Her dark materials: Tim Burton’s Wednesday sparks a gothic fashion revival

If you are seeing a lot of Gen Z wearing black, plaiting their hair into pigtails and giving you a Kubrick Stare, it’s all because of their new anti-heroine heroine, Wednesday. It has been just over a week since Tim Burton’s new series Wednesday debuted on Netflix but already tweens and teens are channelling the sullen and sardonic daughter of the Addams family.

Defined by the deadpan Christina Ricci in the 90s films, this time round Wednesday has been given 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 swimming team and a bag of piranhas. What ensues is an action-packed melodrama fusing the genres of murder mystery with horror and a dollop of teenage angst. It has swiftly become Netflix’s most popular show, beating the last series of Stranger Things.

Refusing to conform to patriarchal and social norms, Wednesday is awkward, wherein lies much of her appeal.

“It’s a new take on the teen trope,” says Shelley Cobb, a professor of film and feminist media studies. “It appeals to Gen Z – those born between 1997 and 2012 – and their ability to talk about cultural politics and the popular discourse around identity politics. Wednesday adds a voice to those things in a sharp-witted way.”

Ever since the character made her debut in the cartoons of The New Yorker in 1938, Wednesday has had a very specific and defined sense of style. More than 80 years later, her plaited black hair and sartorial black and white colour palette remains.

Pinterest reports that searches for “Wednesday Addams costume” are up 50 times year-on-year. White shirts, knee-socks and black nail polish are all trending. Meanwhile, the clothes resale app Depop says searches for Wednesday-inspired outfits are up by 1000% since the month began.

It fell to the Oscar-winning costume designer Colleen Atwood, whose credits include Sleepy Hollow and Edward Scissorhands, to conjure up Wednesday’s 2022 wardrobe.

In the opening scene we see Wednesday in her trademark look that since the 60s has been emulated at Halloween costume parties – a long-sleeve black dress with a white, pointed collar. Atwood says she did this intentionally to give a nod to the Wednesdays that had gone before. However, as soon as Wednesday crossed under the gates of the Nevermore Academy, Atwood focused on modernising her look.

“I felt that she should be part of today’s world,” she says. “I wanted it to be a contemporary stylish look that the audience would connect with. I didn’t want her to be just this odd person always draped in black.”

Wednesday also cleverly taps into the Dark Academia aesthetic, a digital subculture that emerged during the 2020 pandemic when schools were closed and has been tagged more than three billion times on TikTok.

The trend romanticises such highbrow pursuits 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 while reading sad poetry and carrying a copy of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History are all part of this aesthetic. The world of Harry Potter, with its candlelit oak-panelled libraries and floor-sweeping robes, captures the mood too.

Wednesday, who shuns technology for a typewriter, carries a satchel stuffed with books and holds seances, is the perfect poster girl for the movement.

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

So how does Atwood feel about seeing lots of Wednesday-esque types in real life? “It’s really exciting to see the people we did it for embracing it. It’s not just for Halloween. We have moved it on from the ghoulishness and made it more accessible.”