In the first episode of Netflix’s Wednesday, its lead character (played by Jenna Ortega) makes her all-black fashion ethos clear. “I break out into hives and the flesh peels off my bones,” she tells her rainbow-loving roommate Enid Sinclair (played by Emma Myers) when asked what happens if she wears colourful fabrics.
It’s hard to say if the young goth — an outcast in a sea of real-life outcasts, ranging from sirens to werewolves, at Nevermore Academy — is being serious or just comically exaggerating her disdain for colour. But, for the show’s costume designer Colleen Atwood, this was the starting point to embed the character’s style with pieces that challenge collective assumptions about Wednesday Addams, a morbid character that first debuted in the New Yorker's comics series in 1938, later developing into a TV sitcom in 1964 and subsequent films during the '90s.
“I feel like it’s a fresh take on that style,” Atwood, a four-time Academy Award winner, who has worked on films like Into the Woods, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Nine, tells Refinery29. “To me, it’s more of a graphic juxtaposition of light, grey, and black that really made her look contemporary, like she didn’t just land from another time period.”
Throughout decades — which saw a range of actors from Lisa Loring to Christina Ricci take on the role — Wednesday Addams’ style has remained a rotating uniform of black long-sleeved dresses with white pilgrim collars, paired with her quintessential jet-black pigtails. While this portrayal speaks to the old soul in Wednesday — she quotes Aristotle and references the French Revolution in her everyday speech and refuses to use social media — Atwood wanted to bring the character's style into today’s TikTok-influenced world. She says she was specifically inspired by the street style in London, where she lived while working on the costumes for the series, as well as real-life teenagers.
“I look at kids now, like my granddaughter, for instance, who wore sneakers to her prom,” she says. This specific reference inspired Wednesday Addams’ knack for chunky loafers, one of today’s top trends, ushered in by brands like Prada and TikTok-born aesthetics like "dark academia." Atwood adds: “It's just the way people today interpret what [classic] footwear is.”
Still, Atwood nodded to Wednesday Addams’ original look throughout the series’ first season, specifically the black dress with a white, oversized sharp-edged collar (top photo) that she wears in the opening scene, in which the character puts piranhas in her "normie" school’s swimming pool as payback for older kids bullying her brother. “Throwing that into the environment of the really bright school set a tone for the whole scene and where she might go from there,” says Atwood.
But in order to meet director Tim Burton’s modern-day vision for Wednesday, Atwood added contemporary designs to the character's wardrobe. In episode 4, Wednesday shows up to the school dance wearing a frothy, collared dress from an antique store. While the dress may have been vintage on screen, it was actually an Alaïa fall 2021 dress sourced from the brand's shop in London. “I saw that dress upstairs in the Alaïa store, and my assistant was with me — who's about Jenna's size — and I made her put it on and dance around,” Atwood remembers. “It was just the perfect fabric and it was totally modern.”
Outside of the school uniform, we see Wednesday in outfits that are a vast contrast from her signature look in past depictions. Take, for example, a graphic colourblocked sweater she pairs with a cropped leather jacket, or the black-and-white striped t-shirt she sports under a slouchy hoodie to write her novel (on a typewriter, of course). “She had her downtime looks, which really gave us the opportunity to put a different kind of heightened, goth look that's still young and not something we've really seen before,” says Atwood.
For many viewers, the style in Wednesday was a masterful departure from the one-dimensional goth gimmick typically seen on-screen. For Atwood, the key was to play with shades and texture, in what she describes as a “Rubik's Cube of black and white.” “You find yourself looking for other ways to see colour; other ways to see black and white by the surfaces and textures of them,” she explains.
Woe to colour!