Making the ‘Mob Wife Aesthetic’: ‘The Sopranos’ Costumer Reveals Where Those OG Looks Came From (Exclusive)

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“When you dress with power,” Juliet Polcsa says, “it’s intoxicating.”

Perhaps that’s the appeal of the “mob wife aesthetic,” the phrase that has swiftly sunken its French-tipped claws into the internet. Type the words in TikTok’s search bar and you’ll get a seemingly endless scroll of videos offering instruction on what the look is, how to achieve it, and where it comes from. Fur jackets, black garments, stacked necklaces, animal print, long manicured nails, and voluminous updos are the most commonly advised essentials. “If you look like you’re going to a funeral,” a popular TikTok narration states, “you know you’re doing it right.” A very glamorous funeral, may we add. 

As for visual examples, one woman is consistently cited: Carmela Soprano. Twenty-five years ago, the spouse of mob boss Tony Soprano, on what is now considered one of the best television series of all time, was the quintessential modern-day mob wife and now, more than two decades later, she’s trending again — this time on social media. 

But before the existence of the social media ecosystem to circulate trends and iPhone apps that could track down the items needed to follow suit in just a click, there was costume designer Juliet Polcsa tasked with dressing mob wife characters on a new show called The Sopranos. And to a New Jersey mall she went. 

“[Carmela Soprano] was a mob wife, but she really was a rich, suburban housewife,” Polcsa tells ET. “This was in the years of malls and that’s where you shopped, and so, I spent a lot of time in New Jersey malls looking at these rich women.”

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Cache, a since-shuttered chain store, caught her eye. “Cache was a gold mine,” Polcsa says. While a lot of Carmela’s early wardrobe came from Cache, Polcsa turned to Arden B, another now-defunct mall staple, for the younger, sexier wardrobe of Adriana La Cerva, the ill-fated fianceé of Tony Soprano’s nephew and protegé, Christopher Moltisanti. 

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Having joined the show after the pilot, Polcsa immediately wanted to add some extra oomph to Carmela’s head and hands. “I felt like her hair and nails were a little kind of average and they needed to be something special,” Polcsa says. “Those French tip nails, to me, were crucial… That’s what women were rocking at the time.”

As for her trademark accessories — flashy layered necklaces — they were born out of the plot of the show. “The conceit was these were things that were gifts from Tony,” Polcsa says, noting the antihero’s consistent infidelity. “She would kind of reap the benefits of his guilt and so, there was a lot of guilt that she would wear.”

Included in her signature stack was a mesh necklace by Christian Tse and a diamond cross necklace, a near-essential of Italian-Americans. 

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Perhaps her most referenced accessory on TikTok these days is one she didn’t actually often wear: a fur coat gifted to her from Tony. “We rented it actually,” Polcsa recalls. “We didn’t buy it.”

Indeed, the costume budget did not always match the mob wives’ penchant for designer labels, so Polcsa says they turned to outlet stores for Versace and Gucci and then got creative to mimic the late ’90s aesthetic of the time. “What I could get by on TV was just have it look like that,” she explains, “but not necessarily have to be that.”

Notes Polcsa, “We used the real stuff not as much, but we still had the feel of it.”

Now that these looks have the attention of a new audience, what are the true essentials according to Polcsa? Black clothes are indeed a staple, as are multiple pieces of jewelry. A favorite of Polcsa’s is a tennis bracelet paired with an expensive watch, a combo seen on Carmela. Nails should be done and hair should not be messy. One accessory Polcsa has not seen mentioned in social media discourse is a chain belt, another of Carmela’s standard accessories. “She had a whole closet of different chain belts,” she says, “many of them came from Cache.”

HBO

However, there seems to be one key element at the heart of the aesthetic’s revival appeal. As Polcsa points out, it comes down to a strong, “don’t f**k with me” attitude. 

“I think this is just powerful,” she says. “The world is a little, kind of, screwed up right now. There’s so many wrong things going on in the world and we feel like we have no control over everything, but when you dress with power, it’s intoxicating.”

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