This week, as we watch Don repeat mistakes we’ve seen him make many times over (like devoting all his emotional energy to a mysterious woman who’s probably no good for him), the costuming repeated motifs constantly. From slips to service caps, brown dresses to tuxedos, opera gloves to vests, there were more repeating costume motifs in this episode than in any other. And we’d argue that that was the entire point with the costuming this week. Not that there weren’t things to suss out from various color plays or contextual cues, but from where we’re sitting, the entire costume “story” this week was as simple as “patterns repeat.”
Strap yourselves in, because we’re going to be bouncing around a lot.
The original Draper family is rendered all in prints; checks, florals and stripes. Henry is a bland figure in black and white, while the Drapers and former Mrs. Draper all explode with color and pattern. Don’s red calls to Betty’s pink, both of which call to Gene’s striped shirt, which calls to Bobby’s striped pants. They’re not a picture of unity, but there are clear ties that bind.
Betty, as we noted last season, is starting to sport the highly romantic “Stepford Wife” styles of the early ’70s; all florals and ruffles and floaty chiffon. A sort of femininity on steroids which was most likely a response to the androgynous styles of the countercultural movement and what was called at the time “women’s libbers.” Note the opera gloves (which are remarked upon) and the bow on Betty’s dress, as if she was a present to be unwrapped. Note the cuckolded (Don slept with Betty after she married Henry) man in the tuxedo.
Now let’s jump around a bit:
A woman in a gown and white opera gloves, a man Don cuckolded, wearing a tuxedo. Repeating motifs. All of Don’s sins and mistakes, forever haunting his life, over and over again.
Sylvia never looked that sparkly and glamorous when she was sleeping with Don. At the time, her Catholicness and Italian-ness was played up much more by putting her in a series of black-and-white outfits that evoked nuns or her old-fashioned style was highlighted by putting her in housewife drag. This time, she’s straight-up glam, in order to play up the differences between her and the dowdy, depressed Diana in her brown dress.
A morose, depressed woman in a brown dress, you say?
Here. Have another.
Note how boldly Megan is drawn in both scenes, first in a focus-pulling red, which tends to evoke the simmering anger she’s feeling all through the episode, and then in a stark and clean white, which could be argued to represent a clean break and a fresh beginning, or could be looked at in more cynical terms, which we’ll get to in a bit.
And to continue the “depressing brown dress” motif, we could look at Megan’s earlier “I need money” dress:
Which calls to Betty’s, in its own way; floaty and floral, with a ruffled collar. The two Mrs. Drapers; one whose life is blooming and one whose life is dying on the vine. This dress is upholding the “Mad Style” tradition of the post-breakup “dead flower” dress, which Joan wore after her divorce.
Oh, and you know how Betty’s Stepford Wife dress had that big bow on the front of it, presenting her as a gift?
Like Betty with Don, this is one gift that is not going to be unwrapped.
No one needed us to point out that this was the dress she wore at the beginning of this season to pick Don up at the airport in Los Angeles. At that time, it represented the height of California sexy chic, but here it looks desperate. She doesn’t have the money to update her wardrobe as often as she did when she had access to Don’s money. When they were married, she rarely repeated outfits and almost always sported something entirely new every time she appeared. Now? She’s last year’s style.
This works further as a way of reminding us of the history these characters have with each other. The basic style of the dress, including the accordian-pleated sleeves, calls to mind the famous “Zou Bisou” dress, the original wearing of which prompted Harry at the time to go on about how much he wanted to have sex with her; a wish she overheard and which has always been the basis for her longstanding dislike of Harry. Patterns repeating. Old sins coming back to haunt.
More repeating motifs:
We spoke last week about service caps on waitresses and nurses and how oddly archaic we found the whole thing. Broadly speaking, they arose out of the same tradition that required unmarried women to cover their heads, although the waitress cap comes from servants’ uniforms and the nurse cap evolved from nun’s habits.
At any rate, this doesn’t strike us as a coincidence:
Not that we think there’s any connection between Diana and Stan’s girlfriend Elaine. It’s just repeating motifs, echoing through the story. Both women in uniforms and caps. One is depressed and standoffish in her brown servant’s uniform. The other is nurturing and supportive, in her clean, white healer/holy woman vestments. And both women stripped down to their slips. Elaine’s was white and pristine…
While Diana’s is drab and depressing in color, of course.
Diana has so far only appeared in a waitress uniforms and slips, and yet her costume elements (last week, the blue dress; this week, the brown dress, the cap, and the slip) keep appearing over and over again on many of the female characters. As per usual, when Don is infatuated with a woman, she becomes Every Woman.
There’s one other element of her costume that repeated this week:
Note that the one time she’s not in a service uniform, she pushes Don away and puts her own desires ahead of his.
