Mad Style: A Little Kiss, Part 1

Posted on March 28, 2012

Wake up, children! The SIXTIES are here!

Like most viewers, we were struck by Sally’s newly stretched-out body and suddenly deeper voice. And probably like a lot of viewers, we originally figured this was her new house she was waking up in. The scene was designed to be as confusing as possible, in order to mimic the confusion Sally’s feeling. Note the rather half-assed way her bedroom is decorated (this isn’t her home) and that she’s wearing “big girl” pajamas (as opposed to the nightgowns reserved for little girls) and that she’s outgrowing them.

We love how little Gene is perched dangerously on that barstool without benefit of a strap or high chair. Divorced dads. What’re you gonna do with them?

We all salivated over that apartment when it first appeared, didn’t we? Trying to drink in every detail at once? We’re heading into a portion of the sixties that, instead of showing us echoes of the fifties (which is mostly what the show was about for its first 3 seasons), is instead going to show us hints of the coming ’70s. There’s a whole lot of brown and autumnal tones here. There was a lot about interior and fashion design in the ’70s to like, but there was just as much about it that was drab and didn’t age well. Don’s apartment is the height of late ’60s moneyed Manhattan sophistication, but to our eyes, it looks just a little cheap; like nothing in this room will last the next ten years. And don’t we all think that about the current status of Don’s life? That it’s shoddily put together and won’t last long in this state?

Megan is almost literally sunny as she walks into the room in her bright yellow sweater and modern white pants. She’s being played right now as a character almost too light and too happy to exist in Don’s world, but re-watching these scenes, we were struck about how friendly, but distant she is with his kids. Contrast that to just a year ago, when she was doing her Maria Von Trapp act with them. We don’t really subscribe to the fan theory that there’s something sinister about Megan, but we’re on board with the idea that there are depths to her unexplored and things about her Don doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know.

Patterns are making their way into the menswear of this period, which means that, because the main male characters are all fairly conservative in their dress, the best they can manage is striped ties – you’ll see a lot of them – and subtle plaids. Two other things of note here: Pete is a rumpled mess in all of his scenes, due to the long commute from Connecticut, no doubt.

One other thing: Matt Weiner has said repeatedly that one of the underlying themes of Mad Men is about the decline of New York as it slowly turned from the glittering metropolitan paradise of the ’50s into the crime and trash-ridden city of the ’70s while California became America’s mecca in its stead (Putting bets down now that the final episode of the series will have Don living in California). We note this now because that train set was dirty and run down, sporting the drab utilitarian styles of late ’60s municipal and public design. That’s the first time we’ve seen something like that on the show; that evidence of a society crumbling.

The secretarial styles are changing as well. Dresses have a looser, unstructured fit. The colors are increasingly bold and little details like pendants, costume jewelry or decorative buttons are becoming more prominent. Picture in your mind’s eye the way the secretaries dressed at the old SC offices: Chanel-style jackets, Peter Pan collars, and pencil skirts ruled the day back then, all in muted pinks or olives. Now, it’s all just a little sexier, brighter, and looser. Joan was apoplectic when Jane showed a little cleavage in the office years ago and now it’s become no big thing.

We had a feeling this wasn’t going to register in the screencaps, so you’ll have to trust us on this: It’s subtle, but every man in this scene is wearing patterned clothing. Don and Lane are in extremely subtle plaids, Pete is in a black pinstriped suit, and Roger’s wearing a patterned tie. In the sixties, there were massive shifts in the way people viewed clothing (From “A lady never leaves the house without her gloves” to bra-burning in ten years) and these shifts eventually trickled “up” from the streets and the magazine covers until, by the ’70s, even middle-aged establishment types were sporting wild colors and patterns in their everyday wear. This is an extremely subtle way of illustrating that. The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit is now The Man in the Plaid Suit.

This is a pretty damn bold outfit on Megan, even for the period. She’s not wearing the good-girl secretary dresses of last season. She’s got money and power she didn’t have a year ago and she’s sporting a much more mod, much sexier look in the office. That skirt is almost shockingly short for the setting and most of the other gals in the office would’ve thought her crazy for mixing a polka dot blouse with a skirt with a racing stripe. She’s clearly pushing the envelope and she’s doing it on purpose.

