Mad Style: The Forecast

Posted on April 22, 2015

What struck us most about this episode, after sitting through it five times, searching for any costuming motifs we could find, is that there are very few repeating motifs at all. Considering how heavy the first two episodes of this half-season were with costuming motifs (first the “women in blue” one and then the “women in brown” one, among others), we tend to think this illustrates how random and formless Don’s world has become. Every color of the rainbow and every pattern (stripes, florals, plaids, polka dots, eastern-inspired hippie prints) was on the table for this episode and we were treated to more brand-new costumes on more characters than we think we’ve ever seen in one hour of the show. In an episode about Don’s inability to see a future for himself, if there was one theme underlining all the costumes it was the Shock of the New. It’s 1970, as this episode reminded us over and over again, and that means things are going to look both new-decade fresh and random at the same time.


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A bold, bright shot of “Wake the f up, Don” in costuming form. We absolutely loved the look of this character, from her Ann Landers helmet hair to her kitten heels, she was a perfect representation of 1970 sassy. And in an era when certain women were expected to have highly coordinated and matched outfits, she’s outdoing them all. White gloves, white hat, white shoes, white purse and big faux pearls. She’s a bright, clean model of perfect, hands-on-hips efficiency – and she of course stands out like a firecracker in that den of emotional messiness.


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We love her. Just look at that hair. Despite the ’70s being seen as a time of wild and free hair, there were plenty of women – especially professional and middle to upper-class women with a conservative bent – who kept the hairspray industry alive and well. Betty is a prime example of this Pat Nixon-style look remaining popular well into the decade – and like Melanie here, her hair was particularly helmety this episode as well.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, another lady in green with elaborate hair starts her day:

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The OG #IWokeUpLikeThis.

Of course Joan would wake up dressed like a goddess. Maybe some of the ladies reading this can explain it to us, but we absolutely cannot imagine trying to sleep in a ballgown. It has a cape, for God’s sake. But of course it would. This is what Joan Harris packs for a business trip.

Anyway, Joan is dressed, except in one highly notable instance, entirely in shades of blue and green this episode, and while we once went a little nuts applying meaning to those colors, they obviously aren’t signaling adultery as they did a season and a half ago. And we don’t tend to think they have anything to do with the green in Melanie’s outfit because there’s no real overlap in their stories or motivations.

It’s also notable that everything she wears this episode – and indeed, everything she’s worn all season, is something we’ve never seen before. This is entirely new in Costume Designer Janie Bryant’s approach to dressing these characters. She has always had them repeat outfits over and over again. Even Betty, who’s spent most of the sixties with quite a bit of money and every reason to dress herself up, has a history of repeating a lot of outfits throughout the run of the show. And yet Joan, Peggy and Betty all wore several never-before-seen outfits in this one episode. In fact, Peggy is the only one of them to repeat an outfit this episode.


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Speaking of hair helmets, Don did not sport his for once. This was, in its own way, as seismic a change as the blue shirts he started sporting this year. Or it would have been if it had been deliberate on his part. We got a bit excited at the thought that maybe, despite years of us predicting otherwise, Don really was going to ditch the short hair and the wet look for something a bit more up to date. But his slightly longer, fuller, dryer hair wasn’t an instance of Don changing. It was an example of how the Don Draper mystique is fading. His hair’s long and dry because he overslept and didn’t have time to Don Draper himself up for the world. It’s interesting to note that Roger, he of the mustache and sideburns and ruffled shirts, thought that Don looked terrible and asked him if he needed to have his barber brought in. As if even the people around him who know him best aren’t comfortable seeing Don look even slightly more modern. Don is too much of a symbol of the last decade for anyone to accept him growing his hair out or leaving the house without a protective coat of Brylcreem in his hair.


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The one outfit she wore this episode that wasn’t blue or green, this look is almost ludicrously romantic and unbusiness-like. It tends to highlight the vast differences between Joan and Dee, who she clearly sees as something of an idiot, but then again, Joan has a long history of talking down to secretaries.

The last time she wore such a brilliant pink dress she was subjected to some of the worst sexual harassment we’ve ever seen on this show – and that’s saying something. This time, it’s for a meet-cute that’s actually kind of creepy in retrospect.


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Romance and sex are in the air. Her outfit says the former, and his swinging ’70s mid-life crisis of an outfit says the latter.

One of the subtle things that’s been happening in the costumes this season is the use of poly-blend drip-dry pieces, which had started to become insanely popular at this time and which, in our opinion, was the one development in fashion that most defined the uglier aspects of the seventies. We point this out because you can tell his shirt, like several of the men’s shirts this season, including Don’s first blue shirt, aren’t nearly as neatly pressed as what men were wearing just a year or two before.


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Another new dress. It’s also brown and white like Diana’s uniform of last week, which set off a search for brown dresses on depressed women, but we can’t see how that applies here. It is notable, however, that Sally also wears a brown and white dress later in the episode. We think it’s simplistic to cast Peggy as Don’s surrogate daughter, but there are times when the story treats her like one, including a scene later this episode that’s very much a “Go to Daddy to fix it” moment.

