Humans have imbued money with so much significance over the centuries that financial spaces (merchants, traders, banks, trading floors, brokers, hedge funds) show us the style of their times better than almost anywhere else. Even when power centers have shunned money directly (democracies), and sometimes even because of it, money has dictated the soft powers of perception and relevance.
This makes investigating the styles of finance particularly fun as their signifiers tend to hum with unsaid anger, greed and resentment. Sexy stuff generally as we fixate on ever finer granular details to indicate that our taste shows us to be worthy of holding power (and hopefully money).
There is a reason popular culture loves the Hollywood treatment of Wall Street. Even if some of the most iconic touchstones like American Psycho were meant as dark comedies we didn’t perceive them at way. We were supposed to laugh at the business card scene not get turned on. When Gordon Gecko bellowed “Greed is Good” we were supposed to know he was the villain. We didn’t. We don’t particularly like watching these heros get their comeuppance. Giovanni Ribisi in Boiler Room ratting out the pump and dump scheme doesn’t leave a very satisfied audience but oh how we loved the second act when the gambling prodigy finds a way to go “legitimate” and become a millionaire. Just ignore the crash at the end.
Americans in particular love to fetishize our villains. Our media is littered with anti-heroes that over time become our actual heroes. We throw jealous narratives at the preppy alpha males but love it when their power is subsumed by someone who plays their games better than them. We are riveted when a protagonist emerges that knows how to best the alphas at their own game and emerges victorious. Just be careful you don’t overplay your hand and remain a villain (sorry Martin Shkreli you deserved better) as we need you to be seen as the good guy. It’s a delicate tension.
Think poor savant Bobby Axelrod in Billions becoming the titan of industry. Sure you know he didn’t start out as a classic alpha male (that hard knock upbringing) but I doubt you could tell at the end as he styles himself in the cashmere of his former enemies. Sure now it’s a hoodie but that’s a small inversion of the original sweater. The WSJ has an extensive shoppable feature on the style of the show. Now that’s cultural relevance. Turns out we do want cosplay Carl Icahn or Bill Ackman.
I’m particularly excited about the aesthetics of the next phase of financial heroes emerging from the financialization of cryptocurrency. Scrappy upstarts that want to make a more just and free financial system free of cronyism and accessible to the entire world is a beautiful narrative arc. The chaos of outsiders making the system their own has an ending we all know. You might start out in a tee-shirt and hoodie like Axe but beware the creeping encroachment of luxury goods looking to ride on your newfound wealth.
Turning doge gains into jokey NFT art is just a hop skip and a jump away from getting subsumed into the Art Basel scene. Lest you one day turn up and wake up in a new Bugatti. And while right now it may seem funny to buy a Lamborghini remember the narrative the world wants. You may just claim the mantle of a new kind of power. Or the Feds will come for you. Have fun out there!