Mad Style: The Strategy

Posted on May 21, 2014

Once again into the fray. Our themes this week? Dads in Plaids and Pseudo-Madonnas in Blue. Keep an eye out.

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That’s a more or less perfect snapshot of the suburban mom in 1969, so masterfully rendered that you get who she is immediately even though you can only see about a quarter of her costume. She isn’t particularly important from a thematic sense. She established no motifs or participated in any themes. She’s just a mom who looks like the army of moms driving Buick station wagons around America in 1969.

We’ve never seen that dress before on Peggy. It’s kind of cute and it continues the theme of Peggy wearing these simple, short-sleeved dresses, sometimes with metallic embellishments, like chains, buttons or buckles, usually with a high collar or very demure neckline. Business-like but feminine. We’re almost ready to declare that she FINALLY figured that part of her wardrobe out. Most of her office and work wear this season has been really good. Her off-work wear tends to remain as bad or worse than it ever was, though. Doesn’t that sum up her story in costuming? She’s got it going on in work, but she’s unhappy because she has no personal life to speak of – or at least, not the personal life she keeps being told she’s supposed to have.

Also: note that she’s wearing blue. It’s establishing a motif that will play out through the rest of the episode, on virtually every female character, like the pink theme that ran through last week’s episode. There are two mothers in this scene. The one who is doing the work of being a mother isn’t wearing blue. We propose that all the blue dresses in this episode were worn by women struggling in some way with the role and concept of motherhood in a non-traditional sense; women who had given their babies away, taken a break from motherhood, wondered about where they fit in a certain child’s life or whether they should continue being a wife and stepmother.

And speaking of work and mothers:

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No blue here.

Can we talk about Chez Holloway-Harris? Because we don’t get why Joan is even living here. She’s a partner and an account rep. Male characters have supported entire families on that kind of salary. Given Peggy’s rather high salary and Joan’s own position as a partner, we doubt very much that she’d settle for a lower salary than a man in her position. She’s making bank. She was making a semi-decent salary as the Office/Personnel/Traffic Manager, indicating in conversation to Lane that she was making somewhere in the neighborhood of $12,000 a year in 1967, which would have been the equivalent of $80,000 a year today. Now that she’s moved so far up in the world, she’s got to be bringing home significantly more than that in 1969. Her wardrobe got noticeably more showy and expensive-looking this season, which had us excited to see what her home life was like. Where’s Joan living now that she’s making bank? What does her home look like? Disappointingly, it looks pretty much exactly as it did almost ten years ago, down to the wall color and draperies. It seems like a very strange art direction choice, considering how we’ve watched characters like Don, Pete, Peggy, and Betty have the changing circumstances of their lives reflected in where and how they were living. After Ossining, Don fled the suburbs completely for a Manhattan penthouse and Betty ran into the comforting arms of tradition and wealth by moving into a Victorian mansion. Pete went from a swank newlywed’s apartment to a stifling suburban rancher to a sleazy businessman’s getaway. Peggy went from a shithole in Brooklyn, to a slightly less shitty Brooklyn apartment to a decent midtown apartment to owning her own building. Joan, whose journey has been no less life-changing than any of these characters, is still living in the West Village apartment that she used to share with a roommate that had a crush on her – and hasn’t even redecorated in all that time. We’re mere months away from the seventies and this place looks pure 1950s.

We struggled with an explanation for this. You could take the uncharitable route and say that she’s just not focussed on her home at all at the moment, but that would imply that she’s not a very good mother. We can’t say anything about that because the show has largely glossed over Joan’s motherhood. We rarely ever see her interacting with Kevin and she hardly ever brings him up in her dialogue. But one thing we do know is that Joan has been very slow in accepting the changes in her life. It took her well over a year to accept the idea that she was a partner and not a secretary, and then it took her another year to realize she’s an account executive, not an office manager. She knew Greg was a loser when she married him and it took her quite a bit of time to finally face up to that fact. Joan is, unlike Peggy, slow to change. Resistant to it, at times. She also likes to keep the things around her tightly controlled. She hasn’t moved or changed her apartment because she hasn’t quite owned up to the fact that she’s far from the young, single girl who moved into that place, hoping to snag herself a doctor husband and a home in the country – and that these things are never going to happen for her, even though she built her whole life on the assumption that they would.