Peggy’s style this season – aside from a few ugly ’70s pieces – has taken a leap forward in sophistication.


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It’s hard not to see this as a callback to the dressing gown she wore when Don tried to stop her from prostituting herself. Not that there’s any prostitution undertones to this scene, but as far as we know, Herb the Jaguar guy was the last guy she had sex with. Which explains why she’s swooning over a much older guy wearing gaudy jewelry and dressing like a pimp. Anything would look good after Herb.

Of course Joan would pack this – and the matching nightgown with cape – for a business trip. Remember, this is how Peggy dresses for them.


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THAT is a sartorial bomb going off. It finally happened. Someone on Mad Men wore a leisure suit. We honestly didn’t think we’d ever see them because they didn’t really become mainstays until a few years after this. We tend to think Richard’s wearing one not because he’s fashion-forward, but because he’s a Californian and they were more primed for the casual styles that eventually defined the decade. Like New York in the fifties and sixties, Los Angeles defined the seventies.

He’s dressing like a swinging, divorced man of the seventies would. Very Mr. Furley from Three’s Company. But one thing really stood out to us. Any guy sporting the leisure suits and apache scarves and big gaudy rings in 1970 should really have much longer and fuller hair than that. If anything, his hair looks rather too conservative and mature to really go with that outfit. Like we said a few weeks ago, any guy leaving his entire ear uncovered was considered square and old and out of touch in 1970. Rather than look at this as a mistake in the costume design, we tend to think it indicates that Richard isn’t quite the swinger he tries to come across as and all of this is still quite new to him. We kind of doubt he was dressing this way when he was married.


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A dysfunctional family unit. Siblings squabbling to Daddy. Peggy wore that dress at Burger Chef, when she pitched the idea of an unconventional family to Don and Pete. Don’s tie matches both their outfits.  And no, Don didn’t pick the Hershey’s bar. It looks like he chose the Clark bar instead. Note that Don spent the episode wandering around the office eating candy and donuts and drinking beer, none of which seem very Don Draper-like.


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A floral, a stripe and a pair of bleach-dyed jeans loaded up with ironic peace symbols for the former protestor-turned-soldier. You couldn’t get these three further apart in style. We tend to see Sally as the bridge between Glen and Betty in this scene -as she clearly was in the story as well. She’s wearing jeans, like Glen, but she’s in a brightly colored, sleeveless top with hair ever so slightly more helmety than the average 1970 teenager’s, making her more like Betty.

We’ve said this before, but Sally’s style is unusually conservative for a teenager of that time. She may have a surly, rebellious streak in her, but she’s very much a preppy, well-off Miss Porter girl and very much Betty’s daughter in a lot of ways, something that Don came right out and said to her this episode. You are the result of your parents, whether you like it or not.


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Honestly, this is one of the best things she’s ever worn. Christina Hendricks has worn couture on the red carpet and didn’t look nearly this good. For 1970, she looks glamorous, wealthy, and mature in this. It’s very New York in style, with its metallic touches and diamante trim. Very “high fashion” for the time. Whereas he, in his all sandy shades, wide lapels and gaudy man-jewelry, looks very Southern California by comparison. There’s definitely some tension in their clothing, illustrating the vast differences in their lives and goals.


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Notice how the magazines are all about forecasting and looking to the future, including one with a crystal ball on the cover. These magazines didn’t happen to be sitting on his desk or even in his office. Some of them are at least six months old, but judging by their log lines, all of them are about looking forward to the seventies. He’s flipping through magazines looking for inspiration.

His tie and her dress are trying to connect, but like the two of them, it’s not quite doing so .The stripes don’t line up and the colors are just slightly off, much like their motivations in this scene. She just wanted a performance review and he wanted to talk about the meaning of life with her.


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Kevin is watching Sesame Street. Bobby later mentions wanting to watch The Brady Bunch. The closing song was Roberta Flack’s version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” More than any other episode so far, this one really drove home the point that they really are in the future. It’s starting to get very seventies all of a sudden. Previously, the only time you saw people as counter-culture in style as that babysitter on this show, they weren’t smack dab in the middle of a main character’s living room, they were squatting in empty buildings or living on a commune. This is because these hippy-inspired styles really weren’t counter-cultural anymore by 1970. They were trendy, mainstream and hard to escape.

It’s also an example of highly oppositional costuming, because Joan is every inch the mature, well-appointed establishment figure while this girl screams of youth and freedom.

We talked a bit about this last year, but now that she’s flush with cash from the McCann buyout, it makes no sense at all for her to be living in the same two-bedroom apartment she was sharing with her secretly lesbian roommate ten years ago. Even if you want to argue she’s being frugal somehow (which doesn’t quite scan given the shopping spree of a few episodes ago, not to mention the wardrobe and jewelry upgrade that indicates there were quite a few shopping sprees this year), it doesn’t make sense. Either her mother is sleeping on the couch every night or her 4 year old is sleeping with her. Neither option seems particularly necessary given her financial situation. And as Richard pointed out, the West Village in 1970 wasn’t the safest neighborhood in the world, making it even more problematic that she would consider staying there.

