Mad Style: A Day’s Work

Posted on April 23, 2014

It’s awfully early in the season to be whining, we realize, but we groaned a little when we sat through this episode a third time in order to take costume notes. Episodes that take place mostly in one day are sometimes harder to examine on a costume level because almost every character wears one costume and in order to look at any significance, you have to track it through multiple scenes. That means tons of pictures and collages, which means Lorenzo is now passed out after 20 hours of putting this post together.

Incidentally, this google search serves as the perfect tribute to the kind of work Lorenzo does in putting these posts together. Those screencaps and collages don’t just appear out of nowhere, you know.  The man deserves his props.

Okay, with our weekly whining and back patting over with, let’s get on with it.


Here’s Don, picking up almost exactly where we left him at the end of the last episode.

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Still stuck at home in that crappy Bathrobe of Shame. Last season, looking at a very similarly framed shot, we called this Don’s “adultery bathrobe” and linked it to the dress Sally wore to her interview at Miss Porter’s in the same episode. There was similar Sally-linking going on here. First, you can get really crazy and link these opening shots with the opening shots of Season 5, as Sally wakes up in the apartment for the first time. But more obviously, you can just go ahead and once again link this bathrobe to something Sally’s wearing at Miss Porter’s:

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The other girls are in delicate florals. Sally Draper demands your attention in the scene in her vibrant plaid. We thought that was a coat at first, but you get a quick glimpse of the inside as she sits down and you can see it has no lining and is thin enough for light to pass through, which means it’s one of those hideous ’70s-era bathrobes that look like coats but are just scratchy synthetic loungewear.

What makes this work so well is not just the callback to what Don’s wearing, but the fact that her affect now is pure Betty Hofstadt Francis, from the half-lidded expression of bitchy boredom to the way she holds her cigarette. Attention should be paid to just how well Kiernan Shipka is incorporating the work of two other actors in order to portray her character.

Note the monogrammed pendant Don (but actually his secretary Allison) got her for Christmas several years back. It’s extremely noticeable in most of her scenes.

We want to intone about how the butterflies, flowers and owls are perfect girl-bedroom decor of the period (very Brady girls), but that’s kind of silly, since they’re pretty much perfect girl-bedroom decor of any period from 1960 to the present day. Still, all those little figurines, the hook rug art, the Peanuts calendar and especially the “Hang in there, baby” kitten poster,  do tend to sell that late ’60s teen bedroom look perfectly.


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Back to Don. We just want to note something we said the very first time this apartment was unveiled to the audience, back in the premiere of season 5:

“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.”

That’s exactly where the show is now, and we suspect it’s something of a theme for this season: they’re already living in the ’70s, for the most part, just as the first couple seasons were about how they were all still living in the ’50s. That’s why we detected all that Nixonian conservativism springing up in the clothes last week.

It’s amazing how a busted sliding door, some harsh lighting and a well placed cockroach can take that apartment from glamorous to seedy so easily, but that’s the thing about that late ’60s-into-’70s style; it has a very short shelf life.


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Here’s a perfect example of costuming working to play with your expectations as well as to tell you something about the character. We see Don straightening up the apartment and putting on a tie and jacket. When the doorbell rings, we assume there’s a woman on the other side and there is, but it’s not the meeting we thought it was. He’s dressing up in order to play a part. Dawn’s perfectly aware that he’s not working, but he needs to be “Mr. Draper” to her when he opens that door.


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And the second she leaves, he immediately drops the facade.

We could say that her sturdy blue plaid coat calls back to Don’s bathrobe, in a way, marking her as one of “Don’s girls,” like Sally’s bathrobe does.


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And just as Peggy’s blue plaid scarf serves the same function. (And her Mary Tyler Moore look is even closer to the original than it was last week).

But not Ginsberg’s jacket, which we noted the first time he wore as something that he spent money on, unlike the rest of his thrift store clothing. His look has gone a little downhill since then.

Not surprisingly, flowers were all over the background of this episode, far more than we realized until we started doing a close examination. The pink roses that Peggy fails to notice here are foreshadowing all the flower-based drama to come.


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Note how the vase of red roses take on an almost totemic quality the way they’re placed in each scene. They tend to dominate the frame. Also, note how there are flowers on the desk behind Shirley’s and in the reception area behind Peggy.

Note how they’re quite prominent in Peggy’s interaction with Moira, and how the size and placement of the flowers in the frame remain the same, whether they’re the angry red of Peggy’s or the soft pinks and whites of Moira’s:

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And note how Joan’s flowers pop out in the scene where she and Peggy snap at each other in frustration:

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Peggy was positively surrounded by Valentine’s bouquets this episode, which helps to explain why she had her little meltdown. All those flowers must have been playing on her nerves terribly.

