the job or the romantic partner. There is an optimal balance, and it skews towards the more affordable end of that spectrum. If you’re a regular reader of Ivy Style, you’ve probably already internalized the lessons of what to wear and what to avoid. The Old Money Book takes things a step further, and offers a gentle but firm reminder that too much attention to one’s appearance can result in something which looks too keen, too fussy. Remember what was said of former prime minister Anthony Eden: “He looks too well put together to be a gentleman.”

The frayed-cuff, moth-eaten cashmere sweater, Boston-cracked-shoe aspects of patrician style lend themselves to the pandemic. They don’t call attention to themselves in ordinary times, but they feel especially apt during a crisis that has affected billions of people, killed over a million people, and may put many more into financial straits. Dressing in flamboyant go-to-hell clothing right now seems like the height of hubris: to telegraph that one has been unaffected by the financial crisis feels too much like wearing breeches and a powdered wig in Paris in the early 1780s.

A few aphorisms from the book highlight these insights. It is less about the money you have, versus the money you’d like people to think you have.” And Extravagance is the fear of poverty and the need for attention. Discretion is the fear of nothing and the need of nothing.” These are true now, but will remain just as true after the pandemic. Mr. Tully is eloquent about delaying purchases until one is at a certain financial level. The real sprezzatura of patrician style comes from the sense of ease of knowing that one has options as a result of having resources.

The Old Money Book should be required reading, along with Paul Fussell’s Class and Nelson Aldrich Jr.’s Old Money, for anyone interested in the patrician mindset that informs the decisions that shape traditional style. — ANV

ANV writes about the intersection of society, New England history, and style when he isn’t doing other things.

21 Comments on "Survive 2020 The Old Money Way"

  1. Old Money style is all about probity, forbearance, and aristocratic values.

    Nothing telegraphs this notion more than monkstraps in what Tom Wolfe called the “Boston cracked shoe look”.

  2. Old School Tie | December 1, 2020 at 11:49 am |

    Not feeling those outfits, to be honest. The old chap in the suit, fine, but the author….not so much.

  3. I dig the upholstery, the intricate molding, and what we can see of the floor-plan. They need to do something a bit less sprezzatura with the lamp cords, do away with whatever is the eclectic looking thing hanging in the archway? between the two rooms, and nix the chandelier and wall sconce. Not thrilled with the threads either.

  4. @Old School Tie

    Shame on you, sir! Old Money style is all about humility, thrift, frugality, and gratitude for the abundance all around us, even when we are low on resources. It’s about “doing more with less” as this video says:

  5. I think cosplaying as Old Money is a great adaptation strategy for living in the decadent dystopian Kali Yuga clown world. I’d been planning to write an essay along the lines of my cool piece on ’30s Apparel Arts/aristocratic Ivy.

    There’s also the concept of the dandy as self-made aristocrat, a topic that I’ve contemplated for 28 years. Dandyism is, according to Baudelaire, the last stroke of heroism in times of decadence.

    I just came from an epic errand run biking around Newport. Each time I seem to dress up a bit more. I have a feeling by January 1 I’ll be in three-piece suit and watch chain just to go to Stop & Shop.

  6. We are to admire, acquire, aspire to, be inspired by, covet, copy, co-opt and/or craft and emulate this?

  7. @NCTrad – I wondered the same thing the first time I saw that photo. I enjoyed the book when I read it, before I really knew much about the author. After all, much of it is just common sense stuff. I wish I never saw that photograph now…..

  8. john carlos | December 1, 2020 at 4:35 pm |

    CC- Have you discovered any trad shops during your biking excursions around Newport? I spent the summer of 1974 there and can’t recall any, although I was still in law school at the time and didn’t have much extra money to be spending on trad clothing anyway.

  9. Charlottesville | December 1, 2020 at 4:57 pm |

    I am afraid that I am not a big fan of the clothes either (particularly the pic linked by NCTrad, which seems anything but understated) but to each his own. However, the advice neither to spend more than one can afford nor to look to clothes to change one’s life is certainly sound.

    I also hope more people will follow Christian’s example of dressing up a bit more. I’m still in coat and tie most days even if, as today, I venture no farther from my home office than a quick trip to the grocery store. I just feel comfortable dressing as I do even though the “U” way is generally to underdress a bit. I even hope to find an excuse to wear a suit at some point this week; perhaps to go to my office in town tomorrow, even though no one else is likely to be there. Give it a try. You may find that you enjoy it and it may provide some surprises; an acquaintance recently asked me if I would be co-trustee of her personal trust, and noted that one reason among several was the way I dress.

  10. I believe that Mr. Tully has a rather sly sense of humor. He may be pulling your leg in “The Photo.”

  11. @Christian

    Stop & Shop is very fortunate to have you as a customer. As the website “People of Walmart” can attest, it is extremely rare to see a man in a three-piece suit and gold watch chain grocery shopping.

    Baudelaire’s dandy is in “the most flawless dress at any time of day or night.”

  12. whiskeydent | December 1, 2020 at 5:36 pm |

    A bunch of people born on third base thinking they hit a triple.

  13. “I think cosplaying as Old Money is a great adaptation strategy for living in the decadent dystopian Kali Yuga clown world. I’d been planning to write an essay along the lines of my cool piece on ’30s Apparel Arts/aristocratic Ivy.

    There’s also the concept of the dandy as self-made aristocrat, a topic that I’ve contemplated for 28 years. Dandyism is, according to Baudelaire, the last stroke of heroism in times of decadence.”

    Rise above it–looking great. Stiffen the upper lip, throw the shoulders back, chin high…and onward.

  14. @Charlottesville:

    Dressing well is the best revenge.

  15. @john carlos – The only trad shop that comes to mind in Newport is The Narragansett on Bowen’s Wharf. Today, it is more accessories than the full service shop that you are thinking of. In 1974, it was known as The Narragansett Clothing Company and located on Memorial Boulevard a couple of blocks east of the new Tennis Hall of Fame facility. They carried Southwick and had both men’s and women’s lines.

    Of course, in 1974, Bellevue Avenue also had Thompson-Forbes, Cabbages & Kings, Pappagallo and Peck & Peck. All long gone.

  16. Otis Brewster Hogbottom III | December 2, 2020 at 11:22 am |

    I’ve said it before, but suit trousers that are uncuffed look cheap and unfinished to me, no matter how great the suit looks otherwise. Kind of off topic for this post, but someone mentioned they liked the suit, so I had to speak up.

    I like the look on the cover photo (though not in “the photo”, though I also suspect it was meant very tongue in cheek). It reflects where we are now realistically.

    Unlike Mr. Chens, I don’t think I will be wearing a suit to Stop & Shop anytime soon. However, just wearing corduroys or chinos and a button down shirt counts as being overdressed around here theses days. I wore a tie for thanksgiving (the roasted turkey tie from Chipp, natch), and people were in disbelief. Can’t wait to rock some Christmas ties around the fire pit.

  17. Love Love Love Byron Tully and The Old Money Book!

  18. @Hardbopper:

    “do away with whatever is the eclectic looking thing hanging in the archway?”

    I believe that is a mirrored panel, not an arched opening –

  19. Vern Trotter | December 18, 2020 at 1:50 am |

    How can anyone wear trousers with no cuffs?

  20. This is a tough group. Dear God, people. The two gentleman look fine. Life would be better if the male populous at large dressed nearly that well. Great article. I should’ve skipped the comments.

  21. The cover design of that book is appalling. It looks like it’s headed straight to the fifty-cent shelves at the Salvation Army.

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