Mad Style: To Have and To Hold

Posted on April 24, 2013

We got embarrassingly excited when the episode opened with a shot of those green and blue room dividers, opening up to a tableau of men all dressed in blue and green. We noted in the season opener that Peggy was working a lot of blue and green and that it was reflected in the men she was dealing with. We said at the time that it was a very popular color combination for the period and one that, to this day, still evokes and is identified with the ’60s. Then last week, all hell broke loose on the green-and-blue front and it seemed pretty obvious to us that this was a deliberate motif on costume designer Janie Bryant’s part. But what is she saying? What does it represent? We have a feeling we’re going to be debating that one all season.

And let’s just say it: it’s absolutely possible that Janie’s not saying anything deliberately and that this is just a popular color combination for 1968 that looks good on many of these characters. We’ll see. After all, it wasn’t quite so prevalent this week as it was last week. And the ways in which it’s being used aren’t always consistent. There’s been some talk among our commenters that the B&G combo signals “cheating” or “adultery,” and there’s something to that, since it featured so heavily in the Megan and Sylvia scene last week and then later in the scene where Ted convinced Peggy to “cheat” on Stan and SCDP and go after Heinz.

And this scene also has a very heavy undercurrent of cheating, as all three men meet secretly in a spot designed specifically for Pete to cheat on his wife so they can discuss SCDP “cheating” on Heinz Beans. And if the symbolism wasn’t obvious enough, Pete then offered the place to Don in case he wanted to cheat on his wife (not realizing that Don kept it all under one roof this time) and the Heinz guy literally licked his wedding ring and slipped it off as he left.

So yeah. A case can definitely be made that green and blue signal a form of adultery. As we’ve said before, however, color theory is a dicey thing to apply to analysis, because there will always be instances of the colors just popping up in scenes where no heavier meaning is applied to them, and because stating that “x color = x concept” is too simplistic in many cases. For now, we’re treading lightly, noting the times and places it occurs, and talking it out.

 

We thought it was interesting that this week, both Dawn and Joan (who wound up forming a relationship this episode) introduced us to women who may be their sisters or may just be a good friend. The dialogue and acting seemed almost deliberately vague in both cases.

Dawn wore this outfit last season. It’s so dowdy it almost looks like a housekeeper’s uniform. In the premiere episode of this season we noted that her outfit looked more expensive and slightly more frivolous than her outfits last season and noted that she’s probably making decent money and loosening up a bit around the office, not worrying so much about needing to be a credit to her race. But Janie Bryant has a tendency to put characters in declarative outfits that send a message and then have them continue to wear their old clothes. It’s a little brilliant, we think; because it allows her to use costuming to tell a story while still allowing her commitment to absolute realism. Because in the real world, even after life-changing events, we all don’t throw out our wardrobes and remake ourselves. Instead, if our styles change to reflect our changing circumstances, it tends to happen over time. Peggy to this day still wears schoolgirl plaids, even after all the astonishing progress she’s made in her life and career. Joan still dresses in tight, sexy clothing even after she’s been made a partner and made a slight shift toward more business-like attire. We are who we are, after all, and change comes hard and usually slowly. That’s been a major theme of both the show and the costuming.

Her friend, on the other hand, is vibrant and seeks all the attention in the scene. Even though the background is full of red tones, her red stands out loudly. Her outfit is naive and simple, which reflects the relatively simplistic view she seems to have of the world, which revolves entirely around romance and her own wedding. Dawn has work to do and an obstacle course to run every day. She’s dressed for it.

 

Joan is the center of the scene here; her dark indigo suit demanding all the attention away from the creams and blues of the scene. Her friend is also in a suit, but it’s less impressive than Joan’s. The friend is in costume jewelry and Joan is sporting touches of gold. She represents success and money here to her friend.

 

Hold that thought.

 

Just a snapshot to note once again how astonishingly colorful the world became practically overnight. Two executives; one in a green suit and one in a yellow one.

 

Also: blue and green. It’s so brief a moment that we can’t really analyze it except to note that a lot of viewers felt that Scarlett and Harry are having an affair.

