Mad Style: Lost Horizon

Posted on May 06, 2015

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Lots of ground to cover, so let’s put on our shades, light our cigs and get to work.

 

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Could the visual metaphor be any more obvious? Don is being squeezed into a box – literally. That is the face of a man in hell.

Note that he’s the only man in blue on the elevator, which makes him stand out some from all the other men. He’s also the only one carrying a hat because men simply weren’t wearing them anymore. Have you noticed how many scenes this season depicted him holding that hat? Especially those scenes of him standing in the middle of his empty apartment or outside it after the place was sold – a man out of time with nowhere to live and no one who wants him. Literally, hat in hand.

Most of Don’s costuming in his McCann scenes served to illustrate how badly he fits into the place.

 

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Like here, where he’s the only man in a jacket, which Ferg Donnelly urges him to take off because they’re a “shirtsleeves operation.” He never does. And while he’s not the only man at McCann wearing a jacket in some of the scenes, he’s one of the very few – and the only major or minor character wearing one. You tell someone to take off their jacket when you want them to stay. You refuse to take off your jacket when you know you’re only going to be there a short while before leaving.

 

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The motif continues here, where he’s the only man in a suit at all.

There are some groovy looking people walking the hallways of McCann. And one of the few black men on the show who isn’t a janitor, elevator operator or criminal. It would have been too easy to depict McCann merely as a soulless corporate hell, but clearly, it’s a place where people can and do thrive and express themselves – and possibly because of its industry dominance, is freer or more open-minded about hiring women and black people for professional positions. Note that this is Don’s floor, which means it’s full of creative people; artists and copywriters, who get some free rein to dress less corporate (see: Stan Rizzo and Michael Ginsberg, for example). When you see Joan walking the executive hallways, for instance, it’s a hell of a lot more narrow and traditional in its fashion.

 

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Although ironically, the hallways are much wider.

This more restrictive corporate atmosphere tended to make Joan’s clothes, like Don’s, stand out all the more, signaling that she too didn’t belong there (although Pete clearly does). But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Someone could write a whole blog about the lamps of Mad Men. It won’t be us, though.

Anyway, back to Don:

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Meredith’s costumes get more ironic by the minute. She’s as childlike in style as she ever was, but she’s becoming more and more efficient and competent every day. This likely won’t ever be touched on, but we think Meredith’s giddiness in her scene here says something about her position as an administrative worker. A place like McCann, to a person with Meredith’s recent employment history really would seem like heaven. It’s efficient, stable, and has everything you could need or want for your job. After all the ups and downs of working in a support position for a small company like SC&P, she’s thrilled to be in a place like this.

Notice how much Don’s new office looks like his old Sterling Cooper office from the first three seasons of the show – all that dark wood paneling. He’s back working for other people.

The handing off of Anna Draper’s engagement ring is significant. When Anna’s niece Stephanie gave it to Don after her death, it burned a hole in his pocket for no more than a day or two before he wound up slipping it on Megan’s finger. Pray that he doesn’t run into Diana any time while he’s carting that thing around.

 

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Don’s suits in 1970 are kind of fascinating to us. We’d been predicting for years that he’d never really embrace ’70s style and would end the series dressed identically to how he started it. But Costume Designer Janie Bryant proved us wrong – a little. Don’s suits – which we can guarantee are bespoke and not bought off a rack – are an odd hybrid of ’60s and ’70s styles. He’s got the wider lapels and ties of the seventies, but he’s still wearing that blocky sixties two-button style of suit. Granted none of the other creative directors or executives depicted at McCann are dressing any groovier than Don, but it’s interesting to note how he probably got talked into the wider lapels and very ’70s top-stitching by his tailor but couldn’t be talked into, say, the more fitted blazers, vests or flared pants that embodied the ’70s executive look.

Never change, Meredith.

 

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Rachel Katz: “I’m supposed to tell you you missed your flight.”

Look at all those white shirts and Coke cans. The conformity is stifling.