Don’t get us wrong; we’re not suggesting she’s still pining for that way of life, where she gets to be someone’s plaything and wife. She just hasn’t owned up the changes in her life by making that change in her living space. Having been raised by her mother to present herself to the world, she’s chosen instead to reflect the changes in her life in her clothing.

 

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Boy, she can still sashay her way through that office; especially when faced with a group of men. She still turns it on for them.

And yes, Clara’s clearly pregnant under that super-groovy dress. That’s a little odd for 1969, considering that it looks like she’s fairly far along. We didn’t even know she was married – and she’d almost have to be, working as a pregnant woman in an office in 1969. Madison Avenue was forward-thinking and sometimes glamorous, but unwed mothers working as secretaries would still have been considered too shocking for business.

We think the motif of purple and heartbreak has been long retired with Joan; just like yellow no longer seems to be Peggy’s power color. Too many changes in their lives for them to be repeating the old motifs. What we find interesting about this outfit – which she wore in the season opener, when Ken essentially promoted her to account executive, is how much it resembles the kind of dresses Peggy wears in the office:

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(Blue dress #2)

Simple, mostly unembellished dresses with short sleeves and crew necks, rendered in bright colors. That’s fascinating to us, because we can tell you, after years of documenting and writing about the costumes of these characters, the idea that Joan is taking style cues from Peggy is revolutionary. That was never the case. If anything, Peggy was the one who tried to mimic Joan every now and then, usually to disastrous results. After putting Peggy down for years for having ambitions, Joan finds herself a career woman – and she’s looking to the only other one she knows to show her how to dress the part. Of course, being Joan, she embellishes the look with tons of jewelry (not to mention that sashay). She’ll take some advice from Peggy, but she’s always going to be Joan.

Think we’re overselling this? Remember last week, when Peggy wore what we said was probably the best office dress she ever had; the blue one with the chain detail at the waist?

Well:

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That’s almost exactly the same dress. When, in the entire run of the show, has Joan ever worn “almost exactly the same dress” as Peggy? You have to look past the scarves and the jewelry and the curves, but believe it or not, Joan Holloway is deliberately dressing herself like Peggy Olson. She would die before admitting that, though.

Joan’s purple and red would play itself out in some other costumes this episode, but never to the extent that blue does:

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Bonnie was put out that she wasn’t going to be introduced to Tammy, wondering just where she fits in her life, as well as in Pete’s.

This looks pretty much exactly like something Jeannie would wear on I Dream Of Jeannie, right around this time. It calls to mind the housewifery of Betty Francis & Friends from last episode, with the diaphonaous sleeves, lacey ruffled and floral embellishments, but it couldn’t be more different from those romantic and respectable dresses. This is pure Hollywood sex appeal – and it looks more than a bit out of place, both in this office and in New York in general. That is a TON of jewelry – and a bag that doesn’t look like day wear to us. She got seriously dressed up to go to Pete’s office (this isn’t what she wore on the plane) because she’s clearly hot for Don but more generally, she’s hot for business and the idea of powerful men making money all day long. She’s putting her best, most glamorous foot forward – and then getting it filthy:

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Because this is not where she belongs. That outfit’s almost hilariously wrong for NYC in June. It looks way more appropriate for poolside in L.A.

Anyway, back to the office:

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Clearly, the IBM drone lady is affecting all the color choices of the other ladies in the story using her mind ray powers or something. Last week it was pink; this week it’s purple.

 

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Like Bonnie’s outfit, this purple macrame dress and styling is pure California chic for 1969. It’s going to make a lot of Sharon Tate conspiracy theorists unhappy to hear this, but this look, with the macrame and the long-strand necklaces and center-parted long hair is straight-up Ali MacGraw, who would become a style icon herself very shortly and have a massive effect on how women dressed in the early seventies. Even Megan’s bag has a California/’70s feel to it. Like Bonnie, she doesn’t belong in New York. Like Pete, Don can’t see what that means for him

 

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This called to mind several of the outfits she wore when they went to Hawaii. That purple, orange and pink theme was very dominant in her looks then. This played out in the dialogue later in the episode. She can’t stay here and he won’t stay with her, so she proposed a destination somewhere where they could meet up without their baggage. Hawaii was the last time they were truly happy together.