 

Scarlett favors dresses somewhat similar to the ones Joan wore back in the day; body-hugging and bright, with colorful details like scarves and buttons. This dress also has very light military touches to it.

Dawn is probably never going to give her fans the false-eyelashes-and-go-go-boots moment they’re yearning for. She’s not going to be a model for the major African-American styles of the period. In many ways, she’s like Peggy was back when she was a secretary; a working class good-girl from an ethnic neighborhood that seems far away from downtown. And except for the print of the dress, we think this outfit looks very much like a lot of Peggy’s old secretarial outfits. Yellow was Peggy’s old power color, after all.

 

Boy, Ginsberg really turned into a schlub overnight, didn’t he?

Everybody loved Stan’s “Born to be Wild” getup so we can’t not feature it. It notes nothing so much as the trickling down (and out and up) of counterculture styles to places like Madison Avenue and from there, to Middle America. It’s also notable (to us anyway) that the colors of Stan’s outfit are the colors found in meat-centered food photography of the period; lots of glistening reds, browns and tans.

 

The ads they pitch to Heinz will feature all the colors of Stan’s outfit prominently. He’s a walking hamburger. Don, for his part, couldn’t possibly look more establishment.

 

Hold that thought.

 

Janie always dresses Meredith in naive, child-like clothes, but she really ramps it up whenever she’s interacting with Joan. Here, she’s shot past “child” and landed on “toddler.”  But interestingly, it’s a toddler’s dress that mimics a sailor suit. So both Scarlet and Meredith are wearing military styles in 1968, at the height of Vietnam. Nicely done, Janie Bryant.

Joan wore this outfit for her partner portrait on the stairs, which makes it all the more notable in this episode, which revolves around the fallout from her partnership. Remember: Harry shoved past her on the stairs angrily in that scene, foreshadowing this conflict. Not coincidentally, he is also wearing the same attention-seeking jacket in this episode that he wore in that scene:

 

Costuming as foreshadowing; costuming to pay off a storyline. People always ask us to give the Mad Style treatment to a whole bunch of other shows on TV, from Boardwalk Empire to Game of Thrones. And while we wish there were enough hours in the week to do something like that, we always say the same thing: Not many costume people on TV are working on the same literary level that Janie Bryant’s working (although GoT comes close – and before you ask: no. Sorry).

Note how the  men are in dark clothing (even Ken, who normally doesn’t wear dark clothing), while the TV and media guys are bringing all the color and pattern into the scene.

 

Megan’s outfit is working on an ironic level. She’s as demure as she can be; completely covered up. She’s also barefoot, signaling a power differential (because Don’s wearing the ultimate in American power uniforms: the wealthy executive’s suit) and her attempt at being obsequious to him. On the other hand, she’s all done up in pink and red, which in this case signal sex and more importantly to Don, signal prostitution:

 

This is a costuming version of something we see all the time in the text: Megan has a tendency to agitate Don’s innermost turmoil inadvertently or without realizing it. When they fought later, she acidly joked to him that he probably thought it “never happened” if he didn’t have to see her faux-adultery, without realizing that she was exactly right. She joked with him on his birthday about how “nobody loves Dick Whitman,” not realizing at all how her words were setting off a whole legion of demons inside him. And then of course, there’s the famous, “Why don’t you call YOUR mother?” that had him literally abandoning her on the side of the road. She keeps agitating him simply by existing and interacting with him.

Remember that partner portrait scene on the stairway that keeps getting referred to in the costuming this episode? Remember that photographer’s assistant in the orange dress and white go-go boots in that scene; the one that we kept focusing on because you couldn’t take your eyes off her?

 

THAT’S the level Janie’s working on. She saw the conflict in the story this season, saw that it was going to play out significantly around those stairs, and costumed everyone accordingly to make subtle callbacks and foreshadowing.

Just look at all the eye-searing color in these scenes. There is some interplay between green and blue here, most notably on Joan’s dress. Scarlet really does look like a younger, hipper version of Joan here, and Joan does have a history of attempting to fire younger versions of herself and then having those firings overturned by partners (Jane Siegel). There’s a strong contrast between Joan’s ruffly, fussy dress and Scarlett’s bold, simple one. Additionally, Dawn’s in the scene, looking absolutely nothing like anyone else in the scene. Her dress is as dowdy as one can get and so loose on her she’s practically swimming in it. It reminds us quite a bit of the dress Peggy wore when she gave her notice to Don, except less expensive and less well-fitted. She’s Peggy 2.0 as of this episode, with Joan as her mentor instead of Don.