We’re getting more and more this sense of decline in the art direction and costume design. While we wouldn’t use “decline” as a word to describe a post-partum woman, these scenes were clearly designed to draw a distinction between the Joan who was on top of the world just a year or two ago and the Joan who struggles to get through her day now.

Many readers noted the apartment and its colors this episode. The funny thing about it is, this is one of the few sets that hasn’t changed since the earliest days of the show. If people are just noticing it now, we’d say it’s because it stands out as old-fashioned and out of style. That salmon-and-turquoise color scheme is pure late ’50s.

We always thought it was odd that Joanie’s raising her baby in the same apartment where she and her lesbian roommate picked up men and brought them home. That bar in the living room is looking more and more incongruous as time goes on; an echo of an old life she no longer lives. She’d be better putting a changing table in its place.

It’s interesting to note that Janie Bryant did NOT go the obvious route with Joan’s mother. She could have easily costumed her in something tight and inappropriate, but instead she looks very much like a typical middle-class woman of her age in that period. The slacks are notable, and maybe if she wore them all the time, we’d point out that she, like Joan, was a working woman and that perhaps the slacks are there to denote that. But we don’t think the explanation is all that deep. She’s wearing slacks because she’s helping her daughter with her newborn.

By the way, Tom was born in June of ’66 and he’s almost 100% certain his parents had that exact baby carriage.

Little to note about these looks except that Peggy and Stan have both worn theirs before. It’s one of the best things about the costume design on the show; the idea that people don’t change their wardrobes every few years and that most people get through their day without looking like a fashion magazine cover. Would that more period costumers recognized the same thing.

Ken: striped tie.

Again; that sense of decline. Things just aren’t as pretty as they used to be. Trudy doesn’t dress to the nines anymore and their kitchen, which is designed to remind you of the original Draper family kitchen, looks kind of drab and depressing, even if it’s typical for the period.

But no need to fret, Pete Campbell! Pretty is about to come roaring back into your world!

Un, deux, trois, quatre!

Bam. THERE’S your mod. And if you didn’t know it, we’re here to tell ya: this whole party scene was about generational differences. Let’s break it down.

Color and pattern are here in a big, big BIG way. Even account executives wives want to dabble in the newer styles. For the first time, however, Pete and Trudy don’t look like the young, well-dressed couple anymore. They look very established. Sure, there’s a slight youthfulness to their looks due mostly to the color (and they once again are dressed to match in complementary shades of red and pink), but Trudy’s dress in particular looks mature in comparison to the younger styles in the room. The frilly cuffs, high collar and full, knee-length skirt almost look dowdy next to Ken’s wife’s eye-popping minidress in a bright orange harlequin pattern. With her dangling earrings and kicky short haircut, she looks way more tuned into current styles than Trudy is.

Like Trudy, Jane has always served as an example of the younger styles slowly making their way into the world. But here, like Trudy, she’s wearing something that’s stylish and has the bright patterns of the moment, but doesn’t feel quite … young.  Like Trudy’s dress, this is something that easily could have been worn by a woman ten to fifteen years her senior. She’s about the same age as Peggy, which would make her still in her 20s. This has got “Mrs. Robinson” written all over it. The swirling red print does a very good job of illustrating the tension in this marriage.

Roger’s sporting a less subtle plaid (although it’s practically invisible next to Pete’s); an attempt to keep up with the changes while still remaining respectable.

Peggy, bless her awkward little heart, can’t really hold a candle to anyone else. She and Abe are perfect for each other in so many ways. They’re both socially awkward and dress terribly. This is probably the only tie he owns; a basic black skinny tie that he’s had since college. Same probably goes for the dress shirt. We doubt he wears one to work every day. Her dress is of the period, but it’s not the most stylish thing in the world. It’s notable that she’s wearing a floral, though. She almost never has. We don’t think that signifies anything more than, like everyone else here, she can’t escape change and if the racks are full of floral dresses in 1966, then Peggy will wear one, even if she hasn’t shown a fondness for them before.

It’s interesting how Peggy and Trudy are somewhat tied together by their floral dresses.

