Composite: Getty Images. Art by Liz Coulbourn.
Just days into 2024, TikTok creators declared the end of minimalist trends and the start of the mob wife aesthetic phenomenon. “Clean girl is out, mob wife era is in,” the videos proclaimed, announcing the arrival of a new style aesthetic that, in no time, spread on all corners of the internet.
If you’re wondering what exactly the “mob wife” aesthetic is, you are not alone. Though questionable due to its connection to crime, the name suggests that this trend would tap into everything the social imaginary and pop culture have associated with mobsters’ romantic partners, but with a sense of levity. In one of the earliest videos linked to this trend, influencer Sarah Jordan Arcuri, the self-proclaimed “Mob Wife Aesthetic CEO,” — broke down how to dress like a mob wife.
“You need to start with an outfit that is comprised of entirely black garments. [...] If you look like you’re going to a funeral, you’re doing it right. Next, you’re gonna dig your mom’s old fur jacket from the ‘80s. Nothing screams ‘golden era of the mob’ like a jacket that lived in the golden era of the mob,” Arcuri said in her video, which was posted in October 2023, before listing other style essentials such as gold jewelry, sunglasses, and designer bags. In the caption,she wrote: “yes this is satire (kind of).”
However by January, pictures of characters from movies and TV series like Goodfellas, The Godfather, and The Sopranos were making the rounds online as the picture-perfect representation of the mob wife trend. (It helped, of course, that January marked the 25th anniversary of The Sopranos, which fueled theories that this trend had been orchestrated by HBO’s marketing team.)
Planned or not, the mob wife aesthetic quickly gained steam with explainers, tutorials, and glossy pieces on social networking platforms and media.
The question is: why has this become a viral phenomenon? After all, the trend is just “embracing an exaggerated version of trends that are not only accepted in the mainstream but are in some cases even celebrated as the pinnacle of high fashion,” says Rebecca Bauman, PhD, the associate professor of Italian at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Bauman, who already explored the significance of mafia fashion in pop culture back in 2022. “Fashion houses with roots in Southern Italian aesthetics, such as Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, and their materials, patterns, and silhouettes are the same ones that are found within the mob wife aesthetic,” Bauman adds.
How did this particular style become linked to the mob then? “The lifestyle and way of dressing of gang members represent and reflect power,” says professor Ariadna Fernández-Planells, PhD, who has studied the use of social media, youth culture, and gangs. “He embodies a kind of flashy, audacious embrace of fashion sense that contrasts to the more traditionally subdued form of dress that has been considered appropriate for American men, especially in the workplace.”
That might explain why several content creators list a “do-not-mess-up-with-me” attitude along with wardrobe staples like fur coats, animal-printed items, and high heels when describing the poster girl of this aesthetic. It’s not just about the style, they claim, it’s about the energy.
However, associating this trend with female empowerment might also be misguided. Detractors and critics of the mob-wife trend emphasize that real and fictional women are objectified and commodified in generally patriarchal mob structures.
“I fail to see the chic or appeal in dressing like characters who are often victims of the abusive men in films and television series like Goodfellas, Casino, The Sopranos, or Scarface,” wrote journalist Tony Bravo in a recent article published in the San Francisco Chronicle. “Have these TikTokers and trend writers actually seen any of the media the look references? Do they have any awareness of the real women whose lives have been destroyed by their relationships with violent criminals?”
So are Tiktokers and people falling for this aesthetic willingly and consciously perpetuating harmful stereotypes and glorifying a violent lifestyle, even if it’s just by name? "I don't believe people are willing to accept these representations; that is, no one wants to live near [the mob],” Fernández-Planells tells Teen Vogue. “It's a different story in fiction, where it is known that what happens is not real. Fiction accompanies our fantasies, our desires, [...] but without necessarily becoming [a] reality.”
She also points out that the perception of criminals is inevitably mediated, among other things, by fiction. “We do not perceive Thomas Shelby and his family [in Peaky Blinders] the same way as Thomas Mucklow,” she says, referring to a member of the real-life Peaky Blinders as an example.
Considering that the media often contributes to shaping myths, stereotypes, and conventions of gangs globally, Fernández-Planells points out, it is no wonder that, in some cases, mob members become media icons. Speaking about Italian mafias specifically, there are certain qualities that make their portrayals in pop culture attractive to audiences. The mafia, Bauman expands, has often been considered an expression of aspirations intrinsic to the American dream, especially in terms of individualism and the accumulation of material wealth. “The mafioso comes from a disadvantaged, immigrant background but through his determination, clever outmaneuvering of his enemies, and sheer bravado manages to attain power and capitalist success. I think this is also why other minority groups have often embraced mafia narratives as providing a kind of template for achieving success in a country that has at various moments been hostile to them,” she says. “What the mafia also offers, and this is especially indebted to Coppola’s The Godfather, is a vision of a kind of archaic ethnic belonging rooted in values such as family, honor, and loyalty.”
But the romanticized regard does not traditionally extend to the mob wife. As Bauman explains, the mob wife has been frequently derided as garish and tacky because even despite her access to ill-gotten wealth, she still manages to look “cheap” because of her over-accessorizing and emphasis on bright colors, animal patterns, and big hair.
“Whereas at times mobsters have been portrayed as extravagant or gaudy in dress, they make up for it by retaining their authority and wielding power through the threat of violence, whereas for mob wives, their [choice of] clothing makes them [look] more pitiable because they do not have the same kind of social capital that their husbands have,” Bauman adds, “so, in a way, the denigration of the mob wife says a lot about the ideas regarding gender and the position of women in society.”
“This ‘guidette’ kind of character we have seen over and over, especially in comedic representations such as the film Married to the Mob,” Bauman says. “The same styles in that film are in reality shows such as Mob Wives and in dramas like The Sopranos.”
In other words, the current social media depiction of the mob wife glamorizes style elements that in the past were deemed tacky — because they’re attributed to “new” money rather than the perception of subtle style like the quiet luxury trend that’s associated with “old” money — while failing to recognize the baggage, stereotypes, and stigma attached to it.
Many may argue that a TikTok microtrend is not exactly social commentary material, and yes, perhaps “it’s not that deep.” Maybe the mob wife aesthetic is just another fad on the internet that’s not meant to be taken too literally or too seriously. Could we celebrate maximalist fashion and recreate the style of Carmela Soprano or Adriana La Cerva without looking too much into it? Probably. Are fictional or real depictions of criminal’s aesthetics truly regarded as aspirational, or was this just a bad name choice? Maybe. However, the rise of this aesthetic could also be an indicator that we need to start rethinking how we understand and interact with certain topics — or, at the very least, we could give our trends better names.
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue
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