Betty hosts the ladies of the Junior League in her brand new, 1963-fabulous living room and is appointed the new secretary of the local chapter. She’s doing everything an upper-middle class suburban wife would be expected to do and she has everything an upper-middle class suburban wife is expected to have. First item on the agenda, saving the local reservoir by working to get a proposed water tower scrapped. They talk of finding someone in the governor’s office to advocate for them and Betty brings up her acquaintance with Henry. It’s decided someone should call him and ask for his help. “I think we have a better chance if Betty calls.” Betty squints her nose at that. “It’s not adorable to pretend you’re not adorable,” says Francine, goodnaturedly. She calls his office and he tells her that he grew up near Ossining and that he can stop by in the area the following day, a Saturday. Betty says she can “find the time” to meet up with him.
This cute little dress straddles the line between respectable wife and beautiful woman. Not that a woman couldn’t be both at the time, as Betty clearly demonstrates. Just that the costume has typically home-y details, like the pin-tucking and the black trim, but it also looks just sophisticated enough to impress the ladies. She’s “housewife dressed up” which is different from “husband dressed up” and “in the city dressed up.” This outfit says “I’m respectable and well-appointed, but not in a vulgar way.” Her Main Line roots are showing here. Remember she wore white to the country club and white to visit her father when he had his stroke.
Betty meets Henry at a coffee shop to discuss the reservoir. They make nervous small talk and reluctantly turn to the business at hand. Henry offers to help her out and convinces her to order dessert with him. He assures her that he will try to help her with the water tower, but is unsure if he has enough clout. Outside, Betty looks up at the eclipse and swoons. Henry protectively shades her eyes for her. They pause in front of an antique shop window and Henry points out the fainting couch in the window. He tells her that she’s the type of woman who should have one. She declines a walk to her car. “This is still a small town.”
Okay, this goes a little beyond “housewife pretty.” It’s still respectable, but it’s also meant to make her look as good as possible. Even though it looks to be a simple cotton dress, the fit, the print, and the detailing (LOVE those shades), make her look amazing. Easily one of her top 5 outfits of the show, which is notable, because most of her more memorable outfits are expensive “in the city” getups. The fact that this is so simple yet looks so spectacular on her tells you how much looking good for Henry while looking respectable in the eyes of her neighbors was a goal for her – and one she accomplished with typical Betty competence. She knows the rules and she knows how she looks and she’s working her assets to the hilt within those boundaries.
Betty finds out that Don won’t sign a 3-year contract for work and nails him to the wall over it. “What’s the matter. You don’t know where you’re going to be in three years?” He storms out and self-destructs in that spectacular Don way, while Betty has the fainting couch delivered to her house and spends her time ignoring her marriage and dreaming of Henry, feeling herself up while thinking of him.
Okay, it’s probably going a little far to say she’s “feeling herself up” (although Betty’s capable of a little spin-cycle masturbation as we’ve seen in the past). It’s not so much that she’s fantasizing in a sexual manner (although she is partially doing that); it’s that she’s enjoying the idea of being the type of woman that Henry sees her as; the delicate type who needs to be protected from the sun and needs a fainting couch. Don shuts her out constantly and Henry dotes on her. This ruffled and slightly old-fashioned floral sundress illustrates how she wants to be seen, even when no one is looking at her. She likes the idea of being a delicate woman that deserves to be fussed over.
Season 3 Episode 8 – “Souvenir”
Betty and her fellow Junior League ladies attend the county hearing for their pet project to save the reservoir, expecting Henry to arrive and advocate for them. He shows up just in time and saves the day for them with some procedural trickery, thrilling Betty. After the hearing, he walks Betty to her car and impulsively kisses her. When she gets home she’s positively giddy with excitement, relaying her triumph to Don, but neatly avoiding the part that made her the happiest. She impulsively takes Don up on his offer to fly out to Rome for a couple days on the Hilton account’s dime.
This is exactly the outfit she wore when she went home to Philadelphia after her father’s stroke (different scarf, though). Again, this is her “respectable” look. Good enough for Daddy and good enough for the Junior League. And again, it not only says “respectable,” it says “affluent.” We could get all Freudian here and point out that she’s trying to impress Henry with the same dress she used to impress her father, but honestly, it doesn’t need to be that deep. She looks good in this dress and she’s projecting exactly the respectable, moneyed image she wants to.
Sometimes, you can just hear the thought process in the costume design. “Let’s make Betty look like a movie star here.” And she does, calling to mind not just the stable of Hitchcock blondes she resembles, but also any of a number of Doris Day types starring in a continental romance film of the period.
After a visit to the Hilton Beauty Parlor, Betty meets Don for drinks, looking very un-Betty-like. She flirts in easy Italian with a couple of Roman Romeos. Don comes upon the scene and decides to play along, taking a seat at the next table and competing with locals for Betty’s attention. He’s Don Draper. Of course he wins. “I’m only in Rome for one night. I won’t have my heart broken.” The little sexually charged scene turns them both on tremendously.