And it should be noted that only one other woman at SC&P besides Peggy had a desk without a bouquet on it:

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The good girl in the plaid jumper and the Peter Pan collar, just trying to do her best and winding up with an unexpected promotion. Mad Men is a world of doppelgängers, and right now, Dawn is Peggy Olsen 2.0.

In fact, let’s jump around a bit and unpack that.


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One of the hardest lessons Peggy had to learn at her secretarial job (and one she never really mastered) was covering for her boss and making sure he was never put in a compromising or embarrassing position. Much like Peggy often did, Dawn failed at this task utterly, not being there to answer Sally’s questions and not being there to prevent Lou from having to deal with it. Is that fair? Of course not, but the fact remains that the people above her consider it a huge part of her job and she didn’t manage it this time.

And what the hell; let’s just take this connection as far as it can go. What was Peggy wearing the first time she learned that her secretarial job consisted of lying and covering for her boss? Why, a blue plaid with a contrasting collar, of course.


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But we found out something about Dawn this episode: she’s bolder than Peggy was in 1960 – and that’s really saying something. Secretary Peggy would have never defended herself to her boss the way Dawn did here. It took Peggy a copywriting job and bailing Don out of jail before she could even bring herself to stop calling him “Mr. Draper.” We like to think it’s the power of the Peter Pan collar. The bigger it gets, the bolder the Peggys of the world get.

Dawn has taken to wearing a suit-style jacket over her dresses. We noticed the same thing last week and assumed it was about showing her competence and comfort in the job. That may still be a valid interpretation, but now we kind of suspect it was meant to foreshadow her rise and the fact that, by the end of the episode, she’s one of only three women to ever have her own office at SC&P. Joan and Peggy have dabbled in menswear-inspired office-wear at various times, as well. They’re really the only three women to have done so in the history of the show.

But if you want to talk bold secretarial wear, the conversation starts and stops with Miss Shirley:

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Sometimes, the best way to define an undefined character is to put her next to someone who serves to contrast everything about her. Dawn’s been in the Mad Men world for a while now, but it took Shirley to really let us know who Dawn is. It wasn’t hard to notice that Dawn wore no makeup, little jewelry and somewhat dowdy clothing. Like early-season Peggy, she’s a working class church-going girl and her clothes reflect that. She is, after all, someone who once claimed all the women who go to her church were harlots, which should give you some idea of just how low-key and good-girl her style is.


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In contrast, Shirley’s not only showy, she’s the showiest secretary in the office, which, given her position as one of only two African-American employees in 1969, demonstrates just how wildly bold she is in comparison to Dawn. That’s the shortest skirt ever worn in that office and the fact that she’s wearing it with knee-high boots makes it a pretty fabulous look that more than likely caused some raised eyebrows, especially among the white secretaries. A few other women have worn hoop earrings, but they’ve mostly been a Dawn signature since the moment she was introduced. Even so, Dawn’s hoops are small and demure in comparison to Shirley’s big, dangling gold ones. And of course the biggest tell of all in sussing out their differences is to note that Dawn has relaxed hair and Shirley has an afro. Even moreso than now, black hair was a highly politicized thing in the late ’60s, and afros were largely (and erroneously) considered to represent the Black Power movement, if not the Black Panther Party specifically. We highly doubt Shirley’s literally getting her cues from Angela Davis or making a political statement with her hair, but it would have been seen as threatening or discomfiting by the white establishment she works in.

From the false eyelashes down to the boots, this is pure African-American 1969-trendy, having nothing to do with politics at all. She’s engaged to a man who doesn’t want her to work (and who apparently makes good money himself, given that hers was the largest bouquet except for Joan’s, which Roger paid for) and she doesn’t exactly dress like someone who plans on being there in five years, let alone two. In a way, she’s just continuing the traditions of Joan Holloway and Jane Siegel. She’s a gorgeous, sexy, stylish secretary who’s biding time until she gets married and loves dressing up for work. It’s just that the packaging has drastically changed in the last few years and “gorgeous secretary” doesn’t necessarily mean what it used to.

And yes, we should point out how much red and pink there was throughout this episode. It’s Valentine’s day, after all. Shirley’s red ties her directly to the flowers that belong to her; Joan’s red serves as a contrast to the yellow flowers Roger bought her, and Meredith…


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Well, she’s Meredith. Of course she’d wear a pink mini-dress with a bow on it for Valentine’s day.


