Mad Style: The Phantom

Posted on June 13, 2012

Since this is our very last Mad Style until 2013, allow us to take a moment to pat ourselves on the back. We never were very good at false modesty, so why bother attempting it, amirite?

  • We picked up on a few very subtle dialogue cues and one extremely UN-subtle Joannie dress in the first episode and wondered if perhaps there wasn’t going to be something between Don and Joan this season, while maintaining that we thought an actual affair was unlikely.
  • We picked up on how well-dressed Megan is in comparison to her actor friends and predicted that she was going to be getting grief for being a dilettante.
  • We picked up on how infantilized Megan’s clothes often are, and how that reflected how Don saw her; a theme that paid itself off in the finale.
  • We noted that Peggy’s work clothes indicated she was spinning her wheels and predicted that once Peggy left SCDP, we’d see a more mature style and the end of the Catholic schoolgirl uniforms.
  • We noted that Jane’s “I Dream of Jeannie” LSD outfit was signaling the upcoming explosion of eastern styles and philosophies, which was later embodied by Paul Kinsey and his story.
  • And, to our eternal pride, we sussed out the rose motif on Joan’s clothing and picked up on the fact that she was wearing the fur Roger gave her when she slept with the Jaguar dealer.

Now, we’re telling all this because we want you to be impressed with us but also because it illustrates just how much of a part costuming plays in a filmed story; especially when you’re working on the level of Mad Men, where every person involved in its making is committed to raising it to the level of art. Lesser costumers wouldn’t have given us so much material to work with, but Mad Men Costume Designer Janie Bryant isn’t just a brilliant costumer; she’s a master storyteller in her own right. We’re not geniuses for picking up on these things; Janie’s a genius for laying them down.

Also, we’re telling you all this because we got one big, fat thing wrong and it’s staring us in the face with this episode.

After Joan made partner, we maintained that she wouldn’t change a thing about the way she dresses and in fact, might even become a bit more confrontational with her clothes, adding, “You will never see Joan Harris in a menswear-inspired dress.” Well, shut our mouths. Not only is she wearing a double-breasted (oh, the puns we could make) dress that mimics a man’s suit, but she’s serving up full-on Lane Pryce realness here, doing her best to fill his shoes and wear his glasses.

Not that they’re literally his glasses. That would be morbid and weird.

This dress was what she wore when Pete first approached her about the Jaguar deal and Lane approached her to tell her to ask for a partnership. To our eyes, it will always signal those two conversations and how they taught her two things: What everyone really thinks of her, and how she needs to say “Fuck it,” to all of them and go after what she wants. Notable, then, that she muttered something a little surprising in this scene; that she should have just slept with Lane to keep him from killing himself. Joan’s not normally that blase about sex in conversation and she didn’t used to think of herself that way; as the sexual relief these men need to get through their jobs. It could’ve just been grief and stress talking, but since no dialogue is wasted on this show, we wonder if Joan, for all her competence, doesn’t now think of herself in those terms, deep down. In other words, the prostitution may not have devalued her to the partners the way we predicted, but it may have, in a small way, devalued her to herself.

Notable that Don’s tie matches her. They’re very much on the same level in this scene. Joan doesn’t approach him or talk to him like a staff member anymore.

But if Joan has any devalued feelings about herself, she’s keeping them locked down and putting on a bold front for the world; bolder than ever, in fact. This power red is about as declarative as one can get about one’s position. There’s nothing demure or obedient about this red, but it doesn’t strike us as a sexy, passionate color in this context. It’s about power. More importantly, it’s about feminine power. The point to that beautiful shot is to show us how the dynamic has shifted. Against that stark background, Joan isn’t just a bolt of red in the middle of all that gray, she’s an unmistakably female silhouette standing out amongst all the male ones. She is, almost literally, a big red X spray-painted on the scene.

Red served as an extremely important color this episode, indicating female power, but also, strangely, indicated male powerlessness.

The entire point to this scene is that Stan and Ginsberg (in matching red) aren’t women and thus, are failing at this portion of their jobs because they can’t do what Peggy can. In this instance, the red signals their lack of ability and forward movement, which makes it an ironic bit of costuming, considering how much red signaled exactly the opposite for the women.

Stan wears that yellow plaid jacket every time he makes a presentation. It’s notable that Ginsberg has a huge coffee stain on his shirt, which to us, indicates how frantic he is, trying to pick up the slack after Peggy left, and how things have deteriorated in the creative department.

