Tim Burton’s Wednesday ignites a revival of gothic fashion

If you see a lot of Gen Z wearing black, braiding their hair in pigtails, and giving you the Kubrick-esque look, it’s all because of their new anti-hero heroine, Wednesday. It’s been just over a week since Tim Burton’s new series Wednesday debuted on Netflix but already tweens and teens are channeling the grumpy, sardonic daughter of the Addams Family.

Defined by the deadpan Christina Ricci in ’90s movies, this time Wednesday got a Gen-Z makeover. The series follows a now-teenage Wednesday (Jenna Ortega) as she is banished to Nevermore Academy, a creepy boarding school, after an incident involving a school swim team and a sack of piranhas. What ensues is an action-packed melodrama that blends the genres of murder mystery with horror and a dash of teenage angst. It quickly became Netflix’s most popular show, beating out the last series by Stranger things.

Refusing to conform to patriarchal and social norms, Wednesday is awkward, where much of its charm lies.

“It’s a fresh take on the teen trope,” says Shelley Cobb, a professor of film and feminist media studies. “She appeals to Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – and their ability to speak about cultural politics and popular discourse on identity politics. On Wednesday she adds a voice to these things sharply.

Since the character made his cartoon debut of The New Yorker in 1938, Wednesday had a very specific and definite sense of style. More than 80 years later, her braided black hair and black-and-white sartorial color palette remain.

Pinterest reports that searches for “Wednesday Addams costume” have increased 50x year over year. White shirts, knee-high socks and black nail polish are all on trend. Meanwhile, clothing resale app Depop says searches for Wednesday-inspired dresses have increased 1,000% since the beginning of the month.

It fell to Academy Award-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood, whose credits include Empty asleep And Edward scissor hands, to evoke Wednesday’s 2022 wardrobe.

In the opening scene we see Wednesday in her signature look that has been emulated at Halloween costume parties since the 1960s: a long-sleeved black dress with a white pointy collar. Atwood says he did it intentionally as a nod to Wednesdays that had gone by before. However, as soon as Atwood walked through the gates of Nevermore Academy on Wednesday, Atwood focused on modernizing her look.

“I felt it should be part of today’s world,” he says. “I wanted it to be a contemporary, elegant look that people would connect with. I didn’t want it to be just this weird person always draped in black.

Wednesday also deftly draws on the Dark Academia aesthetic, a digital subculture that emerged during the 2020 pandemic when schools were shut down and has been tagged more than three billion times on TikTok.

The trend romanticizes intellectual pursuits such as reading classical literature and learning about the ancient Greek world and philosophy. But it comes with a gothic twist. Wearing a preppy blazer, sipping tea reading sad poetry and carrying a copy of Donna Tartt’s The secret story they are all part of this aesthetic. The World of Harry Potter, with its candlelit oak-panelled libraries and floor-sweeping robes, also captures the mood.

Wednesday, who eschews technology for a typewriter, carries a satchel full of books, and holds séances, is the perfect girl for the motion.

But even before the Netflix series, the fashion world already advocated a gothic mood. In the latest collections from brands like Gucci, Simone Rocha, Thom Browne and Rick Owens, you’ll find crisp white shirts and layers of black tulle and lace.

So how does Atwood feel about seeing a lot of dudes from Wednesday in real life? “It’s really exciting to see the people who have made it to embrace it. It’s not just for Halloween. We’ve moved it away from the macabre and made it more accessible.

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