Why Gen Z are dressing like Mob Wives

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By Clare ThorpFeatures correspondent

Alamy Sharon Stone in CasinoAlamy

(Credit: Alamy)

It’s playful, bold and easy to achieve – no wonder this opulent aesthetic is popular right now. And despite a backlash, it’s a look that keeps gaining fans.

Things move fast in fashion. This time last year trend reports and style pages were all about the stealth wealth aesthetic. The look – which was helped to prominence thanks to the fashion choices on TV show Succession – was all about understated style and “quiet” luxury. White T-shirts, beige sweaters, navy blazers. Clothes that look ordinary but which come with extraordinary price tags.

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But no sooner had the Roy family and their $500 Loro Piana baseball caps departed our screens than the stealth wealth trend – much like the clothes it championed – started to fade quietly into the background. Fast forward to early 2024, and things look quite different. Specifically, a lot more sparkly, gaudy and all-out glamourous.

Right now, fashion is embracing a more ostentatious, maximalist vibe. It’s there in the huge faux fur coats that celebs have been wearing for the past few months (namely, Jennifer Lopez sporting two different white versions in the space of a week). It’s there in Miley Cyrus’s bouffant hair and five fantastically glitzy Grammys outfits. It’s there in the leopard print revival. And it’s there in the much-discussed “Mob Wife” trend on TikTok – characterised by aforementioned fur coats and animal print, paired with stacks of gold jewellery. This is luxury at its very loudest.

Alamy Sharon Stone played the iconic Ginger McKenna in the 1995 film Casino (Credit: Alamy)Alamy

Sharon Stone played the iconic Ginger McKenna in the 1995 film Casino (Credit: Alamy)

Like most TikTok trends, the Mob Wife frenzy feels like it has exploded fast. A video posted in early January by Kayla Trivieri – long time adopter of the aesthetic – declared “Clean girl is out, mob wife era is in… bold glamour is making a comeback.” The hashtag #mobwife has now had more than 100 million views, spawned countless explainers on how to get the look, and caused debates on the glamourisation of organised crime. There has already been a backlash, followed by a backlash to the backlash, with a debate about cultural appropriation, followed by some women of colour calling out hypocrisy. It’s even provoked a response from Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola. Inspirations for the look include characters Carmela Soprano and Adriana La Cerva from The Sopranos, Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface and Sharon Stone in Casino.

Some people thought the trend was suspiciously well timed, coinciding as it did with the 25th anniversary of The Sopranos. In reality, the whole aesthetic has been bubbling away for several months – helped along by some celebrity style inspiration.

Hailey Bieber, Kendall Jenner and Dua Lipa have all been photographed sporting enormous fur or faux fur coats. At the start of this year Rihanna wore an Armani leopard print faux fur coat (over a tracksuit) to board a private plane to Aspen. There’s subsequently been a surprise demand for vintage furs.

Using fashion as a vehicle to display your wealth is nothing new

The stealth wealth look has been tied to old money, and the idea that it’s gauche to show off your wealth, whereas more maximalist dressing has commonly been associated with the “nouveau riche”. The idea is that those who have come from nothing want people to know they’ve made it — and why not? Many of the muses – fictional or otherwise – who’ve inspired the mob wife trend are working-class and immigrant women who, when they come into money, want to embrace that by dressing glamorously. There’s hence often been an inherent snobbery about some of these styles, with animal print in particular often deemed “trashy”.

Using fashion as a vehicle to display your wealth is nothing new. As Thorstein Veblen wrote when describing the “leisure class” in the 19th Century: “Dress must not only be conspicuously expensive; it must also be ‘inconvenient'”.

Hip-hop style has long swung between a casual and more over-the-top look, incorporating fur, conspicuous logos and plenty of bling. Dapper Dan, the designer credited with bringing high-fashion to the hip-hop world says: “As people move up the economic scale – when they start from nothing and bridge the gap between the poor and the rich – they want to make statements of ‘I’ve arrived’.”

Getty Images Jennifer Lopez channels the Mob Wife look in glamorous white faux fur (Credit: Getty Images)Getty Images

Jennifer Lopez channels the Mob Wife look in glamorous white faux fur (Credit: Getty Images)

Certain designers have embraced the rich-girl, maximalist look too, especially Gianni Versace, who was inspired by Greco-Roman art, the Renaissance, Pop Art and the Baroque and whose designs oozed excess and sexuality. Detractors thought his designs were vulgar and flashy – he didn’t care. “I don’t believe in good taste,” he famously said. 

There’s now a nostalgia for the all-out glamour of that era – see Olivia Rodrigo wearing a vintage 1995 embellished Versace dress to the Grammys, and Kim Kardashian sourcing pieces from Azzedine Alaia’s famous autumn/winter 1991 catwalk show, where the models walked out in head-to-toe leopard print.

It’s not just celebrities buying into the look. Fashion marketplace Depop has seen searches for leopard print rise by 213%, with increased interest in faux fur and hoop earrings, too. The stealth wealth trend was never one for the masses. Sure, the aesthetic itself was easy to copy, but to truly buy into the trend you needed your camel cashmere coat to have extremely deep pockets. Whereas styles like the mob wife aesthetic, while seeming on the surface to signal wealth, are actually much more accessible.

Mob Wife is less a trend in the traditional sense, and more an opportunity to play dress up

The vintage vibe is part of the appeal, with all the essential elements easy to pick up in thrift stores or charity shops. You can spend £50 on a faux fur coat or £5,000 and pull off the same effect. As The Sopranos costume designer Juliet Polsca told The Washington Post: “It’s more about the attitude, it’s this fearlessness.” There’s also an argument that – after Barbie made last year all about girly aesthetics – we’re yearning for a return to a sexy, grown-up, powerful look.

TikTok trends are notorious for how fast they come and go (coastal grandma, anyone?) – and it’s likely creators will soon find another look to leap on (let’s face it, those fur coats won’t work come springtime). As trend analyst Mandy Lee has argued, Mob Wife is less a trend in the traditional sense, and more an opportunity to play dress up. “We seem to be in this endless cycle of nostalgia for trends that were rooted in subcultures, values and context. Today, they are quite literally costumes that people put on and take off everyday.”

Perhaps it’s this playfulness that’s so appealing – and the element of escapism. One of the arguments for the rise of the stealth wealth trend was that, in a cost-of-living crisis, no-one wanted to flaunt their wealth. Perhaps, conversely, when money is tight and the news cycle is gloomy, we want more than ever to feel and look a million dollars. Secret wealth codes are all well and good, but has anyone ever felt truly fabulous in a navy sweatshirt, even if it did cost $2,000? Red lipstick and a leopard print coat, however… that’s a mood that’s hard to resist.

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