Mad Style: Joan Holloway, S3 Part 2

Posted on July 23, 2010

Season 3 Episode 8 – “Souvenir”

It’s a long story, but Pete gets himself involved in some drama with his neighbor’s au pair, who borrowed her boss’s dress and spilled wine all over it. Pete promises her that he can do something about it and winds up in the dress department of Bonwit Teller, asking for the manager. Surprise, the manager is Joan, forced to take a job in retail because her husband’s career isn’t going as planned. She is mortified, but recovers nicely and demonstrates with typical Joan efficiency that she doesn’t buy Pete’s cover story for a minute by noting that the dress doesn’t look like Trudy’s size. How like Joan to have a fact like that filed away. They make small talk while she solves his problem by tracking down a replacement dress and informs Pete that Greg is looking into psychiatry and she’s “just filling in” at the store. When they part, Pete asks for her discretion and Joan says the mantra of the show, “This never happened.” After he leaves, she visibly deflates, leaning on the counter and looking defeated.It’s not that we think working in Bonwit’s was such a disgrace; it’s that Joan would — and so would Pete, for that matter. She notes in a later episode that she can make more there than if she tried to take a job as a secretary, which would also have been a step down from her managerial position at Sterling Cooper. And Bonwit Teller was a pretty respectable and high end store at the time. Still, she left SC as a Manhattan surgeon’s wife, which was pretty high up on the social ladder. Even if she is a manager and even if it is a high end store, this was an embarrassing position for her to be in.

We’re laying all this groundwork because she’s in purple and that’s a color that occurs often whenever she’s at a low or vulnerable point. We wrote in an earlier Joan post that it’s the color of her heart. This is actually a new shade for her because we normally see her in jewel tones and this borders on a pastel. Look at how different her hair and make up is too. Even though she still looks great to us, Joan probably considered this look a little “tarted up” for her, adding to her embarrassment. Not to be too hyperbolic, but it’s almost like Pete stumbled on her working a corner to pick up tricks – at least in the minds of Pete and Joan.

Still, it’s a really cute dress. Love that oversize collar, a neckline we’ve never seen on Joan before.

 

Season 3 Episode 11 – “The Gypsy and the Hobo”

Joan coaches Greg for his psychiatric residency interview. He reveals to her that his father had a nervous breakdown. She is warm and supportive in a wifely manner here, but she also demonstrates how whip smart she is after years of both dating in the city and working in the city. She tells him to project that “You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re great to be around, but you haven’t decided yet if they’re the one.” He notes with annoyance, “This isn’t a beauty pageant.” And she comes right back with “Well, I’ve seen executives crash and burn.” 

We just love this outfit. It’s casual and classic and just a little bit chic in a dressed-down sort of way. The reason Joan always looks so good to the modern audience is that so much of her wardrobe would still work well today. That’s how classic it is. More important, her wardrobe works on a range of body types, which means a lot of women in 2010 look at her and think how cute she looks while wondering how the same look would work on herself. You don’t always get that with Betty, who sometimes wears very period-specific housewife-y styles and you only occasionally get it with Peggy, who’s still learning how to dress herself at this point.What’s also notable here is that Janie Bryant used a trick she’s employed with Betty and Trudy before: matching her outfit to the home, tying her to it visually because women without careers at that time were practically chained to the home. Her sweater matches both the rug and the drapes. Not that this scene feels oppressive so much; just that we’re seeing Joan in a rare role here: that of a wife totally devoted to her husband.


Joan calls Roger in the office, who tells her it’s lucky he called just then because his secretary happened to be out. “I know. She has a hair appointment the last Tuesday of the month.” She let’s him know she’s looking for a job and makes it clear she can’t come back to SC because she’s been replaced by Mr. Hooker and a secretarial job doesn’t pay as much as retail. They have a cute, sexy conversation that shows that they have a history and they still have affection for each other. “Are you asking if I miss you?” “Look at you, figuring things out for yourself.”

Later that day, she come home from her shift, presumably at Bonwit’s, to a pouting Greg, who screwed up on his interview and knows he’s not going to get into the psychiatry program. At first she tries to console him, to which he angrily replies, “Stop acting like you know everything.” She switches tactics for a little tough love: “I don’t care what you do so long as you do something.” “Maybe it’s time to move on.” He explodes at her. “You don’t know what it’s like, to want something your whole life, to plan for it and count on it, and not get it!”

Well. That was all Joanie needed to hear, because you know how everyone’s got that one big red button that should never be pushed? Greg pushed it. Nostrils flaring in rage, she impulsively grabs the nearest thing, which happened to be a vase, and smashed it over his head. She storms into the bedroom and he yells after her that she’s crazy.

