The Mad Men Fashion File – “You Look Like a Present”

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Before we begin, a few assurances: Yes, we will talk about Betty’s five-second Christmas gown. Yes, we will hone in on Trudy Campbell’s prelude-to-a-hippie dress. Yes, we noticed Don’s tie. But first we’re going to talk about plaid.

Currently, plaid appears on Nirvana tribute bands, moose hunters, and hipsters. In this episode of Mad Men, it appears on at least four significant characters: Sally, Bobby, Glen, and Allison. That’s right: Those who wear plaid in this episode are essentially children. The irony? The actual kids are jaded, warped, and (for the most part) completely cynical. (Sally’s “I hate it here; I really do” was both heartbreaking and scarily rote.) Meanwhile, Allison — the adult — is naive, innocent, and totally screwed. Notice that she wears plaid both before and after her liaison with Don. Poor kid.

Now let’s hunt for Allison’s opposite.

It’s probably Dr. Faye Miller, who seems to be Don’s match — smart, ambitious, and determined to decipher others while revealing almost nothing about herself. Her debut costume showed that well: houndstooth tweed, houndstooth scarf, and a massive clutch of pearls over the scarf. She looked great, but you couldn’t help think she was hiding in that outfit. Plus didn’t her optical-illusion prints echo Roger Sterling’s trippy painting from the beginning of the episode? This woman wants to blend into the walls — as long as they’re the most expensive ones around. We already like her.

I’ve also got a massive crush on Phoebe the nurse. It’s not just that she crashes into Don’s apartment, takes off his shoes, and leaves; it’s that when she does, she’s got a thoroughly modern metallic shift dress on, and really anyone — yes, you — can wear it, too. Metallics and sheaths are both trans-seasonal and classic. They can’t go out of style. You can rock them with a coat, tights, and boots in winter, or right now with some ballet flats and a messy bun. Michael Kors, Kate Spade, and Miu Miu all make amazing versions, but if you want one that’s cheaper and very close to Phoebe’s original check out the Milly version on sale at the Outnet. Also visit your local thrift shop. I scored an amazing shift at a church sale in Maine… for $3.50. One last thing: Did you notice Phoebe’s short, messy hair, liquid eyeliner, and large earrings? If you had a brief thought of Edie Sedgwick, you’re not far off. The Warhol superstar moved to New York in 1964.mm402-trudy-200.jpg

Peggy gets a gold star this episode for her first outfit: the side part, pink lipstick, round-neck dress, three-quarter-length sleeves, and exposed buttons in the back were so cute, without being too trendy. Of course, she’s totally upstaged by Joan, whose fuchsia silhouette gets a close-up of Ursula Andress proportions. (Fun fact: The first James Bond film, Dr. No, premiered two years earlier, in 1962.) Joan continues to erupt at the Christmas party with the red dress that makes her look “like a present.” But it’s Trudy Campbell who has the most fashion-forward outfit at the Christmas party. You might have noticed it was a silk embroidered tunic, fitted and polished but otherwise dangerously close to a costume from Hair. Is this a hint that Trudy’s going on tour with the Dead? Not quite. Actually, in 1964, Cristobal Balenciaga showed a collection of slim tunics, with precious metal and relatively short hemlines. They came with cropped coats inspired by kimonos — including this one, on view at the Met’s Costume Institute. Dior did a similar look, and Trudy would be one of the only Mad women with the funds to buy one. Maybe we can thank Balenciaga for inspiring legions of teenagers (including my mom) to go braless and barefoot.

Did you love Betty’s deep red Christmas dress? It’s sad we only got to see it for a second — but the fleeting image of something so beautiful and precious contrasted well with the ransacked house. The white fur she wore was also nice: It was spotless, and the kitchen was wreck.

With all the gorgeous women’s costumes in this episode, it took a minute to refocus on Don’s crisp uniform and his skinny tie, which is still jagged and blue. Cheer up, Don. Maybe you’ll feel better by Episode 3.

Filed under: Fashion File

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