“Don’t you understand? I don’t want anything,” says the depressed woman wearing jeans (which is still a notable thing in 1970 and in this cast).
As opposed to the other woman in jeans this episode:
Who literally packed up everything and took it with her, along with a check for a million dollars. “I don’t want anything” to “I’m taking everything.”
Note how Marie’s blue-and-white ensemble calls to Megan’s, underlining their tenuous bond. Marie is trying to be supportive to Megan in this scene (and coming to terms with her own unhappy marriage) and tells the brown-dressed Marie-France to stop being a bitch.
This blue-and-white combo would repeat once more:
Two things strike us here. First, that the trench coat is an interesting choice to wear over such a flirty dress, as if she were reluctant to be showing so much skin and sexiness to someone like Harry. Second, she’s standing in the exact same spot where Diana stood earlier in the episode, also wearing a coat:
And, in fact, Megan’s large collection of coats appears in the background and is remarked upon in the dialogue. But Diana’s coat isn’t white and pristine, like Megan’s or like Elaine’s nurse’s uniform. It is, of course, drab and brown, covering up not a sexy, flirty dress that she finds embarrassing, but a dowdy and depressing uniform that she doesn’t seem remotely embarrassed by.
Notice just how covered up Megan is for her meeting with Don:
That trenchcoat is firmly belted and closed. She doesn’t want him to see what she wore to her meeting with Harry, which she knows Harry told him about, because that’s exactly who Harry is. To us, the whiteness here is a cynical take on bridal wear; an ironic “purity” that extends to her nail polish as she ends her marriage.
Bear in mind we’re not saying she’s impure in the classic sense; just that she’s had all her illusions and fantasies shattered and she’s feeling quite bitter at the moment – and that, like a bridal gown, the trench is covering up and glossing over the sexual aspect of the woman underneath.
And while she may have left Anna Draper’s relatively humble engagement ring on the table, it’s not a coincidence that the hand that reached for the check is weighted down with massive rings. This is one bride who’s getting her share of the money and getting the hell out of the marriage.
The trench coat was originally a form of menswear, which leads us to our next echo:
Like Megan, a woman in white menswear. Although we’d be hard-pressed to come up with any other connections between the two characters. Pima stands on her own, apart from the other characters. She’s bold and sexually aggressive, like a man would be at the time, but she’s also dishonest and a user, like so many of the men have been in this story. Hence, her menswear is a fairly obvious costuming choice.
It’s also highly trendy and fashion-forward for the time, as designers like Yves Saint Laurent and Biba in the late ’60s and early ’70s started pushing menswear-inspired womenswear on the public, almost certainly as a response to the rising feminist movement and the questions it was asking about how femininity should be defined. Several critics and commenters have already noted that the white streak in her hair calls to mind Susan Sontag, who wrote “On Photography” later in the seventies.
Note how neutral she and Stan are in this scene while Peggy is a veritable explosion of color. Note also the vest, which calls to mind Stan’s earlier vest:
The neutral colors and vest are tying her and Stan together, while Peggy’s uncharacteristically bright colors (and unheard-of THREE new outfits in one episode) set her apart, as the one who cuts through the pretension and bullshit flowing back and forth between the two “artists.”
And here the differences reach their height, as Pima is in a 3-piece men’s suit – and we need to reiterate how fashion-forward it was for a woman to wear pants in a business setting in 1970 – and Peggy is in a highly uncharacteristic floral (we can count the number she’s worn in the last decade on one hand) and a color we’re pretty sure we’ve never seen her in. For once, Peggy’s femininity is being played up in a scene as someone else outdoes her on the “menswear-inspired” front.
Note Pima’s brown suit and thick blue tie. Why? Because:
Sometimes, the ladies clothes repeat in the men, which is of a piece with the mild gender-bending tone in some of the costuming this week. Pima flattered his pretensions and he responded by ditching the bolo tie and dressing like her.
We could also note how Peggy’s collar and cuffs evoke Diana’s waitress uniform; yet another example of how Don’s women are reflected in all the women in the story, even though there’s nothing servile or depressed about Peggy. Patterns keep repeating all over the story, regardless of whether the patterns make sense.
One more costume to highlight:
We couldn’t really find a way to work Pete’s plaid-covered ass into the entry this week, but it deserves some time in the spotlight, no?
We just want to end by highlighting something we wrote when we all saw Don’s swanky apartment for the first time, back in season five:
“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?”
If you’d like to hear our interview with Mad Men’s Costume Designer Janie Bryant, you can go here (4/3/15 podcast).
For more discussion on your favorite shows, check out our TV & Film forum.
[Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC- Stills: Blood, sweat, and tears of tomandlorenzo.com]
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