How the Viral "Mob Wife" Aesthetic Appropriates Immigrant Culture (2024)

Another day, another TikTok aesthetic taking over our feeds. The "clean girl" look has now transitioned over to "mob wife winter" or just the "mob wife aesthetic," as many are calling it. Not only is this trend circulating our FYP pages on TikTok, but it's also sparking polarized opinions. Many are criticizing the mob wife aesthetic, popularly based in Italian culture, as exclusionary and appropriating both Italian and immigrant culture. Others have embraced the lavish lifestyle, pulling vintage furs that haven't seen the light of day since the '80s out of their mothers' closets and loading up on gold accessories.

If you're unfamiliar with the mob wife aesthetic, which The New York Times so eloquently dubbed "a kind of mafiosa cosplay," here's a quick rundown on the look. It's all about moody colors, leather, animal prints, big fur coats, large sunglasses, and flashy designer goods (bonus if it's an Italian designer like Gucci). To top it all off, you need bold makeup and a don't f*ck with me attitude to match. "If you look like you're going to a funeral, you know you're doing it right," says TikTok creator Sarah Jordan Arcuri, who declares herself the "mob wife aesthetic CEO."

Perhaps one of the most qualified to speak out in support of this trend is Jennifer Graziano, creator and executive producer of VH1's "Mob Wives." "It's all about emulating a lifestyle and a period of time — a lifestyle that was big and bold," she tells POPSUGAR. "Even though the mafia lifestyle is and was supposed to be underground and secret, these men and women lived such loud, large lives. And the fashion and jewelry and furs are just indicative of the lifestyle."

But for as many people who love the trend, there are others who deem it appropriation. The issue lies in the fact that it seems to capitalize on the classic image and flair of an Italian mob wife (not to mention that it glorifies organized crime) and that it also appropriates immigrant culture.

"I actually don't think that this aesthetic — the gold, the bold nails, the fur, the updos, the big hair — is specific to Italians or Italian Americans. To me, the aesthetic that is now trending is more of an immigrant aesthetic," says TikToker Leila Gharagozlou, who has been vocal against the trend. "It's not that the mob wife aesthetic itself is appropriative," she tells POPSUGAR, "[rather] it's more so the 'discovery' of this type of style by people who shun the big, bold, showy nature of this aesthetic, which is most commonly seen in first-generation or second-generation immigrant groups."

Gharagozlou adds that her main issue with the trend is the "idea that all of a sudden — after years of people deriding it as tacky and over the top — largely white, American women have popularized it, renaming an existing cultural style. It comes down to the built-in white supremacy within the American fashion industry, which is obviously a much larger issue and discussion."

Those who embrace the trend seem to be aware of the fact that it is "tacky" or "gaudy" when its origins say otherwise. "This aesthetic and its adjacent aesthetics have always existed among cultures from the Global South such as Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean regardless of whether they are 'in' and 'out.' However, both in Western popular culture and in day-to-day life, we are actively told that more subdued fashion, quiet-luxury-esque fashion is better — a style that is predominantly focused on what is colloquially described as 'white culture.'"

Many Italian and Italian-American women are fully embracing the trend, such as its supposed originator, TikToker Kayla Trivieri, who boldly declared back on Jan. 6, "Clean girl is out, mob wife era is in." In the video, which spawned millions of videos on the trend, she added, "Carmela Soprano walked so you bitches can run. . . . Bold glamour is making a comeback." Trivieri totally and completely embraces the aesthetic, and subsequently her heritage, and encourages others to do the same.

Graziano says she doesn't think you have to be Italian to wear and appreciate the aesthetic. "It's very universal and I don't think anyone's trying to appropriate the culture," she says. "It's showing that you want to feel powerful and confident just like a real-life mob wife would. And to be quite honest, imitation is the highest form of flattery, so if women — any race or culture — want to partake, I say do it."

Then there are other Italian and Italian-American women who are just fed up with the trend, like TikTok creator @anonymousally198, a former mob wife with a deep understanding of the dangers of that lifestyle who asked for her name to be withheld. She tells POPSUGAR she believes the mob wife aesthetic represents "all different cultures of women who were brought into the crime fold, but I believe it's more of a costume made of decades of women's pain and suffering."

She also points out that the fur coats, the jewelry, and the makeup that many people are emulating are symbolic of "what was given to her from her husband as an 'I'm sorry gift' for not being there, for involving her, for not coming home at night, or maybe even for abuse she suffered for keeping her mouth shut. The dark, smoky eye represents makeup heavy enough to cover bruises."

At the end of the day, your own personal aesthetic — however you would like to refer to it — is a form of self-expression. Whether you choose to openly embrace the merry-go-round of trends is totally up to you, but if you do, make sure to educate yourself and be aware of the cultural implications that may come with it.

How the Viral "Mob Wife" Aesthetic Appropriates Immigrant Culture (2024)


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