Mad Style: The Monolith

Posted on May 07, 2014

A very Don-centric episode in which no woman falls into his arms or cooly stares off into the distance while she vaguely philosophizes and smokes Parliaments? That’s an episode with a lot of suits and ties. And those are the toughest ones to talk about in the “Mad Style” style. After all, even in 1969, most of the male characters in this milieu are still sticking to a fairly conformist and restrictive corporate style. It’s wilder and looser a style than before and since, but when the cast of characters we’re talking about have a median age of 45, then there’s not a lot of variation to be had. Then again, Costume Designer Janie Bryant got a rare opportunity to costume the counterculture of the period and she took it and ran with it.

 

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Here’s Pete, sporting the very latest in late ’60s/early ’70s conservative country club wear. He could be on the cover of a golf resort brochure. Modern viewers might not realize how stylish Pete has always been. Not trendy in the Harry Crane sense, but very much what a mid-30s executive who cared about his image would wear. He’s like Roger in that sense. They both dress age-appropriate, and very well.

Bonnie could be on the cover of Redbook or Good Housekeeping. Bold florals and sunny yellows seem to be defining her looks, along with eye-catching details, like that crocheted shawl piece. It’s an odd sort of thing to wear. It turns her head into a display item. And something like that would require an enormous amount of fussing to get just right – and very little fussing afterward in order for it to stay right. In other words, to get all those tassles lined up perfectly took intense focus and to keep them lined up through a meal took rigid discipline. Bonnie Whiteside, ladies and gentleman. Conquering the world through force of will and tassles.

 

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We just want to point out that this is Don’s third week back on the job – and he’s still a nervous wreck riding that elevator up every morning.

That’s not a shade of blue we’re used to seeing on Don – and he wore a lot of blue this episode. We can’t really apply much meaning to that except it tied him to Roger’s blue jacket and definitely set him apart from this somewhat colorless crowd:

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Even in a relatively plain brown suit, Harry will always stand out when standing amongst a bunch of other businessmen. Even toned down like this, he’s still the focal point of color in the scene. But the big news on the suit front this week is that Lou Avery is suddenly wearing them, after being depicted pretty consistently in a succession of avuncular cardigans. With Don back in the office he’s feeling very threatened and is stepping up his game. It’s notable that he and Jim are dressed so similarly. We noted last week that Roger and Jim aren’t doppelgangers anymore. Looks like Lou is trying to fill that void. He’s angling for a partnership.

Here’s some dreamy Stan Rizzo posters for your lockers, girls:

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Dig that groovy man jewelry. He wears that green shirt a lot.

Peggy clearly needs some managerial training. She ranks above Stan and Ginsberg. She shouldn’t be bad-mouthing Lou like that to them, no matter how right she may be about it. You don’t tell the people under you that the person over you doesn’t care about them. They don’t always respect her like they should (especially Ginsberg). Bitching about a superior to them puts her on their level when she should be placing herself above them. That’s one lesson from Don she didn’t learn, apparently.

But hey, she’s learned how to rock the businesswear.

 

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Mad-Men-Mad-Style-Season-7-Episode-4-Tom-Loenzo-Site-TLO (5)It’s not exactly business-like on the surface, but that necktie-like scarf serves to mimic menswear while she receives an astonishingly high raise (over $30,000, in to day’s money). It’s a little signal that she’s playing with the big boys now and it’ll repeat itself later.

 

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It occurred to us that the stripes kind of mimicked the stripes of a man’s tie, too. We wouldn’t have attempted to make the connection except Don wore a succession of blue and white or yellow striped ties this episode; three of them, in fact. And it kind of jumps out at us in this scene. It’s hard for us not to see their outfits having a bit of a conversation with each other.

By the way, just to settle this, because it got widely debated in Monday’s review comments section, they’ve moved Peggy one office over. She was in Lane’s office at the start of the season. The door is now on the opposite side and the space appears to be significantly smaller.

 

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Stan and Ginsberg are often dressed in complimentary outfits to underline that they’re a team. Their pants match here, but otherwise, they seem to be pretty far apart from each other. Ginsberg essentially wears the same outfit over and over again; an oversized shirt in a drab set of colors with a delicate print, mismatched to a tie and pair of pants. He’s pretty much never pictured in anything else, going back years.

