Style Icon: Mary Lennox

Mary Lennox, played by Kate Maberly in the 1993 film version of The Secret Garden, is one feisty girl. She is determined, strong, and fearless, and refuses to let anyone boss her around. She breaks all the rules and doesn’t think twice about it. She is curious and intelligent, though intolerably ignorant. Mary is all of those things, and if that’s not enough, she is also extremely well-dressed, thanks to her (stereotypical) country bumpkin of a servant, Martha.

The first time I saw The Secret Garden, I fell madly in love with Mary’s wardrobe. Everything she wears, from the beginning to the end of the film, is classically beautiful. What I want to know is, why am I not Mary? I did go through a childhood dress phase

The opening scene shows Mary being dressed by servants who wait on her hand and foot, until the earthquake that hits her home in India and leaves her orphaned.

When Mary first arrives in England after the death of her parents and a boat ride from her home in India, her outfits are entirely black, and would be rather suited to, say, Wednesday Addams. Mary can pull off the “girl in mourning” look just as nicely as Wednesday, though without the pasty skin.

“What would you like to wear?” asks Martha, “black, black, or black?”
“Are you blind?” snaps Mary, pointing at three identical dresses. “They’re all black.”

Mary’s style seems to grow and change as time passes. After some time spent settling into her uncle’s castle-like home, Mary’s consistent choice of a black, lacy dress and a permanent scowl wanes. As excitement in Mary’s life rises, so does the excitement that her wardrobe brings me. New textures (ruffles, knits, and pleats) and patterns (plaids and florals) are added, as is some beautiful winter clothing — which is one of my favourite parts of Mary’s wardrobe.

On her first visit to the secret garden, Mary opts for a pea coat, a floppy red hat, and two perfect braids. This is a look I plan on copying, shamelessly, when “new coat time” comes next fall.

Dresses like this one replace Mary’s funeral garb rather quickly. This ruffled, plaid frock is feminine and fun. It shows Mary’s true personality at a time when she finally learns to embrace it.

Even Mary’s nightgown, worn on many secret trips to see her cousin at night, is pretty. It matches the rest of her wardrobe perfectly with its pure white lace and pleats.

When Mary finally takes her cousin out of quarantine for a romp in the garden, she wears this white, frilly, lacy, ribbon-belted tea-party dress with white tights. She has come full circle from the “black, black, or black” dresses she wore upon her reluctant arrival at Misselthwaite Manor.

Mary Lennox will forever be held in my mind as a style icon. She is so much more than a fictional character to me. I’m sure that years from now, I’ll still find myself searching for screen-shots of her always adorable and immaculate outfits, and wonder why I never opted to wear plaid ruffles or braids with matching bows.

If only we could all be trapped in childhood forever, with a wardrobe like Mary’s and a secret garden to play in with our best friends. Our clothes would never get dirty, and we would always have fresh flowers to put in our hair.

- Stephanie Fereiro

22 thoughts on “Style Icon: Mary Lennox

  1. Oh yesss! I love this film and Mary is truly inspirational when she grows out from being a brat! And I’ve always lusted after her wardrobe too. It’s just too adorable, gah!

  2. I think my obsession with white tights stems directly from pictures like the one above – all ruffle-y dresses and shiny shoes and hair ribbons and tea parties. (This, and ballerinas.)

    I am LOVING the floppy red hat and braids – definitely an outfit to be copied!

  3. Your last lines got me – because the getting dirty bit is the tricky one. I had a friend whose mother used to dress her in these kinds of outfits, but she’d spend half her time sitting on her front steps, not allowed to play with the other kids on the street lest she ruin her pretty dresses. I lean more towards the Sound of Music rompers – when your clothes are made from old drapes, they’re a little less precious.

    But oh, those wool coats and hats and tights! And what I wouldn’t give to be able to read that book for the first time again.

    I love posts about what books and movies inspire people.

  4. what a cute post, I’d completely forgotten this movie! I was a quiet child and I was so impressed by her pompous and brazen attitude. I am wearing more full skirts than ever before these days, I should take more style cues from her ;]

  5. Did the VHS version of this movie come with a plastic key? I used to have a Secret Garden key that I would wear as a necklace all the time, but I can’t remember if it came with the movie or the book.

    Love the Secret Garden, love this post!

  6. This was one of my favorite all time movies ever. Though it would be years before I re-embraced dresses Mary’s fashion sense combined with her wit and ‘tude made her one of my childhood (and of course current) role models.

  7. Amazing! This movie is definitely a style inspiration from me too. I bought on DVD recently, but still haven’t had the chance to watch it since I was a little girl.

  8. I loved this movie as a kid! It’s still kicking around my parent’s basement somewhere.

    Jaclyn, I too developed a fasication with keys as a result of this film, and still like necklaces with keys on them – I re-watched the movie as a teenager and was excited when my grandfather gave me a few antique keys from his childhood farm which I converted into necklaces. To answer your question, I don’t believe that the VHS came with a key, I think it was the book.

  9. Ahh, fantastic! I’ve seen this move + read the book about then million times but I never thought of her as a style icon because I was too young at the time…

  10. Woah, I had totally forgotten about this movie! Seeing these images takes me back! I’m pretty sure I saw this in the theatre and also had it on VHS — Jaclyn, I think you’re right, the movie in the clamshell case came with a key (I think). Nice post, Stephanie!

  11. Thanks for all the feedback! I love the movie too, and I have to watch it at least a few times a year. I’m glad to share my nostalgia with all of you lovely people. :)


  12. i love, love LOVE that movie so much, and you’re right, wee mary is adorable even when she’s a horrible meanie in the movie. i love that you devoted a post to her style.

    p.s. i’m new to your space here and i am so in love with it. wish i lived in canada so i could hang out with you awesome girls!

  13. I’ve never actually seen this version of The Secret Garden, but I definitely went through a dress phase that was similar. Does anyone remember those little red roses that were often attached to shirts and dresses for girls? Gosh I loved those so much! (Bows too.) If only I could get away with still dressing like that!

    Lovely article, Steph. Keep ‘em coming!

  14. Can u have little paper dolls made? I think it would be an adorable idea to be able to dress up an Mary Lennox paper doll with all her clothes used in the movie!

  15. I read your blog and agree with you entirely!it is also a childhood fave of mine also,the book and this version.
    Do you perhaps know where I may get a pair of boots similar to what Mary wears?for instance the scene in which Mary goes for a walk and meets the robin And Gardner for the first time.ive looked such boots and have not found them.please help! Thanksxxxxx

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