 

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Lady in blue. But unlike all the other ladies, she’s not wearing a dress here. We don’t want to oversell the motherhood theme here, but as we noted last week, Megan’s more than aware that if she announced to Don she was pregnant, all the tension would temporarily go out of their marriage. Don has expressed a desire that she get pregnant (“Let’s make a baby,” in “Signal 30”) and had a drug-fueled dream of an angelic Megan telling him she’s pregnant and that he’s free to sleep around. Her miscarriage last season was a huge wakeup call to both of them and probably something of a turning point for their marriage.

She is standing there with just her stomach exposed, after all. And barefoot.

Let’s take a break from all the mommy issues and look at the dad side of things for a moment:

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Compare and contrast:

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Two “dads” in plaid, getting vastly different welcomes. They’re both working essentially the same look, which isn’t surprising, since there was a time when everything Bob Benson wanted to be was summed up in the aristocratic figure of Pete Campbell. This is pure ’60s prep, although Pete’s version is more Cos Cob father and Bob’s is more “going courting.” A dad getup vs. a date getup.

Several readers tried to posit a rainbow flag theme in Bob’s plaid, but we’re not seeing it, and besides, Janie Bryant wouldn’t be that literal. What we are seeing is the typical Janie Bryant trick of tying families together through color. Bob, Kevin and Gail are all working heavy yellow and orange tones, looking unified. Joan is in a motherhood-blue, separate from them in color because she’s the only person in the room who doesn’t want Bob to become a literal member of the family.

Continuing his tradition for slightly inappropriate gifts (indicating how bad he is at interpersonal stuff), Bob gives Kevin a gift that’ll be a nightmare for Joan, if she ever deigns to open that box: an erector set, because “America needs engineers,” he proclaims, reading off yet another internal cue card.

 

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As we said in our Monday review of this episode, the Stonewall riots are a week away, but we find it almost impossible to believe that the show will depict them. Instead, they’re doing what they frequently do when it comes to historic events, alluding to them rather than showing them outright. The fact of the matter is, the entire world did not hear of the Stonewall riots when they happened – or even for years after they happened. It was a seminal moment in gay history, but the newspapers barely covered it and most people were largely ignorant about them.

But the riots happened because a bunch of gay, lesbian and queer people decided they’d had enough with police harassment, brutality, and entrapment. That’s what set them off. Here we are, a week earlier, watching Bob come face to face with police harassment, brutality, and entrapment. There’s your Stonewall riots storyline. This is what happens to sexually active gay men in 1969. Blood and handcuffs.

Costume-wise, Bob is as clean cut and inoffensive as always. He’s almost literally face-to-face with one of the most important gay issues and events of all time and he’s dressed as blandly as he possibly can be. Best Little Boy in the World:

“They are athletic, scholarly, friendly, and helpful to everyone around them, constantly seeking excellence and popularity in order to deflect any questions as to why they don’t date. They are always extremely clean-cut, if not downright conservative in appearance.”

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That marriage proposal rocked her on her heels, and while her focus was mainly on the business side of the conversation (letting you know that she herself is more business- than home-oriented at the moment, like Peggy), we think there was a big part of her that had her wondering just what the hell she was doing with her life. That “I want love” speech was something of a Joan mission statement; a sentiment that surprised even her.