We wonder about Stan. He argued with Peggy about getting too invested in the quality of the work and he argued with Ginsberg about the need for the new computer. Aside from Peggy and Don, he’s the only creative whose clothing is colorful. Most of the rest of them are portrayed in washed-out non-colors, which we felt was an indication of how uncreative the company is right now.

 

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Don’s not just haunted by Lane’s suicide as represented by the pennant, which he eventually hung up; he’s also haunted by his own past greatness. Check the advertising awards on the wall. It’s a little bit of defiant chest-thumping that comes off a bit pathetic. “You can treat me like a junior copywriter, but just look at the awards I’ve won – ten to twelve years ago.”

And yes, as many others have pointed out, the ’69 Mets could be a metaphor for Don’s eventual comeback. It’s possible. But in typical Mad Men fashion, it’s the banner of a dead, defeated man as well.

 

Mad-Men-Mad-Style-Season-7-Episode-4-Tom-Loenzo-Site-TLO (8)Mona’s dress is trying to bridge the gap between Roger’s navy blue and Brooks’ brown. As Janie often does with family characters, they’re dressed in unifying colors, like a living family crest. Keep that sense of unity in mind when we get to the farm.

 

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A short-sleeved dress shirt and a pocket protector. He’ll wear this for the next two decades, at which point it will become such a massive cliche and a generally understood shorthand for “nerd,” that he’ll finally stop. He’ll also probably be a millionaire by then.

 

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This Meredith getup caught our eye. Her normal work attire is so child-like and over-the-top feminine. Her dress is… we wouldn’t say sophisticated so much as a little more grown up than her normal fare. We don’t think we’ve ever seen her in anything but a bright. childlike color. The collar and cuffs here are businesslike and call back to several Joan and Peggy outfits. She’s flirting outrageously with Don right now and we wonder if this wasn’t her attempt at being more serious in order to catch his eye. Of course, being Meredith, she styled the dress with big hair, a headband and a flower pin and earrings that don’t quite go. The show has a well-deserved reputation for being stylish, but we’ve always appreciated Janie for creating wardrobes for characters who don’t have the best of taste or instincts, like Peggy, Harry and Meredith, among others.

And since we’re taking a tour of the secretarial pool – and people with bad wardrobes – let’s all check in on Caroline, who remains our favorite:

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We wouldn’t attempt to impose much meaning on anything Caroline wears. Janie clearly has some fun dressing her up as someone who couldn’t care less about the latest trends.

We wish she would utter the line “Little Ralphie’s spastic” again. We wish she’d say it in every episode, regardless of whether it’s appropriate.

 

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It’s tough to figure out how to dress Peggy like Peggy and still make her look somewhat imposing. Mission accomplished. From the back, she looks almost ominous.

 

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In other news, Green Acres is the place to be. Farm living is the life for … anyone but these two. They look fine – fabulous, even – but their outfits got increasingly ludicrous the smaller the city became in their rear view mirror.

 

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And the fact that Mona checked her makeup before getting out to face a bunch of filthy, venereal-disease-ridden dogs (from her perspective) tells you everything you need to know about her. Her ways are best, even when they don’t make sense. Appearance is everything. And if you don’t like it, you can lock yourself in the bathroom with some gin until you get over it.

They do look spectacular together, though. But if this scene had been shot in 1969, they’d have been made up to look ridiculous and the people on the commune would have been beautiful flower children.

 

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Instead, those are some of the filthiest hippies you ever did see. The show has made a habit of not romanticizing the counterculture of the period, from the pretentiousness of the beatniks leading to Midge’s pathetic downfall and heroin addiction, to the pointlessness of the squatters that rocked Betty’s world last season. It’s partially because Weiner wants to write a less-often-told version of the decade; the one that the grownups lived through. In other words these are hippies as seen through the eyes of wealthy, mature establishment types. “These people are lost and on drugs and have venereal diseases.” Much like how the black characters went from invisible to barely visible to having agency in the story – because that’s how the white people at the center of this story saw them over time.

You can tell Janie had a little fun here. In fact, we’d say it’s almost a little too on point. After all, why would someone work on a truck in a purple furry vest? Nineteenth-Century-style subsistence living doesn’t leave a lot of time for pattern-mixing and accessorizing. To be fair, most of the characters are very plainly dressed. The ones that got lines got more fanciful costumes.

