Mad Style: Christmas Waltz

Posted on May 23, 2012

It feels like we start every week by saying there wasn’t too much to delve into, costume-wise – and then we go off for another 1500 words on the costumes. We’re always pleasantly surprised when we manage to eke out some thoughts, but honest and for true: we really went over this one with a fine-toothed comb and not a lot presented itself to us. Whenever an episode is dominated by men in suits, you can bet there’s not going to be as much to talk about as just one scene with Betty at a suburban Weight Watchers meeting. And when we weren’t treated to scenes of men in suits this episode, we were treated to scenes with men in matching Hare Krishna robes.


This is part of what makes Janie Bryant such a good costume designer. When faced with a scene like a Hare Krishna center or backstage at a Stones concert, she doesn’t just go straight for the cliche. She looks at the people in attendance and tries to figure out something about their lives and ensures that everything is as accurate to the period and the people as possible. Like the scene backstage at the concert, the extras in this scene are not dressed in over-the-top counter-culture hippy styles. Many of the people chanting here look quite conventional, which would be very true for the period (the Krishna movement was brand spanking new in late ’66) and which goes hand in hand with one of the show’s unspoken themes: the sixties (like people themselves) aren’t as easy to pin down as you’ve been told.

Roger and the inscrutable (though oft-mentioned) Scarlett trade banter. Actually, she just listens to his banter politely. Obviously, their outfits don’t quite match, but the blues and reds are having a conversation with each other; a conversation ended with the needle scratch of Joan’s “dead roses” dress, which is making its third appearance here and which tends to remind us of the rose motif that played out in her clothing in scenes dealing with her marriage. And let’s face it, whether mentioned or not, almost every Joan scene right now deals in some way with the fallout from her marriage.


Another instance of the costuming doing as much work telling the story as the script. You could show these pictures to anyone and they’d figure out the gist of this scene. Roger is upbeat, full of life, and irresponsible; Joan is stern, not willing to put up with his bullshit, and a little dead inside right now.

Megan definitely dresses to be noticed (as an actress would). She stands out like a bolt of lightning in the audience.

And stands like a column of bright color in opposition to Don’s very establishment grey suit. She is doing visually what the script said she was doing literally: “taking a stand against advertising.”

There’s been some talk – even before this episode – that some of the women’s costumes had a sort of Star Trek feel to them to go along with the science fiction motif this season. That’s true – and certainly very true here – but that’s because fashion of the time often utilized elements that looked a little out there and then shows like Star Trek brought these elements into the American living room. So yes, it’s hard to look at Megan’s dress and not see a little bit of Star Trek in it, but that’s because Star Trek largely dressed its female characters in styles specific to the late ’60s – lots of go-go boots, minis, and bouffants.

Ever the Catholic schoolgirl.

Like any woman who sleeps with Don gets compared to Betty, any new secretary introduced is going to inevitably get compared to Joan. She is the ur-secretary, just as Betty is the ur-wife. When Jane Siegel or Megan Calvet first showed up at Sterling Cooper, subtle comparisons were made to Joan in the costuming. This tradition continues here, with Scarlett projecting a Holloway-style sense of unflappable competence, while at the same time working an extremely feminine look. This isn’t quite a Joan dress, but it’s definitely a Joan color.

A grown woman yelling at a little girl. Janie Bryant has been having some fun with the late-sixties predilection toward infantilized clothes for young women this season. Megan has been dressed as a little girl when it suited the story more than once, and when Joan met Meredith the receptionist back in the season opener, the younger woman was dressed very naively while Joan was dressed in a very grownup-looking cocktail dress. This scene continues that dynamic. Joan’s dress is perfectly acceptable, but it’s certainly not something you’d see in a fashion magazine of the period. Maybe a few years before, but not now. It isn’t really something a young lady in her 20s would wear in 1966, but it’s very much of the period for women Joan’s age. It’s all about the generational differences this season. Meredith is to Joan what Ginsberg is to Don or Pete is to Roger; a bitter reminder of when they themselves were young, fresh, and hungry.

The print on Joan’s dress is one of those typical ’60s prints that’s part floral/part abstract shapes. These aren’t quite the roses that represented her marriage or the many bouquets of flowers she used to receive from men.  There’s a haziness and confusion inherent in the print, very much in line with Joan’s mental state. Not to get too poetic on your asses, but the flowers on her dress are melting and fading away.

Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks look delicious together, but Joan and Don simply don’t look like a married couple to us. We know too much about them to buy the little lie. She looks too formidable and confident standing next to him to be his wife. Don likes wives that look like arm candy.

Anyway, if they ever need an actor to portray a young William F. Buckley, they found their man with that car salesman. His outfit is meant to invoke (in his customers as much as in the viewers) a sense of moneyed sophistication with an old world bent to it. In other words: English people, as Americans viewed them at the time (and even now, to some extent).

A couple of middle-aged hotties, getting sloppy in a bar made just for them. They’re Marilyn and Sinatra, past their primes and feeling it.

This is clearly not a hip, trendy bar where the young and fabulous hang out. This is a sturdy hotel bar, done up in the faux-medieval style that manifested itself in thousands of bars, lounges and restaurants all the way through the seventies. A bar for grownups after work and before heading home. Joan wasn’t being particularly intuitive when she wondered if the man at the end of the bar was in insurance or law. That’s who’d be frequenting a bar like this: businessmen and the women who accompany them.

Another temper tantrum in child-like clothes. Megan’s public face is quite sophisticated and stylish, but privately, she tends to turn into a little girl, especially when she’s mad.

After sporting either fading flowers or dead flowers on her last couple of dresses, Joan’s in a vibrant green; full of life. We doubt one bouquet of roses solved all her problems or got her out of her funk, but it’s notable how bright she is and also that her dress has no floral pattern at all.  We could read that as a representation of her mental state: she’s feeling turmoil (the wild pattern) but she’s more optimistic than she was before (bright colors) because her marriage is firmly and irrevocably behind her (no flowers).

And finally, a bright line, demarcating the divide between the partners, all in establishment grey, black, and navy blue, and the staff, most of whom are in bright colors or patterns. Notice how every secretary is mimicking the way Joan’s standing. Every single one. She is to those women what Don is to every man in the office: a stylish, good-looking, insanely talented person they all look up to and want to be.



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