We heard a lot of commentary about how Bill Phillips the research guy, whose card and name Don later appropriated, was doing a Don Draper-like pitch in this scene. That isn’t how we saw it at all, though. Don’s very best pitches were about finding universal experiences in products; about appealing to people’s broader emotions  and desires – for love, acceptance, family, romance. Bill Phillips’ approach was to describe a very specific customer and claim that this was the exact person they should be targeting in their approach. It’s micro-marketing, not advertising. It limits people to a series of tics and behaviors rather than appealing to their better natures. Don didn’t leave that meeting because someone was doing his old job as well as he did. He left for many reasons, but Phillips’ targeted marketing approach – while very much the direction advertising ultimately headed in – was revolting to him; the exact opposite of creativity. Don’s best pitches were about opening people up to the possibilities of a particular product or concept. Bill Phillips is about putting people in boxes so you can sell something to them. Bill Phillips is a clean-cut charismatic guy who can command a room and make a presentation, but after that, the comparisons to Don evaporate.

And this idea of Don’s goes all the way back to the pilot episode, when he noted to the German psych researcher who tried to boil consumers down to easily predictable responses that could be exploited, “I find your whole approach perverse.” This was always Don’s problem as an ad man. He could instinctively tap into people’s desires and needs, but he was always pointed in the wrong direction vis a vis the history of advertising. This targeted approach to consumers was only going to get more honed over time and superstar creatives like Don Draper will soon be seen as charming dinosaurs.

Meanwhile…

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That is some seriously fabulous 1970 style. We loved her sashay away. Miss Lady’s getting the hell out because she knows who she is and she knows what she’s willing to put up with. She may have been the most mature and emotionally healthy person depicted in the entire episode. And we understand why a character like Shirley wouldn’t just come out and say “As a black woman, there’s no way I’m walking into another advertising agency and dealing with all that crap all over again.” It would have felt off-model for the show and besides, Shirley never came across as confrontational in that way.

As we noted last week, Shirley had an extremely consistent style in her time at SC&P, going so far as to wear the same dress in different fabrics, several times over. But this is a new look for her – very 1970 trendy, with the high-waisted skirt and paisley blouse. She looks fabulous, stylish, and happy as she walks away.

Note that Roger, like Don, is standing there with his hat in his hand. There’s nothing about the man that’s forward-looking at the moment. He’s wallowing in the past and fearing the future.

Joan, Peggy, Meredith and Shirley all wore very distinctive, focus-pulling, colorful costumes this episode, several times over. Contrast that with these two:

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Those are easily some of the ugliest clothes ever seen on the show. Again, we don’t necessarily think McCann is being depicted as a place where bitter, unstylish people work (although it sure seemed like it in this scene) so much as it’s attempting to keep the focus on the characters we know as they move into a new setting. It’s very smart from a costuming and storytelling perspective. If everyone at McCann wore eye-popping outfits like the ones the SC&P ladies were wearing, none of the mains would stand out in their scenes. If Don walked around in shirtsleeves (like he’s done countless times throughout the series) he wouldn’t stand out as a person who doesn’t belong or give the constant impression that he could flee at any moment.

Take a look at Joan’s silhouette, which is a lot floatier and less restrictive than her old extremely body-con dresses. That’s significant when you combine it with such a shocking pink and then later sit her down with Dennis Ford:

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Because the last time she sat down across from him, she was wearing a shocking pink dress – except last time, it had a lower neckline, no pussy bow, and was much tighter on her. We noted a couple weeks ago that after that first disastrous meeting at McCann, which prompted the GIF-able “I want to burn this place down” moment, she start dressing much more demurely. The shocking pink underlines the history of their interactions while the silhouette and details demonstrate how much it affected her.

And this may get us in trouble, but we have to point out how she shifted gears when it became obvious that she had a problem and needed to turn to the men above her for help:

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We haven’t seen her wear a dress that eye-popping or focus-pulling (not to mention tight) since that first humiliating meeting at McCann. Joan does not do these things accidentally (nor does Janie Bryant). As politically incorrect as it may be to point this out, when Joan came up against male chauvinism and needed to combat it, her first impulse was to put on a tight dress and ask some men for help. This is one of several reasons why we think Peggy will do better at McCann than Joan did. She has a better developed set of tools for dealing with things. Joan’s ways have always been the old ways and even now, with all the changes in her life, she reverts to them when she’s in trouble. After all, the most consistent repeating costume motif for Joan has always been roses on a black background. There was a time when it clearly evoked romantic and sexual disappointment in her life, but by now, it merely signals the shit she constantly has to put up with from men. She wore a very similar dress last season when it became clear just how much she hated Don at the time.

And it makes us a little sad that this is probably the last one we’ll see. The last Joan Holloway Rose Dress of Disappointment.

By the way, this is the “I want to burn this place down” elevator. That scene keeps coming up.

