The Mad Men Fashion File – Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Shopped

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This weekly look at the fashion of Mad Men is written by Faran Krentcil, the founder of Fashionista.com who currently works at Nylon and Page Six Magazine.

I just bought nail polish the color of Peggy’s egg — you know, the electric blue one she gets from the priest, who is really Colin Hanks, who is really due to appear on more episodes because he’s discomfortingly adorable in this role. Anyway, I realize bright blue nail polish didn’t exist in the early ’60s, but still it’s intriguing. Who knew the vivid colors seeping through the period’s Technicolor entertainment, their “futuristic” Crayola kitchens, and their children’s toys would wind up as mass trends in forty years?

But that’s not really what this entry is about; It’s just an observation. What we’re really going to discuss — and bitch and moan about in the comments section, I’m sure — is a key battle happening with the costumes, and also the characters on this show. It’s the fight between keeping it in and letting it out, and one you can map out in the clothes.

For the first scene, we’ve got church. That’s sort of a no-brainer in the keep-it or free-it category. Church is where you button up, where you silence your doubts and plans as to whether you’d rather be
home listening to a ballgame on the radio. And to go with the pent up feeling of “Why am I here?” — especially Peggy’s–we’ve got some very constricting clothes. OK, so Colin Hanks’ collar is practically
choking him; again, to be expected. But Peggy and her sisters have their heads practically smothered in the fake floral bonnets that continue to dot the episode.

Next it’s Don and Betty in bed, and she’s got messy hair and a loose cotton nightie that Jill Stuart now passes off as a designer dress; you can’t get any more relaxed than this. They’re alone. They’re in bed.
They’re not hiding anything. It’s basically the opposite of church in that everything’s hanging out. Sorry, but yeah. So those are our two battling extremes for the episode — keeping things shut up, or letting
things all out. Church and Sex. Public and Private. And now for everything in between…

Dinner with the Sterling family, where Roger’s daughter quietly explains she doesn’t want a big wedding. She’s wearing a double strand of pearls, and when the camera swings to the back, you can see how
structured her pale blue overblouse is. It’s almost like a breastplate of armor, huh? Mrs. Sterling counters with a very stiff stole around her shoulders. The restrained nature of their argument
mirrors the way their clothes keep their figures concealed, though if I were a betting girl, I’d wager that Mademoiselle Sterling will have a big wedding after all.

And in comes Bobbie Barrett. When she crashes Don’s office, you know things will combust because of Joan’s smartly raised eyebrow. You’d know anyway by paying attention to her outfit — Bobbie’s practically
falling out of her topcoat, as if to say, “Can’t we cut the chatter and just disrobe already?” Of course this is what happens, but not before we get a little closer to the keep-it-in versus take-it-out theme. Bobbie’s got to keep herself covered to maintain some propriety, and also, of course, some sex appeal. Don Draper does like to chase things, even if those “things” are just a coat rack away.

The next time we see Betty Draper, she’s pissed with her little son and dressed to prove it — a blouse with a very high neck recalls a Victorian school marm, and slacks that placket her waist reinforce the
idea that Betty is about to explode.

Speaking of exploding, I have a note written down that just says “OMG Don busting out of that tee.” I think you know what I mean–Don Draper in that white T-shirt is crazy sexy, to the point of total
distraction. Whoa.

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And finally, the office. It seemed a bit like “casual Friday,” with everyone trying to look both relaxed
and professional
— and, in Pete Campbell’s case, totally silly with those tiny white shorts. I don’t care if they were historically accurate; they were insane. It reminded me of the more outrageous stuff
in Thom Browne’s Spring collection — the stuff that, rumor has it, sparked a certain major magazine editor in chief to start laughing during his catwalk preview. Yikes.

But something did snap me out of the shorts giggles, and it was this–when Don bellowed to the office, “Let’s pretend we know what 1963 looks like.” My mind flashed to the beginning scene in Peggy’s family kitchen, with a framed photo of JFK looking down on Sunday dinner. And I though, “Oh Don, you really don’t want to know what 1963 looks like. Trust me.”

1965, however, is a different matter. That’s when we’ll finally see someone, hopefully Joan, squeeze into a miniskirt.

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