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Sunday, March 3, 2024

How ‘The Sopranos’ Killed the ‘Barbie’ Girl

Step aside, ingénue—there’s a new leading lady in town. She’s wearing a long fur coat, perhaps in a daring leopard print. It looks expensive, showy. On her wrists, fingers and neck, chunky gold jewelry—and lots of it. Oh, and her hair! Well, it is absolutely huge, naturally. Under her heavily lined lids, her eyes tell you in a flash: this woman has seen some things! And maybe even done some things herself!

This is, of course, your classic “mob wife.” If you are at all up-to-date on the world of internet micro trends, you’ll know that social media feeds everywhere have been filled with videos and posts about the so-called mob wife aesthetic in recent weeks. The trend marks a notable shift away from the girly trends of 2023—the Barbie pinks; the juvenile friendship bracelets at Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour; the bows and Mary Janes and lace that dominated fashion; the Coquette Girls, the Clean Girls, the Tomato Girls, and a slew of other aesthetic “girls” on social media. But the shift isn’t only happening online—it’s happening inside the entertainment industry, too.

On TikTok, the trend has exploded—videos in the #mobwifeaesthetic already have more than 110 million views. As Sarah Arcuri, an author and early adopter of the trend, explained in an October 2023 video, the basic look begins with an all-black base, preferably with a few leather touches. “If you look like you’re going to a funeral, you know you’re doing it right,” she says. Then, she recommends adding a vintage fur coat, preferably from the ’80s. Next, the gold—“even better if these gifts were given to you as an anniversary or birthday present.” Finally, there’s a voluminous up-do, a pair of bug eye sunglasses and a designer bag, ideally Italian-made.

As a purely aesthetic trend, the look has since been spotted on the streets, on off-duty celebrities and on runways alike. But, of course, these trends are never really purely aesthetic. Rather, these trends emerge as we feel drawn to experiment with new sides of our personalities and, in turn, search for cultural touchstones to visually signify this exploration. After all, as Arcuri says in her video, the final step in the transformation isn’t about the clothing at all; it’s about “channeling the mob wife energy.” In other words, the mob wife aesthetic, like any other micro trend, is a sort of costume that allows us to channel the glamor, strength, and excess epitomized by the beloved mob wives of the screen.

There are many notable examples from mobster classics—Carmela in The Sopranos, Elvira in Scarface, Frances in Legend, Karen in Goodfellas, Kay in The Godfather, to name a few.

Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano.

Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano.

HBO

These are women who don the role of a mobster’s wife with their eyes fully open. Women who are hardened to the immorality of the world. Women who, in a world of misogyny, are unafraid to stand up to dangerous men. Women who almost always see things more clearly than anyone else in the room. Their style may be defined by a garish display of excessive wealth, but they know it and embrace it.

In more recent works, the look and energy of the trope has been mimicked by iconic characters like Margot Robbie’s Naomi in The Wolf of Wall Street or Lady Gaga’s Patrizia in The House of Gucci. Even the outspoken mother in the Americanized ’90s version of Matilda borrows from the classic mob wives of the ’80s.

Why is the mob wife character experiencing a resurgence now? Firstly, we can thank HBO for introducing The Sopranos to TikTok in honor of the show’s 25th anniversary, which fell in January, bringing the wonderful Carmela to a generation.

Her outspoken boldness and self-assured maturity may have appealed to many who were tiring of the overwhelming dedication to girlishness online. After all, it’s no great secret that social media has been dominated by the notion of the girl for the past few years. We have had a stream of seemingly endless girly trends—Tomato Girl, Vanilla Girl, Soft Girl, and on and on and on. We have also seen a wave of trends that celebrate quiet, tasteful expressions of wealth and style—see quiet luxury and clean girl aesthetic.