From Doris Day to Anita Ekberg in one trip to an Italian beauty parlor. She, of course, looks amazing and we can only imagine how much fun Janie Bryant had putting this look together. One needs only to look at, oh … every other thing every other woman ever wore on the show, just to see how radical a departure this was from the working class to upper class styles worn by all the woman in America at the time. This is pure cutting edge Italian style, from the outrageous bouffant to the heavy eye makeup to the long beads and dangling earrings, and like a lot of classic Italian styles, it reads as pure sex all the way. Compare her look here to the respectable Ossining drag she’s forced into back home. These styles will make their way to American shores within the next couple of years, but Betty probably never got the chance to dress this way again. By the time heavy eye makeup and beehives filtered down to suburban America, she would have considered herself too old to partake.
Unbeknownst to Don, Betty opened the locked drawer in his home office and found out all the secrets he’s kept from her. She hasn’t figured out what it all means and what she’s going to do, but she’s shattered by the realization that the marriage she’s been struggling in is all a lie anyway. She dutifully straps on her trophy wife armor so she can impassively watch Don receive an award and the loving applause of his colleagues at the Sterling Cooper 40th anniversary gala.
She looks stunning here (“Look how pretty Mommy is,” Don says to the kids when she emerges from the bathroom) and this would have read as expensive and very of the moment stylish. But compare how demure she looks in comparison to her lusty continental drag of the previous episode. The tightly pulled back hair and ice tones of the dress illustrate her mindset here. She’s cold and withdrawn but still beautiful in that way that turns every head in the room. Very much a “look but don’t touch” look.
Betty confronts Don in his home office and orders him to “Open this drawer or I will.” He tries to deflect but he knows it’s all over. “Is that you? Dick? Is that your name?” She’s furious and for once it’s a grownup anger instead of the childish type she normally displays. She doesn’t budge an inch on anything and forces him to tell her every last bit of it, making sure all the while just how angry and betrayed she’s feeling. In the end, he tells her a story so fucked up that she can’t help but feel a tiny bit of sympathy for him, which she expresses when he does the very un-Don-like thing of bursting into tears as he tells her about the brother he sent away who wound up killing himself.
She’s wearing the pants here. We’ve said this before, but you can only get away with that kind of costuming trick in this particular time period, when women could wear pants but only rarely. She’s a column of uncharacteristically dark color here; an unforgiving wall of anger. Not at all coincidentally, she matches exactly the walls of Don’s office. Janie Bryant has tied all the wives to the colors of their homes, but it’s of special significance that this time Betty isn’t tied to her kitchen or dining room; she’s tied to the one room of her house she wasn’t allowed into.
The Drapers attend Margaret Sterling’s wedding, the day after the Kennedy assassination. Don tries to be the good and attentive husband, but she’s upset over the events both personal and historical that are going on all around her. Henry arrives with a date and Betty is relieved to find out that she’s his daughter. They don’t acknowledge each other.
Another ice-cold look from Betty. It’s interesting that after falling for Henry and after realizing the sparkling and sophisticated dolce vita of her Rome trip was a shallow fantasy, she starts wearing more mature-looking outfits. Henry’s in politics and he’s a bit older than Don, which means he’s significantly older than Betty. She’s already started dressing like his wife.
Henry takes Betty to meet a divorce lawyer. He assumes they’ve already been sleeping together and both Henry and Betty quickly correct him on that. He tells her she’ll have to move to Reno for 6 weeks in order to get the quickie divorce she’s decided upon.
And just like that, Betty’s dressing like she’s ten years older than her age. It’s a nice-looking suit and it almost certainly cost her enough, but the entire effect here is to look as mature, respectable, and serious as possible. The hair and makeup are considerably scaled back. Pretty, but not too pretty. This is serious business and she’s determined to move forward, but still apprehensive. Women didn’t just get out of unsatisfying marriages back then and she’s aware of how potentially dangerous this all is.
She’s halfway between two worlds. She’s got the kicky little plaid pants that tie her to the home and make her seem modern and confident, but she’s wearing a very respectable blouse and cardigan that tend to read as mature.
Again, respectable and mature. She’s moving on and she’s not the trophy wife or the child anymore.
Betty and Henry fly to Reno together, Baby Gene in tow. For just a second, she got a “What am I doing?” look on her face, but again, she’s determined. This bandaid needs to be ripped off if she wants to find some sort of happiness in life. Of course, jumping into marriage with a man she barely knows is a mistake she’s made once already. There’s no guarantee for her that this second opportunity will be any better for the first.
Mature. Respectable. We hate to be so repetitive, but she’s not giving us much else to talk about. It’s at least in a bright, optimistic color which might be a reflection of a tiny part of her, but the goal here was to ensure that no one would ever mistake for her anything but the wife of the older man sitting next to her. She may be doing something schocking and scandalous by the standards of the day, but by God, she’s going to look respectable doing it.
And that’s it! We did it, kittens. A look at every major costume worn by every major female character from the first three seasons of the show. Tonight is the premiere of Season 4 and you can expect to see our recap and review of the episode at some point after midnight, EST. Later in the week, we’ll do a Mad Style post looking at the styles from the episode and throughout the season (hopefully about once a week), we’re going to continue looking back, with posts on the styles of all the major male characters, as well as whatever ladies we never got to, like all those hookers and strippers and bad girls who made memorable appearances.
[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com - Photo Credit: amctv.com/originals/madmen]