The pro-technology people in this story are dressed in colorless outfits. The tech-eschewing characters are dressed colorfully – but they’re filthy. If the show is making a point, it’s found somewhere in between those two extremes; something about creativity within boundaries, like the worlds of advertising or television production.  Matthew Weiner always was somewhat obsessed with examining the creative life under restrictions, making no bones of the fact that he sees himself in Don in a lot of ways, fighting a lot of the same creative battles with corporate types.

 

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There is absolutely nothing tying her to her family here. Not one bit of clothing or color that signals her ties to the other two. They’ve lost her.  Of course, Roger and Mona aren’t tied together here either. This family is completely fractured. No unity at all.

 

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We love the detail of that sweater being passed around the commune. We saw it on one of the guys the day before. It goes with Roger’s feeling that his daughter is being passed around that commune too. He was pretty okay with what she was doing because he’s had more than his share of free love and drug taking. It wasn’t until he came face to face with the fact that his daughter is betraying her husband and son that he thought she needed to be kidnapped away from that place. In other words, he came face to face with himself and he didn’t like it at all. Old man take a look at my life; I’m a lot like you.

Notice how a literal roll in the mud has done little to change her look but it’s ruined Roger’s.

Meanwhile, back in the 20th Century…

 

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Joan’s character actions are the ones that bug us most of all. As we’ve said, we can understand why she’s mad at him and why she might want him kept on a leash, but the conditions laid out for Don were designed to be humiliating and hard to follow in the hopes that he’d crash and they could fire him without having to buy him out. She essentially said yes to a scheme to financially ruin Don – and she’s clearly not torn up about it since she’s letting Peggy in on it. We can understand why Jim and Bert would do something like that. And Roger probably thinks Don’ll just wow them all at some point and they’ll all forgive him. But why on earth would Joan have said yes to such a draconian punishment?

We don’t trade much in Jungian color analysis, where universal or collectively held meanings can be applied to specific colors – except in the broadest possible sense, like red denoting anger or passion. For the most part, we’re Freudian ’round these parts; choosing to look for color meanings within the story, based on how and when the colors present themselves. It’s why blue and green represented adultery to us in the story last year and why purple represented heartbreak for Joan, for a time.

Having said that, we thought Joan’s green practically reeked of money. She’s really stepped up her style game since she became an executive. Also, Peggy’s wearing blue, and while we can’t apply an adultery meaning here with a straight face, this could easily stand with, say, the Heinz exec scene from last season that was awash in the same combo and was all about corporate “cheating” and going behind another executive’s back.

But really, Joan standing outside Peggy’s office in a gorgeous green outfit, putting on a pair of gloves reminds us very much of the scene all the way back in season 2, when she told Peggy she never wanted to be part of the men’s world in the office. “Let them have it,” she said back then. Here she is now, an executive and partner, drinking scotch with Peggy, the copy chief and Don’s boss (sort of).

It stood out to us that Peggy doesn’t have any sort of necktie-like scarf or men’s style collar detailing here. It’s a fairly stripped down look, in a scene where she doesn’t feel she has any power and not much chance for success in getting Don in line.

 

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Those details return in her next scene, where Don promises her the work she asked him for. It’s subtle, but that collar and silly little tie represent a certain level of success and the attendant respect that comes with it.

Check those hoops. She’s getting bolder in her jewelry, just like Joan is. Female success can be measured in their jewelry in this world.

 

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The reference to the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey was sold pretty hard, but we like the framing here. Two monoliths passing each other. Technology and creativity. We wonder if that won’t be a dominant theme going forward.

 

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We’ve seen Don all cleaned up and typing away while the sun shines outside. If Freddie’s pep talk really does get him to stop drinking, it won’t be as abrupt a change as it might seem. Don’s tried cleaning up his act several times now, going back to the year after his divorce, when he started swimming at the Y and trying to write a journal. We’d like to think he’s really going to try to change this time, but we can’t help noting he’s dressed almost identically to the way he was in the opening scenes of the episode.

 

 

 

 

[Stills: tomandlorenzo.com – Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC]

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