Have you been watching Mad Men? I was unaware of the hype surrounding the acclaimed American drama until this Christmas, when I was presented with the first two seasons of the show. On Monday, I sat down to watch an episode. A few days, and the development of some very square eyes later, I have finished the box set.
It is an excellent programme; smart, funny, knowing, genuine, mysterious, well-written and excellently characterised. And stylish, incredibly so. Interweaved into the lives of the Mad Men, the ad men in the grey flannel suits, waft three very different woman; Betty, the highly-strung, neurotic ex-wife of leading man Don Draper, Joan, the sexually voracious, va-va-voom office manager and Peggy, the token woman copywriter in a man’s man’s world.
It’s unsurprising then that the style of Mad Men has become a source of inspiration for shoppers and designers everywhere. Prada’s A/W ’11 collection was lifted heavily from the strict, ultra feminine silhouette of the show, incorporating cat’s eye spectacles, sinched-in waists, circle skirts and bouffant do’s. ‘Mad Men’ has become one of the most searched terms for vintage clothing vendors on the internet – for women in search of that perfect ‘downtrodden housewife’ look.
Every aspect of the show is carefully considered. Even the books that Don and Betty read reflect their personalities and periods of mental stasis in some way. This attention to detail is no different in the costuming; designer Janie Bryant has very specific colours and patterns assigned to each female character. Betty has pretty floral dresses in classic shapes á la Grace Kelly, Joan wears jewel bright tones and form-fitting shapes and Peggy gets the short end of the stick with checks, plaids and a particularly nacreous shade of mustard.
It makes perfect sense that women who emulate the Mad Men style are characterised as either a Joan or a Betty. In one episode of the show, a Playtex campaign is pitched with the conceit that a woman is either a Marilyn or a Jackie. One is straight-up-and-down, the other has an abundance of curves. One is a wife struggling with her husband’s numerous infidelites, the other is a fleshpot with a more pragmatic view of human couplings.
In truth, the only difference between Joan and Marilyn or Betty and Jackie is the colour of their hair. Yes, they look great, but would you really want to be either of them?
I like Peggy best. She’s smart, she’s savvy, her character is the one who has evolved the most consistently, from timid secretary in little-girl dresses to a no-nonsense, helmet-haired boardroom babe in navy fitted suits. She works hard and tackles all obstacles head-on. It’s a testament to her character that her wardrobe is the least appealing to the viewers but she manages to retain an aura of chic. I may have a vintage plaid dress or two hanging up in the wardrobe in homage to this particular proto feminist (just not in mustard, my admiration only stretches so far).
In the Playtex pitch meeting, Peggy counters that she is neither a Marilyn or a Jackie. Her male equivalents variously describe her a Gertrude Stein or a young Irene Dunne. In truth, Peggy is neither, but is unequivocally herself. Neither Jackie nor Marilyn, but inimatably Peggy – individuality is a Mad Men style that will always be in fashion.