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Look of the Week: Zendaya's laid back Spider-Man style
Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
In Spider-Man: Far From Home, Peter (Tom Holland) orchestrates the perfect plan so he can declare his feelings to MJ (Zendaya). Part of this grand gesture includes purchasing a Venetian glass black dahlia necklace, a design he has selected because he knows MJ has a fascination with true crime. Shopping is not the hard part, he quickly finds, and purchases exactly what he has envisioned. Unfortunately for Peter, supervillains and having to save the world is not something he took into account when he constructed this scheme.
MJ’s style in the latest version of Spider-Man is fuss-free and laid-back. Peter’s choice of necklace design isn’t reminiscent of anything else she wears, but he has paid attention to MJ's personal interests with this gift selection nod to one of the most notorious unsolved murders of the 20th century. In that first film, she quips that she is pretty observant, but so is he. For most of Spider-Man: Homecoming, MJ is seen reading or with a book in her hand — including Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham — and she wears a T-shirt with an image of Sylvia Plath on it. In a 2017 interview, Homecoming costume designer Louise Frogley explained why Plath helps to tell the story of who MJ is:
“We spent lots of money buying rights to the Sylvia Plath photograph. We had a Jack Kerouac T-shirt. We had quite a lot, but you didn't see all of them, but it was very deliberate and very thought out. Again, it was the director who wanted her to be this slightly pretentious but quasi-sort-of-negative intellectual.”
Having discovered The Bell Jar when I was 16, this T-shirt is highly relatable (and I would probably still wear it now). Most of the debate team keep their yellow blazers on for the Washington Monument visit, but MJ sets herself apart by tying hers around her waist, pairing it with boots, a black skirt, and the Plath tee. This scene could be from 2017 or 1997.
Anna B. Sheppard took over from Frogley for the sequel, but MJ's Far From Home T-shirt collection continues the powerful and intellectual women theme. Joan of Arc is front and center on one shirt, while another features an archive photo of a suffragettes “Votes for Women” placard. The Joan of Arc top is also notable, as Zendaya’s Heavenly Bodies Met Gala look from 2018 was inspired by this historical icon. We recently celebrated Sheppard’s work on Inglourious Basterds, and while they are two very different movies, MJ and Shosanna (Melanie Laurent) do share strength and fortitude, as well as a penchant for wearing oversized (and often menswear-leaning) attire.
The rest of MJ’s costuming is a mix of cropped pants, army-style jackets, Converse high-tops, and neutral colors. It is not a closet packed with the latest trends; rather, there is a timelessness to it, including the figures represented on her tees. A lot of these garments could also be worn by Zendaya on her HBO show Euphoria, as Rue sticks to oversized hoodies, shorts, and Cons. It is regular high school attire, and it ensures there is an aspect of relatability, even in this heightened world of superheroes.
For the Far From Home press tour, Zendaya showed how versatile her off-screen style is, including the closest thing to a couture version of the Spider-Man suit. The red and black backless sequin Armani Privé gown was a knockout moment, but she also crushed it in a menswear-inspired look at the London photocall. This took place in front of a pivotal Far From Home location, but Zendaya left MJ’s souvenir mace at home.
It isn't all tailored suits and fancy frocks, though. Zendaya’s off-screen fashion includes some more laid-back summer looks. At the recent Teen Choice Awards, it was masculine-meets-feminine in a bright Jacquemus oversized shirt with leather hotpants and Le Silla white pointy heels. Some stars tend to embrace a signature look, but Zendaya continues to have a very playful relationship with fashion.
Back-to-back knockout gowns at the Met Gala were a great recent example of this; she followed her steely Joan of Arc inspiration with a Cinderella performance piece. Stylist Law Roach (who she's been working with since she was 14) played her fairy godfather in this (literally) illuminating performance. Fashion is meant to be fun, a theme that both the Spider-Man star and her stylist lean into.
Earlier this year, it was announced that Zendaya and designer Tommy Hilfiger had collaborated on a ready-to-wear line. It is now Virgo season, and the Tommy X Zendaya collection launches September 8, which looks set to hit my bank account hard. A custom TZH monogrammed suit (below) is just one of many striking ensembles.
The '70s influence is strong, including many covetable high-waisted wide-leg pants, bold animal and houndstooth prints, pussy-bow blouses, statement coats, and velvet suits. While some of the garments are more tailored than Zendaya’s Spider-Man style, the power suits conjure up an image of another SYFY FANGRRLS style favorite from 2019: Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll. The wide-brimmed hat and polka dot maxi dress is serving up a witchy aesthetic, instantly ticking the “must-have” box.
Zendaya celebrates her birthday this weekend, which is another reason to honor her style on- and off-screen. It is unclear what the future holds for this Spider-Man team, but it will be disappointing if we don't get more of Zendaya as MJ. There's still a lot more story to tell, and many more cultural icons to get the MJ T-shirt recognition sartorial bump.