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Some will say that Peggy’s ugly little bow has some red in it, but it looks pretty orange to us. The dominant colors of her outfit are beige and brown, which  serve to illustrate the contrast between her and all the other colorfully dressed women who got flowers this episode. You could say they’re all blooming while she’s dying a little. Janie Bryant once did something like this before with Joan, who has a history of wearing rose dresses, putting her in what we called the “dead rose dress” after her marriage imploded.


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And we’ll note that “drab vs. color,” “blooming vs. dying” motif was repeated with Don and the guy from Wells, Rich, Greene, which was a much hipper and more energetic agency than SC&P is at the moment. He’s all super-trendy and of the moment (down to his Valentine’s day pink, in a  scene loaded with references to courting and the handsomeness of Don Draper), while Don is old-fashioned and almost funereal in comparison.

Meanwhile, back at the office…


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There’s some slightly odd mirroring action going on here. Notice how Pete and Ted are both jacketless as a way of pointing out their Southern California surroundings while NY suffers through another February, where all the men are wearing their jackets. This also makes a statement about the formality of NY in comparison to the more laid back styles of L.A.


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Note also how both secretaries in each office are dressed nearly identically, in green suits with brown flipped hair.


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Note that the whole scene is about oppositional pairings, which play out later in the episode. Pete will wind up yelling at Ted over the decisions made in this meeting, Jim will wind up threatening Roger, and Bert will wind up complaining to Joan about her personnel decisions, which will allow her to be responsive to the offer Jim makes to place her in the office next to Roger, which was spurred on by noticing Bert tell her not to go after Roger when he’s angry. Wheels within wheels, man.


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Jim and Roger used to look like doppelgangers but there seems to be a concerted effort to draw distinctions now. Last season, we pointed out that Jim’s signature color was a silver-grey and that he floated through the office like a ghost, but now his clothing seems a lot more declarative and noticeable in a scene. It’s like he was deliberately in the background before but openly asserting himself now.

Enough office drama. Time for some Draper drama.


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She’s another character with touches of red for Valentine’s day. But she’s also another character who’s paying slight tribute to Peggy Olsen, in her own way. There’s the fact that her coat and hat are so similar to the ones Peggy’s wearing in this episode…



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…and she’s wearing a jumper, turtleneck and knee socks underneath it, just like Peggy last week, when we noted how childlike her clothes made her look.  She is becoming to Don what Peggy used to be to him (and Anna before that): the woman in his life who knows him best and can handle his honesty. But unlike Peggy and Anna, she’s actually related to Don, which is why she’s dressed in identical colors to his.



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Black and gray, with the gold of her pendant playing off the gold of his tie. Two characters with deep ties, connecting even further.  It was obvious the second she took her coat off that they were going to reconcile. The story their costumes were telling foreshadowed it.

And finally, the least likely Peggy doppelgänger of them all:

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The prize for the most ironic costuming of the episode goes to the woman we wrongly dubbed “Malibu Betty,” Miss Bonnie Whiteside. She’s not an updated Betty, like we assumed. She’s a female Pete – except without the hangups. And honestly? She may be the most terrifying character the show’s shown us yet. All the ambition and spite of Pete Campbell, wrapped in a pretty, unassuming package and free of the need for love and approval that’s always held him back. Like many of the women this episode (except Joan) she’s sporting a collar and a really short dress. But her color is a sunny California yellow, all wholesome and uplifting. When she opens her mouth and reveals what a mercenary she is and how unlikely she is to make Pete her king, he’s more turned on than he’s ever been in his life.

The bright yellow of her dress calls back to Joan’s roses:

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Which were, unlike all the other bouquets in this episode, not romantic (Roger may have given them to her, but she sees them as a gift from her son) and used to signal her full entrance into the executive arena. Bonnie, in her bright yellow dress, similarly played down Pete’s flowers for her and played up the full extent of her focus and ambition. You could say that Dawn’s yellow collar had a touch of that career-oriented vibe to it as well. And since Peggy’s career color has always been yellow, we think these instances of it are all callbacks to that.

After all, this:

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Is a clear callback to this, one of the most iconic scenes of the show. The ladies with the boxes and the touches of yellow are the ones who are focused on their careers and not on their romantic life. Peggy may be feeling the frustrations of being without a romantic partner at the moment, but she should comfort herself with the kind of influence she’s had on the women around her. There’s a small but growing army of Peggys. Their color is yellow and their symbol of power is a simple file box.





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