What is Mad Men Style? for him and her
[box type=”shadow”]AMC’s Mad Men is about the people who created cultural America up in the skyscrapers of Madison Avenue while the burgeoning revolution of the 60s took place on the streets below.[/box]
The focus is on Advertising Execs, innovators of popular emotion, and the authorship of cultural desires. It’s about unabashed bigotry, looking really cool, and smoking indoors. Guys in this world dressed in the same no-frills utilitarian precedent popular in the 19th century. Baudelaire remarked on men’s fashion, “This is the mourning sex”. The beginning of the 60s, the decade of revolution, was still a period of starch and rigid hierarchies. A man’s work was the yardstick of his fitness, and business-formal was the dress code for attendance at the collapse of the modern era. From this point on in history a jacket-and-tie would become more than just a jacket-and-tie. Aestheticized dishevelment, loose ties and messy hair would win out over straight-laced and slicked-back. It’s the way this unkempt gravitas clashes with the just-so milieu that Mad Men audiences recognize as pure sex. It’s the show’s lead Don Draper, sleeves rolled up, collar open, encircled in smoke rings, brooding over the Freudian condition of the female demographic (who buy a certain brand of pantyhose, while his wife sits at home neglected and wasting away to her feminine mystique).
Make no mistake; a suit is not a sports coat with a pair of pants in the same color. A suit is a set of elements you buy together. The separate elements of a suit, can say many things. Notice what happens when Don Draper comes into a room and his jacket comes off. This is an anchoring gesture, it says “I’ve arrived; I’m where I intend to be.” In all the penny-dreadful pulp style that Don exudes, nothing lets everyone in the room know he’s about to make his exit when he places that fedora on his head. On Mad Men, the disassembly of the suit usually speaks to the narrative onscreen. It may mean deep introspection, it may mean confidence, it may mean sex in the boardroom. That’s why when wearing such an aggregate piece of the wardrobe; modularity is key. It isn’t enough to look right on the way out the door with the whole thing on; the night may have other plans. Wearing a suit is a process, and anyone man enough to wear one needs to know what he looks like in every stage of that process.
Look at how the little nuances of a suit can speak to the varying shades of self-identification in the men who wear them. Sal Romano is very much the under-the-rug sexuality of the decade, a closet homosexual mixed into the hyper masculine white collar fraternity. Peeking out of his bourgeois business attire is always an element of flash, a pastel cardigan or pocket square, simultaneously asking to be noticed and begging to be excused. Paul Kinsey is a Kerouac kindred spirit, oft unshaven and in Princeton-graduate tweed. Pete Campbell, corporate climbing rival to Don, dresses in a younger aesthetic, skinny ties say it all. Ken Cosgrove, top to bottom, is monotone and non-monogamous – the baby faced bachelor of the boys club. Harry Crane is the professional “poindexter” – note the bow tie. He’s head of the agency’s TV department with specs that look like they can pick up pay-per-view; a predecessor to the proud-to-be nerds that run today’s information era.
Then lest we forget, there are the men that put the Sterling and Cooper in Sterling Cooper. Roger Sterling, silver-spoon usurper to the agency throne; wears black, on black, on black, on black – with the obligatory pressed white shirt. I would’ve guessed by the cut of his suit that Sterling was the tallest character on the show though John Slattery, the actor who plays Sterling is only 5’10”. That’s the power of his vertical shadow stripes, which make an already towering personality all the greater as a presence in the boardroom. Bert Cooper, senior partner, is a cultural eclectic, but with the sort of geriatric self-actualization that allows him to walk about the office in his socks.
Cooper unabashedly indulges a far-east fetish, and has a taste for Ayn Rand. Expect the giddy mixing of otherwise forbidden pattern pairs and the always audacious four point pocket square. Business attire is an artistry of constraint. It appeases decorum while speaking to the machismo of the man who wears it. It hasn’t lost effectiveness in the past fifty years. Business attire is always most effective when it’s worn the way the wearer wants it. Mad Men marks the beginning of an era where classic coexisted with hip. It was the infancy of the fashion climate we live in today, where discernible lines of propriety blur into the accelerating lines of the in-vogue. As anachronism goes today, we are an historical pastiche. This is a huge part of why we love Mad Men. It’s pompous, it’s patriarchal, it’s 1960s period porn. People crave 60 minute vacations to the paradigmatic rigidity of the past. We love a time where men didn’t apologize for being men. So pour yourself a scotch, light a Lucky Strike, and wear your tie however the hell you like it… a man should never be afraid of retro. In the words of Don Draper, “Just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s bad.”
[box type=”shadow”]The popular show Mad Men has brought back the Iconic style of the late 50’s early 60’s that, until now, has remained mostly underground in the Rockabilly circles.[/box]
Unlike Rockabilly fashion, all of the embellishments of the Mad Men era style were neatly put in its place, including its men and women. This was a time when cigarettes were an accessory, not an addiction, and women were objects, not equals.
Looking like a perfectly drawn Jessica Rabbit cartoon brought to life, Joan Holloway uses her tight knit dresses, skirts, and sweaters to climb the corporate ladder. Her voluptuous curves are always paired with a dress that fits them like a glove. Her style shows that during this time, “big hips, big ovaries” were in and thin was out. She wears jewel toned colors that compliment her flawless snow white skin and bright red hair (possibly from the bottle). She parades her beauty and body around Sterling Cooper not only for secular advancement but, sometimes for a free meal.
The more conservatively dressed woman in the office, Peggy, parlays her wit and not her looks to get ahead. She dresses like a school girl and exudes the same kind of naiveté. It would be no surprise to find a poodle skirt hidden in her closet somewhere with a pair of saddleback shoes to match. She favors A-line skirts, that fall barely above her ankles, sensible shoes, and matronly sweaters. The men in the office taunt her and ask her to show a little more skin but, if she acquiesced and untied the scarf around her neck, she negates her own self-worth as a “mind” not a “body”. The way she dresses gives her more credibility than Joan. She is one to reckon with later in the show, setting the precedence for woman to gain respect through their intelligence and not their cleavage.
The wife of the mysterious Don Draper, Betty Draper, has the typical style of a housewife in the 1960’s, wearing A-line, high waist dresses, pearls, and heels. It is hard to imagine how she accomplishes taking care of the kids and all the household chores at home, without the help of a live-in nanny. This kind of immaculate style is not something stay-at-home moms these days would call practical. Imagine the moms of today trying to pull this off while running errands, cleaning the house, and taking the kids to and from school.
But, it is sad that women these days think it is acceptable to throw a robe over their P.J’s from the night before and actually go out in public. Mrs. Draper would be appalled if she were living in 2010. Her appearance is a reflection of the perfectly manicured façade she has created for herself and her family. Once her girdle and bra are unhinged at the end of the day, so is her life.
Today’s society isn’t as tough on woman’s appearance and roles as they were during the 1950’s and early 60’s. We have the freedom and rights today to go out in our P.J.’s and not be socially demoted as well as the ability to be CEO of a company without using our looks to get there. I picked out one of my 50’s style vintage dresses that I bought at a Salvation Army back in California and wore it to the office last week. I enjoyed compliments, but it was painful to breathe, let alone sit in all day. Thankfully, our clothes and roles as women aren’t as restrictive today.
MADMEN airs Sundays at 10pm on AMC and is currently going on its fifth season.