How China’s Gen Z is adapting the ‘mob wife aesthetic’

    Fur coats, big hair, and lashings of gold jewelry, the mob wife aesthetic has taken the internet by storm. Can it achieve the same success among China’s Gen Z?
    Photo: Pinterest
      Published   in Fashion

    “It all started with the eco fur coats. I was seeing so many young people wearing these fur coats, I even bought one for myself,” Judy Chu, a fashion designer and avid user of Xiaohongshu, tells Jing Daily.

    Chu is talking about the “mob wife aesthetic,” the first internet driven trend of 2024 to turn the tide of fashion across the West. Now it’s making its mark on China.

    The antithesis to last year’s “clean girl” phenomenon, the mob wife look comprises a more unpolished, sexy, and brazen way of dressing.

    “The more casual version of this aesthetic involves animal prints, leather, but always big hair and long nails, and the more glam version involves crazy glam, massive fur coats and jewelry, all with nods to the 1980s,” says Molly Rooyakkers, the data analyst behind trend forecasting account Other elements include big sunglasses, all-black outfits, and an alcoholic beverage — preferably a martini — in hand.

    View post on TikTok

    Internet mania#

    The trend started gaining momentum in late 2022 but began rapidly proliferating last month. To date, the hashtag “mob wives aesthetic” has accumulated over 396.8 million views on TikTok, while Google searches for “mob wife aesthetic” skyrocketed during January by over 2,500 percent.

    Theories have been swirling as to why this particular aesthetic has exploded out of seemingly nowhere. Most are crediting the revival of TV hit The Sopranos, propelled by American network HBO’s recent marketing push for the program’s 25th anniversary. Others proclaim that the trend is a way to show perceived wealth amid a global economic downturn.

    Just like with “indie sleaze” and “quiet luxury,” the trend is steadily filtering through to China. Mob wife-adjacent looks may still be in their infancy in the mainland, but signs are there that indicate the boom is taking on its own meaning among local netizens.

    “After Covid, people are tired of just dressing comfortably. They’re looking to wear something more extreme,” says Chu.

    China’s fashion-obsessed youth have often looked to the West for style inspiration. With trends on globalized channels like TikTok and Instagram now trickling across to domestic platforms including Xiaohongshu and Douyin, netizens in China are becoming more exposed to outside influences. Though markedly less popular than in the West, on Xiaohongshu, #mobwifeaesthetic has received 63,000 views so far.

    The mob wife aesthetic has taken the West by storm in 2024. Photo: Jing Daily
    The mob wife aesthetic has taken the West by storm in 2024. Photo: Jing Daily

    Cultural semantics#

    In a similar vein to the indie sleaze revival, Western-born aesthetics that make their way to China are often deciphered through a local cultural lens, explains Olivia Plotnick, founder of Shanghai-based social media marketing agency Wai Social.

    “As Western trends permeate China, they often undergo a process of localization and adaptation. This interpretation and embrace of Western subcultures by younger generations in China may differ significantly from their older counterparts,” she adds.

    The same is happening with the mob wife trend. Whereas cult favorites such as The Sopranos and actress Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Scarface have been the blueprint for those recreating the trend in the West, China’s youth is pivoting to local sources as particular points of reference, including the smash hit series Blossoms Shanghai and The Knockout.

    When a trend from the West is nascent in China, Chinese consumers have the breathing space to recontextualize the aesthetic on their own terms. Blossoms Shanghai, for instance, was set in the 1990s (as opposed to the 1980s, when the mob wife aesthetic is said to have emerged), indicating that Chinese consumers are updating the trend.

    The catalyzation of sartorial trends, like the mob wife aesthetic, can also often be traced back to the bigger socioeconomic picture. In the West, “trad wife” lifestyles continue to trend as women hit back at the 2014 Girl Boss era and seek slower, “softer” lifestyles. Meanwhile, in line with China’s greater acceptance of female agency and financial freedom, women across the mainland are only just now getting a taste of what it means to live life on their terms.

    As a result, Plotnick believes the trend may spur important conversations across the mainland.

    “In the present era of rapid international dissemination through social media, netizens may utilize localized iterations of this trend as a platform for social commentary, engaging in discussions about the evolving dynamics of gender roles in modern China,” says Plotnick. “The ‘gangster wife aesthetic’ holds the potential for reinterpretation to align with contemporary values.”

    China's Gen Z are putting their own spin on the trend. Photo: Xiaohongshu
    China's Gen Z are putting their own spin on the trend. Photo: Xiaohongshu

    The faux fur debate#

    For luxury brands looking to capitalize on the wave, it’s the Italian fashion houses that are set to reap the most rewards from the mob wife boom. Dolce & Gabbana’s collections, for instance, are entrenched in the quintessential mob wife style of animal print-heavy pieces and cascading fur coats.

    But in an era of fleeting trends and fast fashion behemoths, how can luxury cater to consumers, both across the West and in China, without adding to the waste pile?

    “Making more clothing that caters to TikTok’s fleeting trends isn’t the answer,” says fashion and sustainability communications specialist Katie Karayiannis. “It's risky territory for brands, and particularly luxury brands with valuable identity and heritage to protect, to tailor collections in response to the platform’s often fleeting trends. Instead, they could use these trends to creatively promote existing campaigns, highlight archive moments, or even go against the grain and not jump on the trend at all.”

    The fur debate has also resurfaced in response to the mob wife craze, sparking ethical concerns over whether the trend will cause a spike in demand for animal-made products. In China, however, the mainland’s youth are opting for the more sustainable alternative.

    “On Taobao, they’re selling so many fur coats, but they’re made from fake materials and not the real thing,” says Chu. “For newer generations like me, I don’t feel comfortable wearing real fur.”

    Discover more
    Daily BriefAnalysis, news, and insights delivered to your inbox.