It’s time, friends!
By this time next Monday, we will be discussing the first of the final seven episodes of Mad Men. Matthew Weiner’s acclaimed Emmy-winning drama for AMC has been discussed all over the internet (including on this very site) and for good reason; it has consistently given viewers so much to discuss and debate. From its unflinching look at the cultural and societal mores of the 1960s, to providing pure visual eye candy with pinpoint accurate costumes and settings, it is one of the few shows that offers viewers a treasure trove of things to talk about.
We here at l’étoile have always done a preview piece highlighting the fashions of the current season of the show as shown in the preview pictures and teasing out what we can about the plot of the season; usually in preparation for vita.mn and Jake Rudh’s annual Mad Men season premiere party at Jax Café in Northeast Minneapolis. However, as it was revealed at last year’s party, there will not be a premiere party for this second half of the final season. Rather, Mr. Rudh and vita.mn will be hosting a series finale party at Jax Café on Sunday, May 17. All that said, why should we ruin tradition? This time though, we will look at the clothes first, and then see where this is taking us in time and what clues we can glean from the upcoming season
But first, let’s indulge in a little nostalgia…
And before we begin, let’s take one last look at where it all began; back in 1960 at the offices of Sterling Cooper…
Ok. Now keep this in mind because it’s about to get crazy. Hit it, Miss Ross!
(On a side note with the music for this trailer: Once again Weiner and company have jumped a few years ahead. In this case, with the opening of Diana Ross’ “Love Hangover,” which would be the first mainstream hit heavily influenced by disco, it wouldn’t be recorded till 1975 and then released the next year.)
Okay, there’s a lot to take in here wit this stylish lot, so let’s start with…
Granted this is a garden party, but it took looking at the trailer and promotional photos numerous times (as all Mad Men fans do) to realize that none of the men are wearing traditional suits; with the very important exception of Henry, every single man is in a sport coat and trousers. The closest one would be Stan, and given his ABBA-influenced suit (the group would form in 1972 and then break out in 1974 when they won the Eurovision song contest with “Waterloo”), this actually puts him ahead of the style pack. Another thing that is evident is that not only is plaid a major motif (from Roger and Pete’s blazers to Ted’s trousers), but we’re seeing amongst the men all of the major colors of the 1970s; gold (Ted’s blazer and Harry’s car), Brown (Ken’s pants and Stan’s shirt), Green (Harry’s blazer and Ted’s pants), and Beige (Pete’s outfit). While Henry Francis sticks out like a sore thumb in his bluish grey suit, it and the red, white, and blue tie not only channels his political background, but picks up on the impending bicentennial and how everything was becoming red, white, and blue.
The other major change is the loosening up of the tailoring. Compare the suiting in the cast picture from Season 1 to this. While everything is tailored, it’s not as structured as the suits found in the earlier seasons. From the shoulders to the lapels, all of the menswear has a less structured feel. This is also reflected in the hair styles. Where once everything was held down with Brylcreem the sides are considerably longer and the sideburns are more pronounced. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Roger, whose sides are practically shaggy. In fact, given the hair, the outfit, and the ankle boots, he is channeling some 1970s Johnny Carson realness.
Once again, the only person who hasn’t changed his look is Don. Oh to be sure this is probably the least structured look he’s had in the entire show, but take away the color and it’s the exact same silhouette that he’s been rocking for the past decade.
Unlike the men, where the differences between them are by degrees, the ladies are wildly different. That said, if the men represent the loosening of social mores over the course of the 1960s, then the women can be unified by the influence of California and California culture on the national discourse. One of Mad Men‘s pet themes is the shift in the 1960s from New York being the cultural capital of America to California by the end of the decade, and this plays into the fashions of the season
Sally is slightly infantilized by this rather conservative look. Most kids at this time were dressing more like The Brady Bunch, which wasn’t an accident as the show debuted in the fall of 1969 and would be a massive cultural influence for the first half of the 1970s. Of course, given that this is a more formal setting and her background of going to Miss Porter’s School, this makes sense. Then again it could have been foisted on her by her mother, which given that this is a formal garden party would also make sense.
