Last week marked the 20 year anniversary of the legendary HBO series, The Sopranos, a show about family and, of course, the father Tony Soprano’s mafia business. For many, The Sopranos upped the ante and is a prime example of television ‘shoulds’, with very few (if any) ‘should nots’. The characters are complex yet strangely relatable, and their deep-rooted and often fragmented relationships add heart to a show that could have easily placed violence at the centre.
The character of Tony Soprano’s wife Carmela was praised by critics for contradicting racial and gender stereotypes alike with her on-going internal dilemmas that force her to step in and out of her role as an Italian mafia-boss’s housewife with alarming speed. One minute she is the dutiful wife serving up pasta to a man who has just kicked the living breath out of somebody, the next she is alone in bed crying over the life she chose as a mobster’s spouse. Although dependent on Tony financially, her thoughts are entirely independent. What is left is a woman who embodies many things, a fictional feminist figure by default, and not in spite of her supposed conformability, but because of it.
I think a good majority of us drooled over Carmela Soprano’s jewels, which consist of layered gold necklaces, a diamond set cross and various other shiny pieces that are as garish as they are expensive. Carmela’s style wobbles between tacky and sophisticated with her bright pink tracksuits and low-cut tops in daring prints.
And yet there is something overtly maternal about her wardrobe. Some might even deem her aspect as comforting. She’s a late 90s/early 00s mum prototype, or what they’d look like if they could afford costly jewellery and a manicure every week, with her hand to hip posture and recognizable mom remarks like “Go upstairs and act like a good Catholic for fifteen f*cking minutes. Is that so much to ask?” It’s fair to say that she brings normality to a home that is frequently on the brink of an all-out mafia war.
Throughout the series, Carmela’s regretful nature prevents her from surrendering herself entirely to the life she has chosen, at least when it comes to her thoughts. No one in the show questions themselves more than Carmela does, yet equally, no one is more skilled at suppressing their moral code than she is. This could easily be contested - other characters have actual blood on their hands and are still capable of eating a salami sandwich with those same hands come lunchtime - but Carmela’s values have been bred into her since birth and she is unquestionably a good person in all other aspects. Therefore, her will to squash her values when it suits her requires a level of control and determination that isn’t required by anyone else.
For Carmela, God is contradictory. Religion dictates the importance of marriage, but also condemns murder and the other ‘too many to speak of’ sins of her husband, and who’s to say there isn’t blood on her hands, or in this case, jewels bought with the immeasurable bloodshed? From the outset, it’s made clear that Carmela is not glued to Tony’s side because of religion despite her Catholic obligations popping up throughout the series. Along with the heartache, guilt and ongoing fear, Tony provides two things that Carmela can’t live without: emotional and financial stability.
But it isn’t her husband’s underworld life as a mafia boss that pushes her to the edge, it’s his many ‘goomahs’ (AKA mistresses) that really make her blood boil. In most narratives, a woman who puts up with this type of behaviour is put into one of two categories: an enabler or a victim. Carmela is neither. Her actions are as strategic as Tony’s business plans, devised to give her some piece of mind and a piece of the pie. Carmela’s secret money stash and six-figure property (in her name) came directly out of Tony’s pocket, but they disclose her suspicion that one day she could be on her own, either as a widow, a divorcee or something much much worse. She loves Tony, but her love isn’t without its doubts.
Carmela's jewels are more than just eye-candy. They are the burden and the reward she lives with, welded together to form the chains across her neck and the rings on her fingers. One bears the symbol of a cross, a familiar image that links to her religion and Italian heritage, another is a large sapphire ring (only worn on special occasions) given to her by Tony – a birthday gift to replace his bad behaviour.
Her jewellery is rearranged, added to or minimised according to the situation. Throughout Tony's induced coma, Carmela is practically make-up and jewellery free (only her cross necklace remains). This is the first time we see an underdressed Carmela in public, baring all along with her fear and vulnerability. Nevertheless, her emotional state doesn’t hinder her strength during this critical moment, but rather magnifies it, proving that in the face of everything, her love for Tony is a real as the diamond on her finger.
Inspired by Carmela’s jewellery? Then take a peek at these beauties:
1. Vermeil tiny cross necklace adorned with cubic zirconia by MEI MI STUDIO.
2. Sterling silver cubic zirconia cross pendant by JQStudioDesigns'
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