Old Money Attribute: The Work Ethic

We talk a lot on this blog about how to dress and how to behave. Traditional, discreet clothing and manners are two of our big talking points, and I’m delighted by the enthusiastic support our readers give to these topics.

However, I’ve received a couple of emails recently from well-intentioned young people who are asking about what brand of shirts Old Money people wear, where they vacation, and how one can meet and befriend Old Money Guys and Gals. While I understand ‘where they’re coming from’, I’ve got to address this on the blog so we can nip it in the bud.

Old Money people are individuals. They generally dress a certain way and have a tendency to buy and wear certain styles of clothes, but not all of them do anything the same way all the time.

The unglamorous truth about the Old Money culture is this: it’s not about what clothes OMG’s are wearing or where they’re vacationing. Their clothes are usually functional because their priorities are elsewhere: they’re working, most likely.

The people who want to be Old Money are busting their behinds to make money, squeezing their brains about how to wisely invest it, and trying to instill–by example and sermon–Old Money values on their children so that the family fortune isn’t squandered by the 2nd generation.

That doesn’t leave much time for primping in the mirror or posing for selfies. The real deal OMG’s are similarly inclined, if by slightly different experiences: they’ve been raised by parents and headmasters who don’t cotton laziness or flamboyance. ‘Style’ is a school uniform growing up and a generationally-instilled template of cardigans, khakis, button-downs, and loafers.

The priority for the OMG isn’t looking good, it’s doing good. The accomplishments of ancestors must be honored, if not equalled or surpassed.  These 3rd Gens and beyond can’t drop the ball: their education and careers have benchmarks, self-imposed or otherwise, that have to be met.

What all this boils down to, again, for Old Money and New, is hard work.  Old Money works to keep it through minding the expenses, honoring the values, continuing with the hard work, and communicating all of these important themes to the next generation. The First Gen of Old Money has to do all this, plus make the initial nest egg.

So put the Work Ethic first, and then let the wardrobe fall into line along the fundamentals we talk about here and in The Old Money Book.

Finally, a word of caution: I wouldn’t recommend trying to find out where Old Money Guys and Gals vacation or socialize in order to meet them and befriend them just because they have money. OMG’s are predisposed–almost genetically–to spot this kind of behavior from a mile away. When they encounter it, some of them will be polite and distance themselves with diplomacy. Some of them will be downright rude and cut the perpetrator off at the knees without a second thought.

If you don’t heed my warning and try to ingratiate yourself with OMG’s with a hidden agenda or under false pretenses, don’t come crying to me when you get busted and publicly humiliated as a poser or gold digger. I rarely say this, but will say it in this situation: I told you so.

Prioritize the Work Ethic. In Old Money culture, that’s what makes it and keeps it.

  • BGT

17 thoughts on “Old Money Attribute: The Work Ethic

  1. Well said. I would like to add that although Old Money people may have a fortune in stocks, bonds and real estate and maybe a wing of the local hospital named after them or a building at their alma mater with their name on it, they also turn off the lights when they leave the room in order to save a dollar or two on the electric bill, have their shoes re-soled, continue to wear their OCBDs after the collars have frayed and always tip 15%. They are never going to “make it rain” or throw money around in an attempt to impress anybody. If you think that your new “Old Money” friend is going to shower you with money and gifts, you are mistaken. Besides, as Byron says, they’re too busy working.


    1. I agree with you Amy except for the 15pct. If the service is reasonably acceptable bump it up a couple bucks to 20. No one will know except you, it’s really nothing and it could be your kid who you are tipping. Besides after a couple glasses of wine the math is easier 😉


  2. Working is an important for self actualization, socialization and discipline. Also many old money families are asset rich but only have so much money distributed to them, so money earned is needed for living expenses. Not to mention expenses if you are living in a large inherited old money house that costs a fortune to heat, removing piping for lead and having very careful asbestos abatements.

    I will take my morning routine of a brisk early morning walk, brewing up a thermos of coffee and heading into the city for a full days work over not doing anything any day.


  3. Dear Mr. Tully,
    Thank you for your work to promote solid values in a world that seems to flash the opposite in our collective consciousness.

    If you will allow a bit of personal reflection here… I would consider my family middle class, but historically, old-money adjacent. This is because our family identity coalesced in the 1700s within the banking industry. The term I always heard growing up was “Dutch Enlightenment Values.” I believe that our family inherited strong traditions and values due to its working relationships with, and proximity to, OMGs. One can always learn from good examples. Education and Work are core values. We have an unusual tradition of not passing on an inheritance, but rather donating one’s wealth to charity. This is done to avoid ‘dissipation.’ One exception would be any family property on the historical register. Such a property would not be considered a windfall, but rather a heavy responsibility. Each generation makes its own way in the middle class tradition, but with the advantages of top tier education and social connections. I believe my forefathers had the fortune to work with and learn from OMG families and that has influenced my life, today. If you are fortunate enough to find a person of substance in your working or personal life: learn from them! Your family could benefit for generations to come!

    Also, as a note, I much enjoy your recommendations for clothing. I am often perplexed and saddened by fast fashion. Back in the 90s, one could go to almost any store and find American-milled cotton clothes for a reasonable cost that would last decades. One has to go out of one’s way to find durable clothing these days.


    1. Thank you for sharing, Rachel. It sounds like you’ve been exposed to–and absorbed–a lot. Yes, globalization has exacted a toll on getting quality traditional clothing. Persevere! – BGT


  4. Most of these people asking where to buy clothes, vacation, etc couldn’t (in the words of Jack Nicholson) handle the truth anyway. They want flash and dash to impress their friends and that’s not how we roll. We tend to ‘blend in’ and no one seems to like that very much in this day and age.


  5. I would echo much of what has been said. Many of us are also guided by old Puritan values of thrift and working with purpose. And the money can be tucked away in old properties, trusts etc…


  6. “. . . trying to instill–by example and sermon–Old Money values on their children so that the family fortune isn’t squandered by the 2nd generation. . . That doesn’t leave much time for primping in the mirror or posing for selfies. The real deal OMG’s are similarly inclined, if by slightly different experiences: they’ve been raised by parents and headmasters who don’t cotton laziness or flamboyance.”

    I cannot tell you how many undergraduates I meet in my six courses a year who have no readily apparent or discernible work ethic. A select few do, and they tend to do well in their university work. . . and probably will later in later adult life. But most young people I come across each year do not have this quality.

    My own jaundiced but nevertheless informed view is that if work ethic is not present by 18, it will not suddenly appear, for most, by 22 or 23 when they graduate. There is a certain window of time in and with which parents or caregivers must work to instill certain positive values and habits. Clearly many, many such figures have dropped the ball on this particular point if we are brutally honest about the situation.

    Sure, an abundance of largely fleeting and disposable material goods along with the latest chirping-burping digital toys may be/may have been present, but the more important intangibles that permit someone to succeed in life, rather than drift aimlessly, seem absent. How very sad. Again, if we are brutally honest with ourselves as a society, no attempt to impose such values from the top down will change things.

    Best Regards,



    1. Thanks, Heinz-Ulrich. You’re right. I think it has to be a grassroots movement. Keep an eye out for those lucky few who get to attend your classes…and have the work ethic. – BGT


  7. This was spot on. I teach at a boarding school. What I wear is just that — clothes. It’s the work that matters. That’s what I tell my students, too.


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