In Theory, Gen Z Should Hate Wednesday Addams's Look, But a Goth Revival Is Here
The fictional and apathetic Addams family has managed to keep their popularity over a span of generations, from the original 1930s comic to the 1991 big-screen adaptation. Most of all, Wednesday Addams has repeatedly held the status as a young gothic icon, with most credit being given to the '90s portrayal by Christina Ricci. And while the essence of the grim character has largely remained the same throughout the decades—aversion to human emotion at the top of the list—Tim Burton's 2022 version takes a slightly differing approach, both in story and style.
Starring our October cover star, Jenna Ortega, Wednesday has swiftly become one of the most-watched Netflix series, surpassing the popular fourth season of Stranger Things. In this short time, Wednesday has done the exact thing that would horrify her to her core: become a viral sensation. When asked about following her new classmates on social media in the first episode, she replies starkly, "I find social media to be a soul-sucking void of meaningless affirmation." Despite the teenager's unwillingness to participate in anything among her peers on-screen, however, her all-black ensembles, intuitive comebacks, and eerie dance movies have quickly grasped the attention of the generation off-screen.
Gothic style has seen popularity on a sartorial scale in the past—designs by John Galliano and Tom Ford for Gucci come to mind. And with a growing emphasis on moodier style, the show comes at the perfect time. Burton and lead costume designer Colleen Atwood were able to redirect the morbid aesthetic and bring it to the heights of the current pop cultural zeitgeist. As I type in "Wednesday Addams style" on TikTok, I'm bombarded with styling videos featuring collared blouses, lace tights, and platform boots set to the tune of Lady Gaga's "Bloody Mary."
John Galliano 1994 collection.
With the one-dimensional aspects that have filled traditional gothic stories put aside, the anti-hero that is Wednesday swiftly has become a style icon for the young generation. Despite being a character that so desperately wanted to be alone, she stood out. The series showrunners make this clear with their shared press release, stating "There's a classic gothic element to Wednesday, but we wanted to make that feel contemporary and give her an edge, which would resonate for this era and generation. We stripped everything back and mandated that her color palette must be exclusively black and white. In contrast, everybody else around her would be in color—that way, Wednesday would always stand out. It sounds simple, but it was challenging to put into practice. If you look at our background extras, for example, you will never see them wearing black or white."
At first glance, Wednesday Addams is not who you'd associate with Gen Z. There's a multitude of reasons why she still finds herself to be a lonely outcast in a school that's meant for outcasts, including her disgust for human connection. I reached out to Atwood, and she explains how she designed the costumes with a strong intention to push that striking difference: "Wednesday's dress in the first episode was in the style of Charles Addams with a large, sharply pointed white collar. This really contrasts her against what we see from the other students in traditional American teen fashions."
Atwood isn't wrong about the traditional teen fashions. On-screen portrayals of my generation are largely littered with clashing prints, beaded phone cases, and a penchant for color. It's not that I'm surprised at Wednesday's success, as Burton has created a new world for the Addams family that seems impossible not to be fascinated with. It's that we've become used to seeing characters from shows like Euphoria and Sex Lives of College Girls making impactful stylistic connections with younger audiences, so Wednesday can feel like she came a little out of left field. Before this series was released, I initially thought such a seemingly morbid character wouldn't entirely resonate with the masses as much as it has, but I've never been happier to be proven wrong.
Wednesday proves that this generation is endlessly multifaceted and isn't interested in pigeonholing themselves into what's shown on-screen. (The White Lotus should take notes on their styling of Portia, but that's a conversation for another day.)
Atwood created a new-age gothic visionary in Ortega's Wednesday, paying homage to the original work but infusing what she's seen on street style and TikTok. When I asked her what her focuses of change were, she summarizes the impactful update: "Wednesday is allergic to color, so taking the geometric possibilities of black and white combined with contrasting textures using collar shapes, chunky shoes, and her hand-painted stripe uniform kept her in a real world that felt very today."
With the indie sleaze, dark academia, and pop-punk aesthetics rising in popularity, it makes sense that a goth revival was next for this generation.
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