But Pegs is off on her own adventure, with her own office and yes, even her old Thermos with her, sitting on the windowsill. This outfit was designed to be a shocker and we have to say, mission accomplished, Janie Bryant. No one ever saw Peggy wear something like this. It’s mature, powerful, and declarative in a way her old schoolgirl clothes never were. Granted, Peggy’s not a clotheshorse and while she accomplished what she set out to do with this Chanel-like suit (inspire respect in others), it’s not exactly flattering to her and it’s not the very latest in hip, trendy clothes. The Chanel-style suit had become something of a standard for women at this time. What raises this up from being boring is the bright color and the white trim. It’s not exactly youthful, but it’s very powerful.

This strikes us a little more youthful. It’s still a sturdy work dress, but it’s got some real style. Once again, we see Peggy in red on this job. Golden yellow was her career color for seven years at SC. Looks like she’s switched it out for red now. Interesting to note how busy this dress is. Peggy usually wears plaids and that’s it in the way of pattern.

Meanwhile, Megan is still floundering and still sitting around in casual clothes that speak of no power at all in her life. In a series of scenes indicating how perfect she would be for the “French type” Butler Shoes is seeking for its “Beauty and the Beast” commercial, we see her in this bright green scarf worn gypsy-style. Her other-ness has been referenced all season, whether in Inca-style dresses or tapestry skirts, there’s always something to remind the viewer that she’s not an All-American Girl, especially in scenes where that fact becomes prominent.

Her friend is working a total Nancy Sinatra, head to toe.

The tendency to place her in little girl clothes reaches its zenith with this scene. Ironically, the only other time she wore that hideous bathrobe was after Don’s birthday party, when she quickly got rid of it and wound up having hate-sex with Don on the new carpet. That scene was all about the power she had in the marriage. This scene is all about the complete lack of power she has in the marriage. A nicely subtle callback.

And finally, Megan gets her power red. Interesting to note: Joan’s power red manifests as a skin-tight dress, showing off her curves and indicating her sexual power, which is what she used to get where she is. Peggy’s power red is business-like, indicating the hard work she did and relatively normal career path she took. Megan, who ultimately received a career boost through her connections with her wealthy and powerful husband, wears a power red, but rendered in a fairy tale costume. Sex, career, and marriage; the three paths to power for women in a patriarchal society.

It’s also notable that her other color is a bright, sunny yellow. When she was working in the office, she wore this color so often that we were close to declaring it “her” color, indicating her sunny personality and bright optimism. But once she left SCDP, she never wore it again, which indicated how depressed she was slowly becoming. Now that she’s back at work, she’s sunnier than ever.

None of the other major female characters wore red this episode and there were plenty of opportunities for them to do so, but Janie opted to dress the rest of them in a rainbow of other colors.

Like Joan once did, Marie has a suit of armor. It’s  always all one color; impenetrable and uncomplicated, very much like herself. No fussiness like prints or contrasting colors for her.

Beth is the very picture of respectable blandness, practically melting into her surroundings.  Howard’s tie calls back to the beige of her outfit, tying them together, horrible as that is.

But here, she’s childlike, both in dress and action. In an episode notable for its use of red to indicate female power, Beth, who’s pretty much the least powerful woman the show has ever depicted, is in a very traditionally feminine pink.

The pink continues with her hospital-wear, which is fussier than ever and about as traditionally feminine as one can get. She’s gone from being child-like to being doll-like. We’re glad the writing noted the physical resemblance between Pete and Beth. They don’t just look like siblings; they look like twins. It was always so obvious to us and we always felt like it was a huge part of why Pete became infatuated with her.

Trudy is, as she’s been all season, a buzzing print surrounded by buzzing prints in her home. There’s so much visual noise in Pete’s home life, reflecting his own annoyance and depression regarding his surroundings.

But for the first time this season, Trudy’s in a cool, serene, solid blue (which matches the blue of the couch) as she finally addresses (in her own confused way) Pete’s ennui and offers him the solution he wants. It’s extremely notable how much this outfit calls back to Beth’s hospital-wear.

Surrounded by deep browns and old-world refinement (you can bet all this furniture was shipped over from England), Rebecca is firmly rooted in this world and her clothing reflects it. There was a subtext of anti-Americanism in this scene, with Rebecca blaming an American for filling her husband’s head with ambition and noting that Americans tend to wallow in their grief. In other words, she’s dressed to match her furniture because this scene was all about her Englishness re-asserting itself angrily.

One final thing before we go:

She’s on her way.




The end.



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