From a costuming perspective, we suspect this’ll piss some of y’all off, but we thought she looked terrible here. The more relaxed hair looks fine; very Ginger Grant. But that dress is honestly one of the ugliest things we think we’ve ever seen on her. She’s working that highly ruffled blue that Bonnie and Trudy sported this episode, but it doesn’t suit her in the slightest. Additionally, we spend a lot of time looking at candid shots of Christina Hendricks and to be perfectly blunt, her face looks really weird here. Since Christina herself looks younger than her age, we think they’re slightly aging Joan in order to sell the point that Bob was making about her: she’s closing in on forty and unmarried. She’s in unflattering makeup and an ugly dress. Very un-Joan-like. When she showed up in the office the next morning in that Peggy-inspired red dress, she was back to her spectacular self, but for this scene, she had to look a little less confident and a lot less perfect, in order to sell that ever-so-brief nanosecond where she considered what Bob was saying.

As for Bob, people are once again reading what we would consider to be a more sinister undertone to his motivations here. With that GM exec, he got two versions of his life laid out for him: the one where he gets arrested and beat up just for trying to get a blowjob or the one where he gets to live in a mansion, free from the world’s troubles, as he put it to Joan. He’s running away from himself – or he’s trying to. And he thought that Joan wanted the same thing. He’s scared and a bit narcissistic, with no idea how to read or interact with other people. Again, from last season’s Mega-Bob Mad Style post:  “Bob is almost certainly extremely stunted emotionally and very bad at intimacy. He’s all surface because he’s spent his entire life being all surface in order to deflect questions.” And we wrote that before we knew he had a Dick Whitman-like backstory. He’s not sinister; he’s as backwards emotionally as Don is.

And speaking of emotionally stunted Dads in Plaid dealing with their ruffled blue Madonna figures…

 

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Like Joan with Bob and Bonnie with Pete, Trudy’s not having his bullshit in her life.

As much of a jerk as Pete is, it seems to us he was right and that Trudy was enjoying a little passive-aggression here. She wanted him to know that she’s moved on. That’s a date outfit if ever we saw one. “There’s no place for you in this family.”

Meanwhile…

 

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Peggy continues her tradition of looking like crap when she’s not in work. She always did have terrible taste in sleepwear. No Trudy Campbell peignoirs or Megan Draper sexy-time panties for her. Oh, we’re teasing. It’s a perfectly fine nightgown.

THIS, on the other hand:

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Good lord, that’s hideous. This is the second time she’s worn pants in the office, but once again, it’s not on a workday. She’d never wear them on a workday because that would’ve been considered too scandalous for the time. This is another fugly Peggy outfit to help illustrate the ugly mood she’s in; sitting around the office on a Saturday, wearing pants, getting drunk, and abusing subordinates. She’s Don, of course.

But when Sunday came around, she knew, because she knows him so well, that Don would show up for her and she dressed up accordingly:

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The final Dad in Plaid. He got dressed up for her too.

Bob was welcomed with open arms by his “child,” Pete was treated like a stranger, and Don?

 

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Don charmed his daughter figure, apologized to her, and ultimately, was welcomed back into her fold. That shot of him standing over her and holding out his hand to her is a reversal of this scene, when she said goodbye to him. It’s been a long road for both characters back to this moment.

 

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So, as a pouting Bonnie and a supremely self-satisfied Megan (mimicking this scene, but replacing the baby with a glass of wine) put their best California finery on and almost literally close the curtain on their New York men, an entirely new family is forming in their wake:

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And here is the art directing team’s submission for next year’s Emmy – as well it should be. This is spectacular job on their parts. Many of our readers sent in this link, showing the actual location, and what the art directing department had to do to get it to look like this.

As for the costuming, what struck us about our main trio is that Don is not wearing a plaid here, while most of the fatherly types in the background are. Many people saw this scene as a father with his two kids. And to be fair, the bit with Don indicating the ketchup on Pete’s face helps to sell that idea, but we don’t think that’s what’s going on here. He’s not Pete and Peggy’s father figure; not here in this scene. That’s the point. By the time that dance ended with Peggy, she’d become his peer, bound together with him by the sacrifices she had to make to get where she is. Pete thought “family” was too vague a concept for the ad and argued briefly that they should stick to focusing on a parent figure. Don and Peggy are saying to stop focusing on traditional figures and start accepting the real, totally nontraditional family he has in front of him. Who’s your daddy, Pete? No one. But that’s okay. Eat your fries.

 

 

 

[Stills: tomandlorenzo.com]

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