mary poppins returns emily blunt

Look of the Week: the practically perfect superhero styling of Mary Poppins Returns

Contributed by
Dec 16, 2018

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!

Not all superheroes wear capes; in the case of Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt), a capelet will do. It has been 54 years since the magical English nanny has graced screens, but she's back in Mary Poppins Returns to save the day once again. Dressed in signature blue and red and carrying her trademark carpet bag, Mary floats back into the lives of Jane (Emily Mortimer) and Michael (Ben Whishaw) when everything appears to be crumbling.

Mary Poppins Returns

Credit: Disney

It has been over 20 years since the events of the Julia Andrews classic movie; the world is in the midst of the Great Depression and on the brink of another World War. Hope is in short supply, which is where Mary’s wisdom and whimsical costumes come into play.

Rather than giving Mary a broad makeover for this new adventure, multiple Oscar-winning costume designer Sandy Powell instead pays homage to Tony Walton’s Oscar-nominated work from the original film — Walton was also married to original Mary Poppins star Julie Andrews at the time.

Mary is instantly recognizable as she emerges from the grey clouds of London. The umbrella mode of transport, the outward pointing boots, and blue coat silhouette are part of her iconic look. Powell has added a capelet canopy to Mary’s outerwear; she doesn’t age, but fashion trends do change. The first movie did the Edwardian era through a 1960s lens; now, the 1930s are receiving the contemporary twist treatment.

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Mary Poppins Returns. Credit: Disney

Sandy Powell has worked on a vast number of period movies across an array of decades and centuries including recent The Favourite — she was working on this at the same time as Mary Poppins Returns — as well as The Young Victoria, Carol, The Aviator and Shakespeare in Love. This is also not her first movie infused with magic and wonder, as her work on Cinderella and Hugo attests. The costumes of Mary Poppins Returns have a number of stylized attributes including color and silhouette. One subtle detail is that none of the pinstripes on the suits of villainous William "Wetherall" Wilkins (Colin Firth) are straight.

Everything has layers and texture, and pattern clashing is a feature of a majority of the costumes. Mary’s burgundy chevron capelet is paired with polka dots on top of polka dots; a bow tie, gloves, and blouse are all dotty. From the trailer and posters alone, it is a visual feast for the eyes.

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Emily Mortimer, Ben Whishaw and Emily Blunt in Mary Poppins Returns. Credit: Disney

The real world costumes are bold, such as Michael’s Kelly green cardigan and Jane in a lime blouse. However, the blast of candy-colors injection is saved for the animated infused sequence. Powell explained in an interview with The AV Club that she wanted these clothes to look like they had been drawn. Other factors she considered were for practical reasons — including garments that wouldn’t be too cumbersome to dance in. For Mary, her pink and purple gown is inspired by Ginger Rogers, which is why the skirt is so voluminous.

Emily Blunt Mary Poppins Returns

Credit: Disney

If Ginger Rogers influenced this look, another classic movie star helped inform Emily Blunt’s performance. Rosalind Russell’s iconic turn as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday definitely inspired Blunt’s cadence. In Blunt’s recent Vogue cover story, she notes that instead of rewatching the 1964 film, she read the original series by P.L. Travers. The first book was both published and set in the 1930s; however, Disney changed the date to 1910, but this new sequel restores the time period of the Travers novels.

In the Vogue interview, Emily Blunt refers to Mary Poppins as a superhero, a statement I strongly agree with. Her heroic efforts are on a much smaller scale than say, the Avengers, but she is a force for good in trying times. Her signature style including the capelet coats, polka dot shirts, and bow ties are her uniform. She has special skills and gadgets, such as her bottomless bag and umbrella transport to aid her mission. And, like the Avengers, she offers hope in a world that is about to set on fire.

There is also a visual link to another red and blue wearing hero; the Peggy Carter style comparison is hard to ignore. Both women know the power of a fantastic red hat, plus the time periods are similar. 

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Mary Poppins Returns official poster. Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Hats featured in Emily Blunt’s Vogue editorial, a shoot which leaned into the whimsical styling of Mary Poppins. The red Dior suit jacket and voluminous skirt wouldn’t look out of place in the movie, showing the correlation between fairy tale fantasy and couture.

Meanwhile, on the red carpet, Blunt has been leaning into playful designs. This isn’t quite the same level of being on theme as Ezra Miller and Amber Heard, but each dress has been a stunner.

Emily Blunt

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At the L.A. premiere, Blunt was fairy godmother chic in white Yanina Couture, while switching things up in Paris with a dress pattern that would make a perfect carpet bag in Zuhair Murad fall 2018 Couture. On the blue carpet in London, royal blue Schiaparelli fall 2018 Haute Couture somehow managed to stand out rather than blend, true sartorial magic at play.

Ben Whishaw

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Not to be outdone, Ben Whishaw’s graphic print Alexander McQueen L.A. premiere suit paired with a pinstripe shirt is pattern-clashing, which reads as an homage to Powell's work on this movie. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda and Emily Blunt

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And we can’t leave out Lin-Manuel Miranda, who at a New York City event wore socks that are very much on the fun side. Maybe Miranda is a fan of another SYFY FANGRRLS style inspiration favorite.

For a little bit of whimsy in your wardrobe, there is a Mary Poppins Returns collaboration with Hunter — including Wellington boots, bags, and umbrellas. If you want a taste of Sandy Powell’s costuming with a contemporary twist, then her curation with the Trunk Club is just for you.  

Mary Poppins lands in Cherry Tree Lane when the now grown-up Banks kids need her most. She is practically perfect in every way, right down to her own brand of eccentric, pattern-clashing, superhero chic.

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