Mad Style: Commissions and Fees

Posted on June 06, 2012

We always have two reactions to every episode of Mad Men. There’s the reaction to the story and characters, and then there’s the reaction to the costuming. When this episode ended, Tom turned to Lorenzo and said, “Dammit. It’s almost all men in suits this week.” Janie Bryant clearly has the most fun when she’s dressing adult female characters like Joan, Peggy, Betty and Megan. There’s only so much you can do with a bunch of guys in business suits. We found ourselves longing for a Betty Weight Watchers meeting just to see some color. But then again, the darkness and relative lack of color in this episode served the story well.

It’s amazing how unglamorous Betty’s become. Granted, it’s a little tough to look glamorous in ski-wear, but the Betty of Ossining would have managed it. We imagine that’s due to a lot of factors: weight gain, possible depression, and living in a mausoleum of a house, which doesn’t require her to look ad-perfect the way her lifestyle with Don did.

Blue is a fairly common Betty color. In fact, it’s as much “her” color as yellow is Peggy’s and purple is Joan’s. At one time, it signaled her lousy marriage, but now we tend to think of it more in “Madonna and child” terms. There’s a maternal element at work here.

Like so. Very Madonna and Child. Very much a focal point in the scenes, providing an expanse of unbroken blue against a cacophony of patterns and colors.

But Sally didn’t want to be part of this tableau; not at first.

She wanted to spend time with her best pal Megan. See the greens in their outfits having a conversation with each other? See how the autumnal colors of Sally’s outfit make it seem like she fits right in here?

But look what happens when she makes her first attempt at impressing a boy. She mimics her mother and her step-mother. From the neck up, that’s pure Betty Francis, but those boots are pure Megan Draper all the way. It’s cute because the boots really don’t go with the outfit at all. She was just dying for a chance to wear them after Don told her she wasn’t allowed to when Megan first bought them for her. It’s notable that the argument with her mother that sent her running to Megan had to do with her older step-sister’s hand-me-down boots and how she didn’t want to wear them. Sally had one pair of boots in mind for this weekend and they sure as hell weren’t hand-me-downs.

Scarlet now fills the Joan role in more ways than one. Not only is she the secretary for the partner’s meetings, sitting in Joan’s old seat, but like her predecessor, she serves to be the focal point of color in the scene. How many times have we seen this exact scene with Joan standing out from every man in the room because she was in a bright color? Scarlet’s hair do, brooch, and button earrings all call back to Joan, reminding us of the connection. What’s notable here is that Joan’s in a navy blue with a detail at the neckline; a way of subtly mimicking menswear without looking like menswear.

And the colors of her dress are picked up by the colors in Lane’s tie. We’ve never seen this dress before. With all the talk of going on vacation in this scene, it’s clear that Joan’s feeling pretty good about her money situation. This is almost certainly a new dress. And while it looks fairly workman-like (i.e., not necessarily expensive), it’s notable how sort of flirty and feminine it is, despite the menswear allusions. The neckline is fairly low for Joan’s office wear and the bows at the sleeves and neckline are uncharacteristically fussy for her. Joan didn’t get to be partner by trying to act like a man and she’s not going to act like one now. Her femininity is still of the utmost importance to her, even if it means she gets subjected to lascivious comments about bikinis.

And what’s on her dress? Gold roses. The rose motif has been working overtime to let us know what’s going on in Joan’s life and in Joan’s head. She went from lush red roses when her marriage was doing okay, to withering red roses when it was in trouble, to brown, dead roses when it ended, and now that she’s making serious money, her roses have turned to gold. This dress, which looks quite expensive, served a second purpose later in the episode.

Scarlet is, of course, dressed in scarlet.

Maybe we’re reading too much into it, but Rebecca’s outfit looked a little tatty to us; like it had seen better days. It’s definitely not new, and it’s not likely that she’s been allowed to spend much money on clothes. In the context of Lane’s state of mind the deep red is ominous, evoking danger and blood.

As wonderful as Jared Harris’ performance was this episode, it was this scene we found almost unbearable to watch. Not just because of his anguish, but because she is trying SO HARD to be happy. There’s a desperation there; as if she herself is about to burst into tears at any moment.

Yet another instance of a wife tied to her home through the use of color. She matches the couch AND the walls. She’s gone from being an ominous figure in red, bringing danger, to a ghost hovering in Lane’s background; something to be placated while he gets on with the business of killing himself.

And how very Lane Pryce to get up in the middle of the night and get fully dressed in order to kill himself. Lane lived in his three-piece suit and by God, he was going to die in one. How heartbreaking it was to see him snap his glasses in two. A perfect instance of the costume coming into the script and being utilized in order to signify a character’s mindset. You don’t get much more final than that.

It struck us how much black was in this scene. The three partners on the right are all in black ties, black overcoats, and in Roger and Pete’s case, black suits. Even Joan, who normally serves as the bright pop of color in any partner scene, is wearing an uncharacteristic black dress (she’s only worn one or two in the office before). Usually, in order to break up the monotony, Janie Bryant will have Pete in a blue suit or she’ll give the men pops of color in their ties. With this scene, it’s almost uniformly gray and black; perfectly funereal.

And finally…

Megan got herself a new – and much more memorable – audition outfit. Obviously, her beige lucky audition dress was no longer lucky for her and she opted for the kind of outfit that stands out more. We wonder if this mentioned-in-passing audition will finally be the one that lands her a part. Stay tuned.

 

[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com]

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