 

Honestly, it’s just a fabulous coat, bag, and scarf and we didn’t want to skip taking screenshots of it.

 

In a reversal of their previous scene together, Dawn is in a solid while her friend is in a print. But Dawn still looks like she’s wearing a uniform in comparison to her friend’s more stylish clothes. Considering Dawn thinks the ladies at her church are a bunch of harlots, we think it’s safe to say that demure and covered up are the only things on her style menu at the moment.

And interestingly, they both blend in perfectly with the warm reds and greens of the background. They are of this place in a way no other character on the show would be.

 

Joan and her friend, however, stand out from their surroundings because it’s clear that they’re not normally in a place like this. As a Mary Kay rep, of course Joan’s friend would be in a relatively demure pink suit

 

Talk about standing out.

Much is made (including by us) of the fact that Joan’s va-va-voom persona and look are out of style at this point, but it should be noted that voluptuous, beautiful women are largely still considered desirable in any setting, even as very skinny ones populate the magazine covers. It doesn’t surprise us at all that a couple younger, hipper guys thought she was pretty groovy. She may look old school but even a couple of downtown hipsters know a babe when they see one.

But yes, her fussy office-wear stands out to an almost ridiculous level in this scene.

 

Janie fairly consistently uses metallics to signify wealth in women. Metallics were all the rage all through the sixties, but on Mad Men, it’s almost always reserved for the ones with bucks.

Megan didn’t used to be a smoker, by the way. She’s not turning into Betty – she never really could – but it does signal her stress and unhappiness in the same way Betty’s constant smoking did.

 

The only thing particularly notable about this scene is that somehow, Don and Stan managed to mimic the two Heinz execs on the couch. Don almost matches the one exactly, while Stan and the other one are dressed in golds and brown. Stan always wears that lucky gold jacket on pitches, by the way.

Then Peggy comes into the room like a bolt of lightning, dressed like nobody:

 

Peggy is business-like and also sporting light military touches. More importantly (and probably deliberate on her part) are the touches of red that tie her to the ad and the product she’s pitching.

Hey, remember when we showed you Sylvia’s black and white furs and Megan’s black and white maid uniform and told you to hold that thought?

 

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There you go.

 

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Mother/Maiden/Crone has been reconfigured as Mistress/Maid/Executive – and in this story, they’re all seen as whores by the men around them.

 

We were so wrong last season when we predicted that Joan would never try to mimic menswear. Despite the fussy lace (which speaks to her maturity and calls back to Megan’s fussy maid collar, which calls back to Sylvia’s fur collar) this is just about as business-like as a woman could get in 1968. An early version of the power suit. She’s giving up her secretarial ways and secretarial mindset here, passing the torch, so to speak to someone else. Someone in a ruffly pink blouse, which calls to mind so many of Joan’s outfits, and in a plaid skirt and sturdy, style-less jacket, which calls to mind so many Peggy outfits. An entire history and potential relationship being laid out in clothing.

 

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Another check in the “blue and green means adultery” column, as well as one in the “Harry and Scarlett are having an affair” one. This is very much like old-school Joan Holloway, except for the flare of the skirt.

 

This works not only as a reversal of their normal interactions, where she is in pajamas or casually barefoot and he’s dressed to kill (so to speak), but as a reversal and foreshadowing of this:

 

Her tan coat, his tan coat. She’s over him in bed; he’s watching her in bed with someone else.

 

And then the poor thing put on her whore robe without even realizing it. It was pretty much all over once she flashed that red in front of him.

 

Sylvia’s touches of red are far more subtle and far less likely to set Don off. But after he puts that penny in her hand, he takes her to the maid’s room and pushes her down on the bed, just like the scene he just watched; inserting  himself into the scenario and removing Megan from it.

We realize we’re not saying anything new here, but that man is seriously screwed up.

 

 

[Stills: tomandlorenzo.com]

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