 

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Note the can of Tab. It’s a Coke product, of course. There’s a closet stocked to the gills with these somewhere on this floor. It’s also the basis of Don’s “Why don’t they call it ‘Tub?'” joke about diet beer.

Understand, we’re not accusing her of anything nefarious or even of consciously trying to play these men to get what she wants. She’s not trying to be sexy and she sure as hell isn’t inviting (or deserved) sexual harassment. It’s just innate with her. You present yourself a certain way when you want something from a man. “My mother raised me to be admired.” She needed help, so a pussy bow and an A-line skirt wasn’t going to cut it.

She continued doing the same thing the next day, when she decided to go straight to the top:

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No high-necked blouses here. That’s as statuesque and form-fitting a look as she’s worn all season. This is just how Joan has always been. Remember when she wore a tight dress and asked Lane if he wanted breast or thigh for lunch because she needed time off? Remember when she and Peggy fought over Joey’s sexist cartoon and she wanted to fight back by using her wiles instead of directly addressing it? It’s been a constant theme of her character that she hasn’t cultivated the tools to be taken seriously in a time of shifting mores, which is why she went from zero to organizing a women’s lib march in the space of a few minutes and wound up blowing up that meeting. Joan never spoke or demonstrated an understanding of or sympathy toward feminist rhetoric, but she’s benefitting from the fight all the same because her consciousness has been raised just enough that she knows she can fight back and the movement has become so well known that she can start spewing names, events and organizations like weapons. We tend to think he clothes here reflect that somewhat. It’s not that it’s not business-like or that there’s anything wrong with her dressing this way; it’s just that it clearly signals that as a character, she’s reverting to form after several months of dressing more modestly.

After all, look at how she dresses when she realizes it’s over and she’s not getting any help:

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As she noted to Roger, she’s just coming and doing her job. She won’t be going to men and asking for help, so she doesn’t have to wear something skin-tight and attention-seeking. It’s business-like, with the pointed collar and the way it’s cut to look like a suit, but it’s also the most “old lady” look she’s ever worn, right down to the cameo. There’s a sense of defeat in this look.

Joan’s end (if this is her end) is sad, but the more we think about it, the more we realize it’s not necessarily a grand tragedy for her. If anything, it’s probably as close to a happy ending as this show’s likely to give her. It’s been clear for some time that Joan is ambivalent about her career. There was never a sense that she absolutely loved handling accounts and that she was exceptional at it in any way. It was always very clear in the latter half of the series that the two things most important to her when it came to work was attaining enough money to secure her future and gaining the respect she always felt she was owed. She got those things at SC&P. There’s no way in hell she’ll ever get the kind of respect and standing at McCann it took 16 years and an act of prostitution to secure at her old job. She knows this. “You’re filthy rich. You don’t have to do anything,” Peggy spat at her, after that (in retrospect, seminal) scene at McCann. “It’s ONLY about the money!” Roger urges her. There’s no way she’ll ever win a legal fight against McCann in 1970 and it’s all but assured that if she stays there, her accounts will slowly be taken away from her and she’ll never get promoted or gain any respect. The man in charge hates her. There’s nothing here for her. Like Roger off that boat, she needed the push to jump. Yes, she’s been devalued and that’s infuriating and unjust, but unlike countless women who never earned their due, she’s at least walking out the door very well off. Roger quoted her share values last year at 1.5 million, which means she’s walking away from a 16-year career with 1.25 million, since Jim Hobart slashed her final 500,000. That’s awful and sad, but how many former secretaries get to leave with that kind of parachute? That’s a ton of money in 1970. She’s put in her time. She can do practically whatever she wants now. She’s free.

That’s not a bad thing.

A quick aside to an unlikely sister of Joan’s:

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Like Joan, Betty is a woman who never supported feminism but is benefiting from the work other people have done to change society. She’s become self-actualized and confident to the point that she’s now in college reading about women’s hysteria, instead of suffering from depression and anxiety as Don’s put-upon doormat of a wife.

From a costume perspective, this is slightly mature for Betty. In fact, it may be the most mature thing she’s ever worn on the show. This is pure Pat Nixon/Betty Ford realness, which is 100 percent appropriate for her position as a Republican political wife. And those were not First Ladies in the Jackie or Michelle Obama mode. Neither of them were known as particularly fashionable and they were both nearly two decades older than Betty is here. This, in a scene where Don comes right out and calls her old.

And finally, to the true superstar of the series:

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This is her “I’m starting a new job today” suit, take 1.

