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The Popularity and Controversy of Fashion’s “Mob Wife” Aesthetic

by Oana-Maria Moldovan

Just a few days into 2024, TikTok content creators boldly announced the demise of minimalist trends and the rise of the “mob wife” aesthetic phenomenon (after a failed attempt by fashion enthusiasts to make “eclectic grandpa” the aesthetic of the year). 


The statement made by these short videos declared a shift from the “clean girl” style to the emerging trend of the mob wife era, rapidly gaining traction across various corners of the internet.



Despite its questionable ties to mobster associations, the “mob wife” aesthetic doesn’t actually have much to do with any criminal activity. Truth be told? It was a publicity stunt, more or less – or a marketing tactic, if you wish – created by HBO for the 25th anniversary of “The Sopranos”. Simply put, they wanted people, Gen Z, and Millenials especially to get hyped up by it enough to watch – or rewatch – the show on their streaming program.


“The Sopranos” made by David Chase was a TV show that ran from 1999 to 2007 and was centered around an Italian-American family, set in New Jersey, that tells the story of Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), who struggles to balance his family life with his role as the leader of a criminal organization, which he reluctantly explores during therapy sessions with psychiatrist Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco).


Sarah Jordan Arcuri, the self-proclaimed “Mob Wife Aesthetic CEO,” provided a detailed guide on adopting this fashion style.


“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 one of her videos posted back in October 2023.


As Teen Vogue put it best, there already was a bit of fascination around the “fashion houses with roots in Southern Italian aesthetics, such as Versace and Dolce & Gabbana” (Rebecca Bauman, PhD, the associate professor of Italian at the Fashion Institute of Technology). Just think about the haze that the 2021 “House of Gucci” movie got all of us.


If you ask me, I think it’s even more complex than that. If we look back at the last fifty years or so, we can find easily in each decade at least a style that had ties to the real-life criminally included groups. And we can take it from more than just one racial or ethnic group.


In the '80s and '90s, people were talking about the West Side and East Side gang-related rivalry, over Hip Hop. We have the 2010s when Chola was not only a style integrated into some people’s garderobe’s but also used as costumes for Halloween. And then, we can even argue that each time some fur-inspired trend is created it has some affiliations to the Slavic mafia.

People tend to like their clothes to tell a story to the world, even if that story is a manufactured one.


If we are to be completely truthful with ourselves, it has to be more complex. While this trend started emerging, it also gave birth to a series of people “wanting credit”. Now, this is a complicated enough social matter, and we will have to use some big words for it, so please stay with me.


As the “mob wife” aesthetic was put in the spotlight, as art often does (remember that fashion is still a form of art) it came with criticism – some, if I may add, more correct than others. It started by some Italian-American content creators – and not only – that have stated that wearing this trend is a form of cultural appropriation (the inappropriate or unacknowledged adoption of an element or elements of one culture or identity by members of another culture or identity). And everything went downhill from there.


Contrary to what some people said on the internet in the last two months the Italian-American community is still a culture – especially if we talk about the New Jersey and New York part of it. 


They are not fully Italian and they will never be “the classic American family prototype”; we need to understand this. And so, as culture sometimes goes, it changed over the years, it emerged and created something entirely new.


First came the Slavic and Balkan girlies saying that this style was actually stolen from them. The fur coats, the big gold vintage jewelry, the dark make-up; you get the gist. 


As a Balkan fashion writer myself, I can tell you: it was not. Inspired by it too many decades ago to even count? Maybe. But stolen and appropriated? Not quite. 


If we are to be honest, the “mafia attire” in Eastern Europe was created around Adidas jumpsuits.


And then came both the black and the brown communities of the USA. A content creator who goes by the name of @marquislizz on TikTok stated something really interesting. While I don’t agree with her “sleeked bun” comment (anyone can wear their hair in a bun), she did say that the Italian-American community can’t complain about cultural appropriation while appropriating black culture. 


Two wrongs will never get you a right, but she did have a point in suggesting that some of these people are indeed appropriating black hairstyles – cornrows and box braids for example.


Here is where cultural integration (when people from a culture adopt the essence of another culture while maintaining their own culture) comes into play. I come from a place where this is not only a common thing but also something that says a lot about my country’s history, so I will be highly subjective; take everything I say with a grain of salt.


Cultural integration, if done respectfully can be a beautiful thing. We integrate things from different cultures every day, we eat both sushi and pasta, we wear both silk and cotton and we watch shows from all over the world, we learn different languages, and we create relationships based on these experiences.


What we should never do, is take a part of someone’s culture, without knowing and respecting its history and claiming it as it being ours. This applies to black hairstyles, jewelry, or fashion that incorporates religious symbols (like a rosary in this case), turban-style headwear, doing a bindi of one’s forehead and so much more. We shouldn’t have to pick and choose what culture we respect.


We had this discussion last year, with the “clean girl” aesthetic, about the hair, the oils, the gold jewelry – all inspired or in some cases taken from Latinax and Middle East communities. We had talked about the people teaching yoga without having any spiritual affiliations to this sacred practice. We had been here before, but as humans usually are, we like repeating our mistakes.



In navigating the evolving landscape of fashion trends, particularly the recent surge of the “mob wife” aesthetic, it is imperative to strike a balance between following trends and respecting diverse cultures – and this goes both ways. While trends may emerge as a form of artistic expression and homage to various influences, individuals must be mindful of the potential implications of cultural appropriation.


Cultural integration can be a powerful and positive force when approached with understanding, respect, and a genuine appreciation for the roots of the styles adopted. Embracing diverse elements can contribute to a rich tapestry of fashion that celebrates global influences. However, this must be coupled with an awareness of the cultural significance behind each trend, avoiding the pitfalls of appropriation.


People partaking in these trends should view fashion as an opportunity for cultural exchange and mutual appreciation. By fostering a mindset that acknowledges the diverse origins of styles and incorporates them with respect, people can contribute to a fashion landscape that is both inclusive and culturally enriching, ensuring that trends are followed with a sense of responsibility and awareness.


Edited by Emily Duff

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