Long sheets of black hair falling over pale white skin, charcoal grey eyeshadow under perfectly shaped eyebrows, deep cheekbones and perfect dark shaped cupid bow lips, floor length black hobble dress with tentacled hemline and tattered sleeves. This description may be synonymous with the fashion of some of the early gothic fashionistas, but this particular description actually comes from a femme fatale from the 1930s. Created by Charles Addams for the New Yorker Magazine, the mother of a macabre family began her black and white life with no name. She appeared in over 100 single celled comics and was based off of Addams’ second wife.
It would not be until the 1960’s that Morticia Addams would have a name, her name seems to have come from the Latin “mort” meaning death and perhaps the fact that Morticia sounds so much like mortician. Carolyn Jones, the actress who played Morticia in the Television series, became the first physical manifestation of this eccentric mother. Her hobbled hem followed the comic strip as did the octopus like hemline. The sleeves were dark, long and tattered and her long dark tresses fell over powdered pale skin, dark painted lips and Jones’ own perfect high cheek bones. Jones portrayed Morticia with an ease and grace while breathing life into the towering waifish comic cricature.
In 1991 the remake of the Addams family brought the elegant and beautiful Angelica Huston into the matriarcle familial position. Though they had similar dresses Huston’s gown was a little bit more elaborate. Her sleeves have spider webbed lace, her bodice is more ornate. Huston’s costumes changed from scene to scene, probably because of colorization of videos. Huston brought more of a sensual sexuality to Morticia’s character and made the famous smoky eye sexier by having special effects which focused light specifically on her powerful eyes. Huston’s long elegant face makes her own cheekbones even more pronounced. Where Jones gave life to a 60s version of Morticia, Huston gave her sensuality and modernized Morticia’s look and personality.
Morticia Addams is always in the list of people and characters that helped to start the Gothic Fashion movement of the 1970s. With over 5 decades in the public eye and an ever evolving costume arena brought about by different portrayals (Carolyn Jones, Angelica Huston, Darryl Hannah and, most recently, Bebe Neuwirth, on Broadway) it is not hard to see why this dark macabre beauty would impress upon any fashion culture. The pieces that make up her iconic beauty have a great deal to do with the history of fashion and beauty.
Starting with the 1930’s when the Addams family first appeared in the New Yorker Magazine. Less than 20 years before the comics’ initial appearance the hobble skirt/dress appeared on the American streets. The design came originally from France and gave women a little freedom by displacing the heavy petticoats of the time. It also gave women more of a defined femininity by better defining their lower bodies; ankles once left to the imagination now appeared below the tight hemline. On the other hand it decreased mobility from a glide to a shuffle and created a great scandal in the American papers. The fashion was far too disgraceful for the American streets and those who wore the fashion were publically shamed in the papers. This may be the reason the fashion only lasted from 1910-1913, though the beginning of World War 1 and fabric rationing may have also had a part in the end of this fashion.
Morticia’s smoky eye has an even longer background in history. From 3,500 B.C. the smoky eye was used to keep away optical ailments in ancient Egypt. More recently the smoky eye has been thought to represent the look in the female eye during the height of passion. As for the pale skin it has a Morticia-esque background. Back in the Elizabethan times the pallor of women’s skin was very chique with the use of lead, tin and sometimes alum, all poisonous ingredients and definitely Morticia approved methods of beauty.
So was the physical manifestation of Morticia on both the TV and Silver Screen the beginning and reinforcement of the Goth movement or was this beauty pattern merely a cyclical reoccurrence? Considering the bright conceited era of the 70s and the cynicism of the 80s it would make sense that the television watchers of the mid 60s might find solace in the dark beauty of the gothic movement. So perhaps the dark beauty of Morticia Addams and the reinvention of her historical beauty really was a spur for the Goth movement.