Stranger still is how little the apartment has changed in the last ten years. Hardly at all, really. She even has the same drapes. It’s 1970 and she’s living in an aqua-and-salmon late 1950s world. Is she really that resistant to change? Mad Men is so meticulous about its art direction and set design. Everything from the Francis kitchen to Don’s apartment to Pete’s old Cos Cob house said something about the people residing in it. And changing living conditions have always been used to tell you something about the character’s journey, from Peggy’s succession of apartments to Don going from Ossining to a post-divorce hooker-infested walkup to a swanky penthouse. Joan has been on no less a journey than any of the other characters and a much greater one than most of them. It totally puzzles us why she’d live this way or why the show would choose to depict her living this way.


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We had to include some shots of the latest fashions for Meredith. No matter the decade, it’ll always be flowers, butterflies and bows for her.


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Pointed collars, slightly full sleeves and contrasting cuffs – elements that all evoke menswear – have become very much part of Joan’s signature look since she became an executive last year. Her office and work looks this season have all been form fitting, but not nearly as body hugging as just last year. Not many dresses like this in her rotation anymore. Even Joan Harris has to abandon the pencil skirt eventually.

He looks painfully silly to modern eyes and we won’t claim a man his age dressing this way didn’t look a little silly sometimes to 1970 eyes, but really, people wouldn’t have found this look nearly as outrageous as we do. It’s representative of a certain set of mostly middle-aged men having mid-life crises just as the sexual revolution started reaching critical mass.

Roses – especially, but not exclusively red ones – have been an important symbol throughout Joan’s story, going all the way back to season one, when her fiance Greg gave her roses and then raped her, when she later smashed a vase of them over his head for being a petulant ass, when she threw them at Lane for some crossed signals and when she sauntered into her brand new role as an accounts executive. They don’t necessarily represent love in her life because they tend to accompany either acts of violence or acts of personal growth. And of course, roses have been a motif in her costuming for the entire run of the series. This is likely to be a significant relationship for her, even if there are some strange red flags, like his presumptuousness and anger.


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Koo-koo-ka-choo, Mrs. Francis.

Another reason we don’t think it’s a coincidence that Bobby mentioned The Brady Bunch this episode. Glen Bishop couldn’t possibly get more Greg Brady in his style, from the curly hair to the skinny shirt to the thick belt, he’s the picture of early ’70s studliness.

Betty wore a yellow dress when she cut off her hair for him, which is likely to have been the highly romanticized image of her he’s carried around all this time. Seeing her again in a yellow dress must have pushed all his buttons.

And just for the hell of it, here’s what they looked like the last time they faced off in Betty’s kitchen, when Betty lost it because – ironically enough – she was upset that Glen may have acted inappropriately in her home. It’s not a coincidence that Glen went out of his way to introduce himself to the Francis’ African-American maid and ask her her name; a gesture she clearly appreciated. After all, Glen knows he essentially got Betty’s last maid fired.


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Sally’s style is sometimes strangely juvenile. It tends to stand out in scenes with her friends, who all look more like teenagers of the period. Even among the Miss Porter set, she comes off conservative. From her slightly Betty-like hair (sideswept, shoulder-length and softly curled wasn’t really what teenage girls were going for in 1970, as evidenced by the other girls at the table with either pin-straight center parts or wildly curly ’70s hair) to her pinafore dress, she simply doesn’t look like the other girls, all of whom look like they could be Marcia Brady’s classmates.



We tend to think the child-like aspect of this look, and the way it stands so far apart from her contemporaries’ outfits, is meant to underline the fact that he’s trying to teach her something about herself. The scene was entirely about a child being angry with her parents and having one of them inform her that, like it or not, you’re a product of them.


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Serious hair helmetry. We absolutely fell in love with this look and this character. Sometimes you come across an actor in a period piece who so manages to embody the look of the day that you forget you’re watching something shot in the present day. She’s absolutely letter-perfect for a certain Nixon-era strain of “Up With People” seventies-style perkiness. Notice how both her outfits were predominately white, which isn’t exactly the most practical choice for a working woman in 1970 New York. It’s possible you could look at her in a bridal light (Tom semi-joked to Lorenzo that we were meeting the next Mrs. Draper) or possibly even an angelic one, since Don tends to see any woman who helps him out in any way as the one who’s going to save him from himself. “Now we just need to find a place for you,” she says as she adjusts his tie, embodying both roles at once, wife and angel.


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Every ending shot this season has depicted Don alone, stripped of his past, stripped of his possessions, and now stripped of his home. With more money and potentially more freedom than ever, there’s every reason to think he’s simply going to walk away from being Don Draper. This has been the central tension in his life throughout the whole series; will he stay in this false life he built or will he run away again and try to do it all over again? What if you don’t get any more new chances? What if this is all there is?

Then what?


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]

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