Etiquette 101: So You Think You're "Old Money" Because You Dress the Part? Think Again.

old money etiquette manners
Etiquette 101: "Old Money" Manners Courtesy of Michael Stillwell/Getty Images

The ceaseless "old money" trend continues to appear not only on our screens but also in our wardrobes. Those who subscribe to it want to be carbon copies of Blair Waldorf and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, donning crisp khakis, and tweed jackets. Men who participate roam around like young JFK Jr.'s in billowy white shirts. Before the aestheticization of everything, this style was simply called "preppy." On TikTok, there are even guides to hairstyles, jewelry, interiors, and vacation destinations that are associated with this class. The trend is based on material, but the truth is: pedigree is most advertised by manners.

What these social media users and moodboard composers appear to miss is that aesthetics are simply not enough. The key to remember is that proper etiquette, like wealth, is passed down from generation to generation. While discourse surrounding the differences between old money and new usually contain massive generalizations, those in hospitality industry seem to agree that manners, despite a few exceptions, are typically indicators of social class.

"Old money is usually very quiet, very discreet, and appears truly elegant throughout a day at the Palace," Andrea Sherz, General Manager of Gstaad Palace and the Executive Committee Chairman at The Leading Hotels of the World, tells Town & Country. In the summer, clay tennis courts and an Olympic sized pool are filled with travelers who shy away from the flashy Ibiza scene. In the winter, the indoor chalet-style lobby is filled with guests who spend their time playing board games after their time on the slopes nearby. The dress code in the evening is strictly enforced, prohibiting baseball caps, hoodies, polo shirts, t-shirts, ripped jeans, and athletic shoes in restaurants and bars during the evening. According to Sherz, their clientele is usually well-mannered and refrain from drawing too much attention to themselves. "Our guests enjoy the 'old-European' kind of ambiance and want to dive into the ambiance we create. They don't try to change it, but rather adopt it in respect to all other guests and the legacy of the Palace itself."

Sherz mentions that his staff is generally treated well by the guests, but the elegant oasis of the Gstaad Palace is sometimes ruffled. Once, the hotel welcomed a family who booked for several nights but checked out shortly after their arrival. "The gentleman went up to me directly and said, 'It's not bling bling enough for my wife.' So they instead traveled further to another Swiss Alpine destination better known for that," Sherz says. "Gstaad Palace's 'Bling' is not based on showing off wealth nor partying 24/7. We prefer to offer a more discreet way of luxury, a Swiss lifestyle that celebrates the bright sides of life while leaving space for everyone in our community. We expect everybody visiting the Palace to treat all our colleagues nicely. Those who cannot follow this guideline, regardless of how much money they might have, do not belong to the Palace family."

There are even some indicators in the restaurant business that extend beyond knowing which forks to use for which course. "Old money makes a reservation, new money thinks they already have a reservation," Gina Tucci, a longtime fine dining restaurateur in New York City and Connecticut says. Her son, Max, is certainly a little more democratic when it comes to his guests at his fine dining restaurant, but still values manners above wealth. "I once accommodated a table with a billionaire heiress. She gave a horribly low tip and when I asked her why she said 'We mustn't spoil them.' I was absolutely offended, and that was the last time we dined together. Understanding grace and being polite are obtainable for both old and new money."

Strict social codes are what defined literature throughout the 1920s which often comment on class differences. Take Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence (1920), for example. For most of the book, the social expectations of old moneyed New England–which even says that it's not dignified to force foreign acquaintances to entertain travelers–suffocates her protagonist Newland Archer who is considered a part of that world. Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925), of course, outlines the differences between the Buchanans and Gatsby through behaviors and leisurely activities between them. The characters in Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dolloway (1925) are hyper-aware of their social standings. The old money characters value family history, and those of the lower class have difficulty moving up.

"I think you can tell just by the little gestures," a longtime doorman on the Upper East Side tells T&C. "They ask how your day is going, ask about your family, where you're traveling to. The ones that think they're somebody are the most high maintenance and can be annoying about it."

Some may say, "Who cares?" if one is old money or new money. In truth, it doesn't really matter, and ill-mannered and well-mannered folks exist in all circles. But, there is consideration to be made for basic decency. "I would upgrade people for free all the time when I worked as concierge when I first started. It didn't come out of my paycheck and it really wasn't a problem for the property," Danielle Olson, an events and hospitality professional, tells T&C. "I was recently at the Ritz Carlton in the Cayman Islands. Started chatting with the concierge person about wanting to do yoga courses in India. Hours later, he sent me a welcome basket filled with body scrubs, pillows, tissue paper, and a list of the 10 best yoga schools in India. People who work in hospitality are there to help you, and kindness can certainly enhance your experience."

Wharton's characters succumbed to the strict codes of social class, but in truth, the unspoken rules and regulations were set in place to avoid fuss and public quarrels. Perhaps, some should consider this regardless of whether one is old money, new money, rich, poor, clad in cashmere, or draped in neon.

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