Speaking of her mother, as she showed last year with her weight loss, Betty is really latching onto the Stepford Wives style of dressing; with flowing gowns and dipping heavily into the pastels and icy floral prints that she so favors. What’s interesting here in this outfit is that she has gone all in on the maxi dress, the dress form of the maxi skirt which came into prominence starting around 1970 as a more upscale version of the full-length hippie peasant skirts.
For my money the most jarring outfit on display is Megan’s white body suit, as (a) it’s such an attention-getting outfit, and (b) so odd given the setting. On the one hand macrame as clothing took hold in 1969 (remember Megan’s purple macrame dress earlier this season) but as it’s rendered here it looks a little desperate. Don’t get me wrong, this is on point with the center parted hair (a variation on Ali MacGraw’s hair in Love Story, which would be the highest grossing film in 1970 and a huge cultural influence on its own) and the butterfly sleeves (which along with the bell sleeve took hold in fashion in 1970), but the whole effect looks too overtly sexy and out of place in this very white bread setting (sort of like Megan’s status at the end of last year’s mid-season finale, no?).
Before we go into Joan’s look, scroll back up and look at the cast photo from Season 1. Note how form-fitting and molded everything is on Joan; from the perfectly coiffed hair to the constricting foundation garments to the monochromatic nature, the whole effect is to present her as impenetrable and formidable. But oh my what a difference a decade can make. Granted this isn’t an office setting, but from the softer hair to the gathered jewel collar to the bishop sleeves to the bold floral print (and they’ve gotten bolder over years as she’s gotten bolder in her business acumen), and most importantly the softer silhouette in the dress, this is a less corseted version of our Mrs. Harris. Not only that, the pencil skirt is swapped out for a more floaty A line skirt. It’s still Joan but rendered in a way that’s appropriate for the 70s.
And finally, there’s little Peggy Olson who has gone from timid good girl to slightly forward fashion plate. Peggy’s look echoes the 1920s, which would influence fashion for the first half of the 70s, especially when the first film version of The Great Gatsby debuted in 1974. If anything this is the most fashion-forward thing we’ve seen her in the entire run of the show (aside form the notorious pants suit at the end of Season 6) as she’s ahead of the times for once.
If you recall from last year, we ended with a whole slew of monuments events around the Sterling Cooper & Partners campfire. Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Bert Cooper soft-shoed his way into the afterlife. Peggy had her Don Draper moment with the Burger Chef pitch. And Roger did something that would have been unthinkable back at the end of Season 3. In a move to save his buddy Don, and to bring the loathsome Jim Cutler to heel, Roger negotiated a deal to sell 51% of the company to McCann Erickson. The irony of this all was that Don, Roger, et all founded SC&P to get out of being swallowed up by McCann Erickson in the first place, and it will be interesting to see them operate as a boutique agency under a new overlord. Additionally, it will be interesting to see Don and Megan now that they’re officially separated, which is probably bad timing for the poor girl. After all, the reason she’s able to live the life she does out there is that it’s on Don’s dime.
As for the exact time period, Weiner and company have been very secretive about the timing. I think that given this is the last season, and that this half of the season is called “The End Of An Era,” and given the fashions we’ve seen on display in the preview pictures, that the show will get us into 1970. On the one hand that makes sense that the show would end there since this has been a prismatic look at American society and cultural mores of the 1960s, but there’s still a host of major events to take place in 1969 (The Manson Family Murders, Woodstock, Altamont, etc.). That said, 1970 had more than its share of upheaval (the start of PBS, Diana Ross leaves The Supremes, Nixon signs the ban of cigarette advertising on television, the debut of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, etc.) so it will be interesting to see how deep the show gets into “The Me Decade.”
Photo & Video Credits: AMC Television / Lionsgate Television