We’ve never seen this before, but it’s bright, declarative, and business-like. It’s not particularly trendy for 1970, but she’s concerned right now with fitting in and making a good impression.

 

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We’re including these shots to show how well made and expensive-looking this suit is, but also because we love that Peggy’s sprawled out on the couch, eating french fries with her skirt unzipped. So awesomely Peggy.

Marsha couldn’t look more different from her. In a scene where Peggy’s offended to be mistaken for a secretary, her actual secretary needed to be as far apart in costuming as possible while still being believable.

 

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“I’m starting a new job today” outfit, Take 2.

This is the suit that she wore for that disastrous meeting with Joan and the guys at McCann, just as Joan’s pink dress earlier referenced the same scene. These costuming callbacks underline the importance of that scene and how the sexism in it was ultimately going to be Joan’s reason for leaving. This also not the most stylish or trendy of looks. Professional, but not exactly sassy.

That is almost certainly the last ad mockup we’ll ever see on Mad Men.

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All three of her “I’m starting a new job today” outfits started off put-together and professional, but in each one, the Peggyness shone through, from eating the french fries on the couch, to spilling coffee and not bothering with cleaning it up, to the ultimate Peggy moment, drunkenly skating through the wreckage.

Note the skates on the floor, setting up that later scene.

 

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“I’m starting a new job today, Take 3.”

Again: mature, professional, pussy-bowed and put-together. Ready to make a good first impression. And again, she and Marsha couldn’t be further apart.

 

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We should mention that the pussy bow – and yes, that’s what it’s called – became a working woman’s staple in the seventies and eighties. It came to define the Power Bitch look of the latter decade and any executive woman of this period had them in her wardrobe rotation. Go rent 9 to 5 or Working Girl and take a drink every time you see one. You’ll be passed out long before the credits roll. The pussy bow was an attempt to come up with a business uniform for women equivalent to the male suit and tie. By the nineties, women had had enough of them and they stopped being the standard in female businesswear.

Just as the skates were set up in the previous scene, the existence of this organ was set up last week during the children’s casting scenes. And the bottle of Cinzano was almost certainly left over from Pima the bisexual player photographer’s photo shoot. All of the aspects of that skating scene were rather meticulously put together and foreshadowed, which tells you something about how important it is.

 

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Two old pros sharing a drink in their blue vests.

Roger’s clothes in all his scenes aren’t particularly notable, except we see none of his earlier attempts at trendiness. He’s wearing the traditional three-piece suit he’s worn since the earliest days of the show. He looks old and old-fashioned in these scenes. And the mention of his heart condition, his goodbye kiss to Don, and some of the undertones of the next scene, have us wondering about whether or not he’s going to make it to the finish line.

 

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And now we’re going to poop all over this wonderful, beautiful scene and ruin it for you.

It seems to us most people look at the scene above and are seeing it through Peggy’s eyes; that fun, slightly sad time she got drunk and roller-skated through her old office; a story she’ll reminisce about herself some day when she’s Roger’s age.

But to us, the sadness of this scene was almost unbearable to watch. Maybe it’s because we’re closer in age to Roger than Peggy, but we saw it more from his perspective; from a man who was watching the only thing left in his life that gave him standing and purpose being dismantled, knowing that he was going to be shuffled off to, as he put it, “the geriatric floor” at McCann, where he would no longer have power in his life. This was very much about a young vs. old point of view. Peggy is celebrating the next step in her life, Roger is playing a funeral dirge because he knows the most important and productive parts of his life are now over.

In addition, the highly unusual camera work of the scene heightened that sense of sadness. It was thematically appropriate to spin around like a carousel while Roger played “Hi-Lilli Hi-Lo,” but it also served to take you on one last tour of the wreckage as the camera followed Peggy’s flight. Oh look, there’s where Miss Blankenship died. There’s where Lane hung himself. There’s where Joan’s old office was. It sealed that sense of finality in you. It closed the lid on the coffin of SC&P.

Cue the rockstar entrance:

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Everyone out of my way. It’s my first day on my new job.

No perfectly put-together and professional suits here. She went for a sassy little dress (complete with a row of Pussy Power buttons) instead because Roger Sterling gave her permission to stop worrying about what others think of her. And of course, it’s got her signature power color, that mustard yellow, which has been a consistent motif for her going all the way back to Day One of her career:

 

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Kick ass, Peggy. Kick ass.

And as Peggy navigates the tight hallways of McCann Erickson and embraces her future …

 

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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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