Don and Roger could have walked out of a Seagram’s ad of the period. This look of contrasting blazer with dark pants, white shirt, and skinny tie with a hint of pattern was considered something of a uniform for the suave, stylish middle-aged urban man. It’s practically code for “divorced.”

Harry’s just trying like crazy to remain youthful, right down to his new, hip frames. He spends a lot of time in California and among TV people, so it stands to reason that his style would get younger and looser than the NYC-entrenched people he works with. For him, that means colarless shirts with no tie. In a couple years, he’s going to be wearing some truly embarrassing outfits.

We can’t imagine Lane’s wife sitting down on the floor at a party as recently as a year or two prior to this. It seems a minor thing – and it is – but things like this illustrate once again how even the older generation is feeling the new looseness in the air, even if their clothes aren’t quite as mod as the younger ones. Although her getup is a fairly decent halfway point between mod and respectable middle age.

We’re not saying anyone here looks bad, exactly. In fact, they all look great (mostly). It’s just that there was a clear line running down the center of the room, with youth on one side and establishment on the other. And for the first time in this show, all the main characters were on the “establishment” side of things, leaving new characters to pick up the “youth” mantel. In other words, Trudy can rock her pretty pink dress all she wants…

But she just looks like someone’s wife next to this hipper-than-thou crowd. Look at Glamourpuss’s cropped pants and jacket paired with boots and a bright yellow shirt. Or the guy in the pink shirt and tie. Or the guy in the teal jacket. Harry wishes he could dress half as boldy as they do.

And then there’s THIS gal:

Those other ladies can try out the prints and the florals if they think it makes them look hip, but this girl’s the most cutting-edge in the room. It makes sense that the camera lingered on her a little. Everyone in the room would have lingered on her. You know the type, the one who really does dress like a magazine cover. Boa, mini-skirt and knee-high boots, with flipped hair and the wildest print in the room; she could be Nancy Sinatra. It’s the equivalent of someone showing up at a party today dressed like Katy Perry. She represents everything that’s happening right now at the forefront of style. In a year, half the young women in the country will be trying some variation of this look, but right now, she’s just the coolest girl in the room.

Save one, of course.

We didn’t think they could ever top the lawnmower incident, but this one moment may wind up being the most talked-about in the series’ history. It came so far out of left field, like nothing we’d ever seen on the show, and we wound up sitting there open-mouthed, just like all the characters.

This was where the youthfulness on one side of the room crashed into the adulthood on the other side. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand Don. She understands him better than most of the women he’s been with; that sex scene proved it. What she couldn’t understand was how the older people in the room would view her. To her young friends, she’s fabulous and fun. To the SCDP crowd she was either inappropriate or begging for sex. They couldn’t – none of them – see it as just fun and playful.

And we say “older,” but Peggy’s only a year or two older than her and Trudy’s only about 5 years older, if that. It’s not about the ages in the room; it’s about who’s the most in tune with the youth culture of the period.

To be fair, this is a pretty shocking dress. The mini-skirt was still being written about in Life magazine as some continental oddity in 1966. Yes, the mini-skirt has “arrived,” but even for the time, this dress is outrageously short for the real world. But it’s very much the latest – and we mean the very latest – in style. It’s cutting edge, in fact; like someone at a cocktail party showing up in Alexander McQueen. It’s one of the few times a main character on the show really does look like a magazine cover of the period. It makes sense for her. She’s young and beautiful with a carefree attitude, and, most important of all, she’s living a fabulously sophisticated life and she’s rich. Who wouldn’t dress like a magazine cover, given all that? Girl is living the dream.

The pleated angel-wing sleeves, rhinestone collar and cuffs, fishnets, and low-heeled shoes are flat-out perfect for the period. If you’re on a magazine cover or a pop star, that is. Of course, Betty, for most of her first marriage, looked like she stepped off a magazine cover in 1955. Don still wants the covergirl wife; he’s just buying more current issues now.

And check out that eye makeup. To DIE. That late ’60s eyelid never really came back in style, did it? With the line cutting across the lid and two shades of eye shadow, above and below? You only ever see drag queens do it anymore. Maybe Megan’s little song and dance will spur a new makeup trend in 2012.

 

Part 2 here. If you haven’t read the rest of our Mad Style series, well then, you best get clicking.

 

[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com – Photo Credit: amctv.com]

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