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