Minor spoiler from the second-to-last episode of Downton Abbey: Mary Crawley is a bitch.
Okay, that’s less a spoiler and more a fact that we’ve all known since – I don’t know, probably since she helped conceal the corpse of a certain Turkish diplomat.
But in the penultimate episode, Edith finally (FINALLY!) called Mary out on it, and damn, it felt good.
Lady Mary isn’t without her better qualities, though. She’s shown real personal growth after losing her sister Sybil and Matthew, her cousin who she was also married to. She takes good care of little George, or employs people who are good at taking care of him anyway. Lady Mary has an open mind toward all religions, and really nice eyebrows besides. Yet above all, Edith was right: Lady Mary is kind of a bitch – but such a well dressed one!
Shortly after we meet Mary, she establishes herself as the fashionable one with this crisp menswear-inspired riding outfit. Around this time, she also disposes of the body of a man that she slept with after the cousin she was supposed to marry dies on the Titanic.
Still very much in that pre-war, 1910s fashion, Mary wears a beautifully beaded gown that is just starting to show the more streamlined Art Deco look. She also complains that Cousin Matthew, who didn’t ask for any of this, can’t hold a knife.
Mary, in a very Rose Dewitt Bukater- appropriate evening dress, waits to accept Matthew’s proposal until she finds out whether her mother’s having a boy, in which case Matthew wouldn’t have access to that sweet Crawley money.
Moving on to season two (series two if you’re nasty), the world is at war and Mary shows her respect for that situation with these demure separates that are starting to almost look like modern clothes. She also shows her respect for that situation by getting engaged to a newspaper man who will cover up the Pamuk cover-up.
Wearing her signature color (the blood of angry men), Mary breaks into the postwar period with a full, layered skirt, unlike the closer fitting gowns we usually see her in. The perfect dress for getting engaged to your cousin after you’re pretty happy that his fiancee died.
A few important developments: Mary and Matthew finally tie the knot; Downton Abbey is in peril because Lord Grantham spent all his money on yellow labs named after figures in Egyptian mythology; the 1920s finally arrive and with it, the drop waisted dress. Mary’s Art Nouveau hairpiece is so perfectly early ’20s. The whole wedding was beautifully nostalgic, and Mary’s dress reminds me of my great-grandparents’ wedding pictures from the 1910s and ’20s. (Like the Abbey itself, or an item that Lady Mary should have carried on her wedding day, I AM SOMETHING OLD.)
Lady Mary really made you like her in season 3. Not only does she help save Downton from ruin by encouraging Matthew to accept his inheritance from Reggie Swire – AND suffer the loss of Sybil, the noblest of all the Crawleys – she also acts reasonably supportive of Edith when she finally gets her chance at the altar. To celebrate the occasion, Mary wore her springlike best: a wide-brimmed hat, a light cyan lace dress with chiffon sleeves, drop pearl earrings, and an oh-so-20s layered pearl necklace. Then Edith got jilted. GOD. Not the topic of this post, but Poor Edith, right?
All of that work getting us to feel for Lady Mary was leading up to Matthew’s death. Thanks, Downton. The first half of the season is just a lot of black mourning dresses, a custom I’d ALMOST like to see brought back. It was a bit too rigid and sometimes you want to wear a color, but it’s a nice visual reminder that someone’s going through something so maybe you should go a bit easier on them.
That’s why it’s such a big moment when Mary busts out the partial mourning dresses and shows up to lunch in a lilac frock. You really feel for Mary – she doesn’t want to be a hard or cold person, she feels like that’s just how she IS. Of course, that calculating, chilly demeanor can really help you out in business, and Mary proves herself savvy in handling Matthew’s estate.
In the early ’20s, like today, the faux bob was popular with people who weren’t quite ready for the big chop. Mary’s ALMOST got the Jazz Age look down (meanwhile poor Anna is still being forced to dress like she’s from a Beatrix Potter picture book)… but just wait…
SHE’S GONE AND BOBBED HER HAIR. Well, I’ll be. And it looks great! It’s an open-minded hairstyle for an open-minded Mary, who has no problem cavorting with Lord Gillingham then dumping him when she realizes he’s too stupid for her. I mean, she does also tell Tom to stop rolling with that newfangled hussy Sarah Bunting, so in some ways she’s still the old Mary.
The bitch is back: Mary, pictured here in a phenomenal red hat, thinks Edith should stop hanging out with Marigold. Although admittedly, the whole Marigold thing would seem a bit weird if you didn’t know the back-story.
I cannot get enough of this fur-trimmed coat and especially that phenomenal hat! It all looks so warm. Almost warm enough to melt Mary’s chilly heart, but who are we kidding, it’s a coat not a miracle.
By the final season, Mary is dating a driver – and with that come driving accessories! Check out the duster coat, the cloche that even looks expensive, and the buttery leather gloves. THIS is an outfit that says “character development”: but don’t worry, Mary is still quite contrary.
I NEED THIS GOWN. No, really. I need this gown. I have a 1920s-themed wedding to go to this year and nothing to wear. Also, this is the perfect picture to comment on another aspect of Mary’s personality: she’s not exactly a girls’ girl – except arguably her semi-purchased friendship with Anna.
Faults aside, I still really loved Mary’s character and wanted her to find happiness. Here she is at her second wedding, all Art Deco lines and accordian pleats. As one final bitchy act, she informs Edith’s love interest that – gasp! – Edith is only weirdly obsessed with the little girl who lives with her because the little girl who lives with her is her daughter.
By the end of the series, everything is patched up with the Crawley sisters, Mary and Edith are both happily wed, and the Downton Home For Half-Orphaned Children will be in the family for years to come. In a final ground-breaking 1920s fashion move, Mary is the first person on the show to wear sunglasses – though with the amount of shade she throws, it’s amazing that she needs them.