It’s not every day that Francis Ford Coppola deigns to weigh in on a TikTok trend.
But he made an exception for the so-called mob wife aesthetic — a louche amalgamation of fur coats, leather and leopard prints that are being presented on the platform as a kind of mafiosa cosplay.
In a recent Instagram post, Mr. Coppola, the director of “The Godfather,” compared the style to that of Connie Corleone, a character from the film portrayed by his sister, Talia Shire: “a sultry, delightful Italian princess.”
Hundreds of videos on the app show young women with no apparent marital relationship to organized crime trying on their own approximations of the look, which usually involve heavy jewelry and heavier eyeliner.
TikTok churns out a new reigning “aesthetic” every few months, and they vary widely in their real-world influence on offscreen dress. So what is actually powering this newly popular glamorization of outlaw-adjacent women?
What is the ‘mob wife aesthetic’?
The most basic version involves throwing a fur coat — real or faux — over an all-black outfit. But according to its proponents, the look is nothing without the attitude to go with it. Careful students of the mob wife oeuvre add red nails and lipstick, a high-volume hairdo and sunglasses big enough to function as a kind of windshield.
“It’s expressive, it’s bold, it’s unapologetic,” said Sarah Arcuri, 29, who lives in New Jersey and calls herself the “Mob Wife Aesthetic CEO” on TikTok. She has been dressing that way since high school, she said, inspired by the flashily dressed women in her Italian American family as well as the reality shows “Mob Wives” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”
Ms. Arcuri has been posting about the mob wife look since 2022, but interest in the trend did not surge until the beginning of this month. Its fans coalesced around a snippet of audio posted by Kayla Trivieri that has since been used as the soundtrack to more than 2,000 other videos.
Uh, give me some examples.
TikTokers are mostly reaching for examples of fictional mob wives (and girlfriends) like Carmela Soprano, Edie Falco’s character on the HBO series “The Sopranos.” Users on the app are lip-syncing to scenes of her arguments with Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) and circulating images of Ms. Falco with French tips and big hair. Others point to her “Sopranos” co-star Drea de Matteo, playing Adriana La Cerva, and Lorraine Bracco’s character in “Goodfellas,” Karen Hill.
Where is this coming from?
Speaking of “The Sopranos,” plenty of users on the app believe that the trend was planted by HBO to coincide with its extensive promotion efforts for the 25th anniversary of the show’s debut. In a statement, Jason Mulderig, a spokesman for HBO, called the trend “a testament to ‘The Sopranos’ and its enduring impact on culture” — but did not cop to creating it.
Ms. Arcuri and others see TikTok’s preoccupation with mob wives as a reaction to the minimalist perfection sometimes advanced on visual social media platforms. Last year there was a “clean girl aesthetic” (think: beige pullovers, tidy updos) and “stealth wealth,” which prioritized subtle signifiers of wealth.
Sorry, but, is this real?
Typically, TikTok’s “aesthetic” trends go something like this: Identify a long-established style (wealthy older women wearing cardigans, for example) and give it a catchy new label (Coastal Grandmothers!). In this case, there are plenty of people who dress in the style captured by “The Sopranos” 25 years ago — some of whom are speaking up about their look being repackaged into a “trend.” It remains to be seen how many people outside that demographic will start dressing this way because they happened to see it on TikTok.
Is there deeper meaning?
Like the clean girl and stealth wealth aesthetics, the mob wife look focuses on conspicuous signifiers of wealth, but this time it’s of those usually associated with the nouveau riche. And specifically those whose wealth was earned outside the rule of law.
In most popular depictions, from “The Sopranos” to Lil’ Kim, even when she’s powerful herself, the mob wife is an accessory to a more powerful man — her sex appeal, beauty and style reflect his power back to him. What the mob wife knows or doesn’t know about her own situation creates her dramatic appeal: Is she clueless, holding no actual power in the illicit realm of her husband? Or is she savvy, looking away while enjoying his money? Regardless, in exchange for her silence, she gets to go shopping.
“In order to be in that lifestyle, as we’ve seen from movies and shows, you have to have a certain toughness to you,” Ms. Arcuri said. “They can wear what they want and get away with it.”
Someone must be complaining about this.
Ms. Arcuri said she disagreed with critics who say the trend glamorizes an association with organized crime. And for every influencer currently ordering a fur coat, other TikTok users are saying that these trends increasingly feel manufactured and meaningless. “There is a little bit of aesthetic fatigue on social media,” she added. “Every little microtrend is labeled.”
Each of those labels functions as an opportunity for influencers, brands and, yes, media outlets to hop on a trend and direct it to their own ends. Those seeking to get mob wife look may have to pay for it: A box of “mystery” items of secondhand mob wife apparel is already for sale on Poshmark for nearly $200.