Note that this is a standard SC office look. We think the reason for that is the phone call with Roger, which was dripping with history. What better way to visualize that history than by having Joan dressed in one of her more recognizable office outfits? What better way to illustrate how far she’s fallen (in terms of having control over her life) than by reminding us what she looked like when she seemed to have everything in control?

Greg comes home to a wifely Joan, setting the table. He sheepishly apologizes, roses in hand to replace the ones that landed on his head. He’s happy and excited for the first time in a long time and tells her he solved all their problems. He joined the army as a surgeon. “I don’t know what to say,” she says, and you can see her struggling to process the information. Admittedly, it does all sound good on paper, so long as you have no knowledge of the coming escalation of the Vietnam war. “It’s wonderful Greg.” She’s genuinely relieved, but there’s just the slightest hint of concern. It might be a solution to their immediate problems but she still feels the lack of control over her life she once had.

Once again, taking another page out of the housewife handbook, this time, the chapter on Trudy. Even Betty doesn’t go around looking this domestic. Just like Trudy, Joan matches her table settings exactly, from apron to fondue pot (LOVE), blouse to china, tablecloth, and stemware. She looks adorable, but to the viewer, it’s a jarring change from the Joan we’re used to. Uber-capable and professional Joan is now reduced to cheering on whatever latest scheme her husband can come up with because she has no other choice.

 

Season 3 Episode 12 – “The Grown-Ups”

It’s the day after the Kennedy assassination, which is also the day of Margaret Sterling’s wedding. A slightly tipsy Roger calls Joan (“So what’s new?”) because he needs someone to talk to and his child bride with an eating disorder is passed out. It’s another cute tête-à-tête that plays on their history and lingering affection. “That’s right, I forgot,” says Joan when he reminds her of Margaret’s wedding. Then, “My God, you’re really upset,” to all of his uncharacteristic morose philosophizing. He wonders why that is. “Because there’s nothing funny about this,” she tells him. “Hang in there, red.” “You too.” Sweet scene.

Another cute and chic home outfit that would still work today. We never see Joan in such somber colors, but this was a solemn weekend and it would be just like her to dress the part. Love the cute splash of color with the scarf. The president might be dead, but men still love scarves.

 

Season 3 Episode 13 – “Shut the Door. Have a Seat.”


As Don, Roger, Bert, and Lane assemble a team of all-stars in order to start a new company on the sly, they realize they’re all overcome with the administrative task of effectively stealing away materials and clients for the new shop. Roger has a brainstorm and makes a phone call. Enter Joan, clearly thrilled to be there. “I made a list and I called some movers,” she says excitedly. “Joan, what a good idea,” says Don. She efficiently and effectively schools them all on what needs to be done, and the whole caper comes together based solely on her expertise. As they wrap up their night of larceny and they’re leaving the office, Don discreetly pulls her aside and tells her he’ll need an apartment in the city. “Furnished?” she asks. When he affirms, she ever-so-quietly and discreetly says “I’m sorry,”and says goodnight. Don’s separation from his wife is nothing shocking to her; just another piece of information to file away, like Trudy’s dress size.

Of course Joan would be well aware just how much physical labor would be involved in stealing all the files and materials so it would only be natural for her to show up in a casual outfit like this instead of a dress. Besides, it’s night time. Still, as practical as this cute little classic outfit of capris, cardigan and man’s style collared shirt is, it also serves to point out where she was before she got that phone call. Home, in her version of housewife clothes, in somber tones once again. It may look cute to us, but it was the uniform from the prison they just sprung her out of.


The morning of the first day of business for the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and all-star office manager supreme Joan Holloway Harris is on the job, efficiently handing out desk assignments and informing all the principals of the new office protocols. Despite her business-like demeanor, she is clearly thrilled to be there.

It’s rare to see Joan in a sweater and skirt. Blouse and skirt, yes, but sweaters are a rarity, especially in black. We have never seen either of these pieces before. The little extrapolated storyline in our heads tells us she probably picked them up at some point at her job at Bonwit’s. She mentioned to Pete how she got a discount on the clothes there and she would have considered a lot of the blouses she owns too business-like for high-end retail. This straddles the line nicely and it also serves to illustrate that this is a brand new day, not just for her, but for everyone in the scene.

 

[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com - Photo Credit: amctv.com/originals/madmen]

    • Karen

      I think the return of the brooch and the pen-on-a-chain also point to the shift from wife/retail back to office mode.