Licentiate Column 20/01/11

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.

10 thoughts on “Licentiate Column 20/01/11

  1. >i still havent seen Mad Men – and for someone who ADORES their style you'd think I would have jumped on the band-wagon from the get-go! seriously feel like im missing out! its on my to-do list to catchup on all the series!

  2. >I love the style in the show, but I got bored towards the end of Season 1 and stopped watching it…I did have the flu at the time, so maybe that contributed, but I just didn't find it very stimulating!

  3. >It's funny that you posted this today. The actor who plays Ducky was looking at my college today with his son and I nearly ran into him in the hall. Small world!

  4. >Ahhh Mad Men is taking over! I have an episode loading as I type, nearly finished Season 4. But since Christmas, for some reason, its popularity has EXPLODED. I seem to have come across so many Mad Men references in the past few weeks, including some of my own, it's getting slightly out of hand! It was the first year it missed out on a Golden Globe I've been told, AND a fun fact, Jon Hamm smokes herbal cigarettes, he hates smoking. Mad! (… get it? hehe)

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