Although the mob wife is merely the next in a seemingly unending line of fleeting aesthetic trends, it goes decidedly against the cultural tide. In a sea of fads that promote doe-eyed girlishness and quiet, modest displays of wealth, the mob wife aesthetic instead celebrates the no-nonsense strength and garish excess of complicated, fully grown women.

And social media isn’t the only place where we are turning our attention away from girlhood—in film and TV, the tide appears to be changing, too.

Last year, we were met with a barrage of portrayals of wide-eyed young women eager only to see the world for the first time—see Barbie, Poor Things, and Priscilla for a start. Now, it seems that we are all ready for something a little more grown-up, a little more experienced.

The Sopranos is only the first of a stream of shows that will celebrate and build upon the trope of the mob wife character this year.

Sarah Greene as Dee Dee Harrison in Sexy Beast.

Sarah Greene as Dee Dee Harrison in Sexy Beast.

Sanne Gault/Paramount+

Each iteration of the mob wife in these upcoming works follows (at least to some extent) the aesthetic mob wife blueprint that is currently all over TikTok—the fur, the updo, the gold jewelry. But each also promises to update the mob wife trope for a modern audience, not only adding modern twists to their wardrobes, but giving them even more dimensionality.

Earlier this month, a prequel to the 2000 Jonathan Glazer mobster flick Sexy Beast hit Paramount+, which followed gangsters Gal and Don. In the new series, Sarah Greene plays the younger version of Deedee, an adult film star who later married Gal. In the prequel, she is all fur coats, hoop earrings, and sequins. And her journey is, as The Daily Beast’s Fletcher Peters notes, “often more thought-provoking than what the boys are up to.” Tamsin Greig also stars as Cecilia, Don’s fierce, leather-clad older sister.

Another recent entry in the trend is Esteban Arango’s film Ponyboi, which debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. River Gallo plays an intersex Latinx who is shunned by his family. He befriends Angel, played by Yous Victoria Pedretti, who is dating sleazy mobster Vinny (Dylan O’Brien).

Michelle Dockery and Matthew McConaughey in The Gentlemen.

Michelle Dockery and Matthew McConaughey in The Gentlemen.

Miramax

In March, Netflix is dropping The Gentlemen, a TV show based on the 2019 Guy Ritchie film which saw Michelle Dockery playing a modern-day British mob wife, complete with Essex accent. “Michelle’s character wears luxury labels with throw-away aplomb,” said costume designer Michael Wilkinson to The Credits of Dockery’s character, Rosaline. “She’s very comfortable with her ascent from a background very much different from her current circumstances. Rosaline dresses fearlessly and effortlessly, so we defined her style as being classic English with a modern, dramatic impact. We put Michelle in black and white, strong shoulders, graphic stripes, and bold silhouettes along with pearls, boots, fur, cashmere, and sharp tailoring.”

The Ritchie film transposed classic gangster tropes onto the backdrop of England’s aristocratic classes, and the sequel series is sure to do the same. As the trailer for the new series proclaims, the British aristocracy are “the original gangsters.” As such, this series is sure to present us with an updated version of the classic mob wife character just as the film did with Dockery’s Rosaline—perhaps in Kaya Scolederio’s sharply dressed Susie Glass.

Dylan O'Brien and River Gallo in Ponyboi.

Dylan O’Brien and River Gallo in Ponyboi.

Sundance

Later this year, Barry Levinson’s Alto Knights is set to hit theaters. Starring Robert De Niro, this promises to be classic mobster fare, with De Miro playing both Frank Costello and Vito Genovese, two famous New York mob bosses. Debra Messing and Katherine Narducci will star as their wives.

With last year’s Barbie inspiring a global nostalgic obsession with all things pink, along with an endless stream of “girl” trends online, there is no denying that we celebrated the experience of girlhood in 2023. As the enduring appeal of the mob wife aesthetic both online and on our screens reminds us, we are long overdue some excessive glamor and self-assured moral dubiousness from our female characters. Perhaps this year, we’ll be embracing a little more of the mob wife energy.



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