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What's the easiest way to show characters in hazy states of reality? Dress them normally...then surround them with people wearing pajamas. That's the brilliant tactic costume designer Janie Bryant uses in this speed-fueled episode, where most events could be hallucinations, and even by the end, some did-they-or-didn't-they moments still hover. (Hey Ken, can you really tap dance?!)
The nightgown-and-day-clothes juxtaposition starts early: Don stands outside Sylvia's door, fully dressed. He even wears a hat and overcoat. Meanwhile, Sylvia's on the other side of the door wearing a pink quilted robe and a sleepy blue turban. Next, Young Dick Whitman and his Evil Stepmother are covered up and conservative, while surrounded by prostitutes in silk nighties and open kimonos. This motif gets even more dizzy when the scene is inverted so far that Young Dick is dressed -- and wearing suspenders -- in Aimee's bed, while she walks around in a slip. Later, Sally's wearing a pink nightie when her reality is totally tipped over by Fake Grandma Ida, who's fully dressed, also with an overcoat and hat. (Is the similarity to Don and Sylvia earlier just coincidence?) And after Don collapses, we see him in his undershirt -- undressed, but not exactly pajama-ed -- next to Megan's bright green negligee. Sitting up in bed, Don looks like he's in limbo. Is he dreaming? Is he dying? Is it daytime? Is it night? The T-shirt could be worn at any time...and just like Ginsberg's Cheshire Cat reference, Don's consciousness doesn't know if it's coming or going.
Ted asks Peggy, "First day of school. You nervous?" and, in a sea foam suit, she is clearly ready to conquer. But Ted is also dressed to impress, at least for astute Fashion File fans. We know characters often excel at SCDP when costume designer Janie Bryant dresses them in costumes that match the office. (Peggy was literally consumed by her work last season when her dress and the couch were almost identical.) Now check out Ted's ensemble in the conference room: He sports a sharp black suit and a shirt so crisp and white, it must be brand-new. Then there's his tie, which blends beautifully with the room's wood panels, a fact that's highlighted even more by his seat on the cabinet against the wall. Pete may have gotten Ted's chair, but Ted went and created his own throne. (Ted also gets the "Best Dressed" award from me for his flawless aviator jacket and sunglasses, both of which are still quite chic today.)
Other office observations: Peggy's aqua suit is a pastel version of Stan Rizzo's bluish-green work shirt; hopefully their color-coordination means they're friends again. Ginsberg's also got a deep green skinny tie, an accent in his costume that (literally) ties him to SCDP. Meanwhile, the two CGC creatives wear slashed ties and button-ups that coordinate with each other, but nobody else. Clearly, these two agencies aren't a unified team just yet. And check out Joan in her first scene: She's a beacon in a royal blue dress with matching pumps, in contrast to the people swirling around her wearing green. It's a cool visual effect, and also, it shows that blue and green motif again this season. The coat Joan later wears over her cobalt dress is also bright green. Most Mad Men couples break up, but at least blue and green have everlasting love.
Another color getting a workout in this episode is red. It's Sylvia's sexiest shade, and the hue tying her most directly to the prostitutes from Don's childhood. We first see Sylvia in a red-orange quilted robe and a red scarf turban. Her next red infusion, the Saks Fifth Avenue dress, is where things get really interesting. "You are for me. You exist in this room for my pleasure," says Don, and boom! Red becomes the official color of female objectification.
Peggy and Ted's kiss. The Jaguar and Vicks disasters. The Merger. This episode was so crammed with plot points, you could almost get dizzy -- if it wasn't for costume designer Janie Bryant finding a way to keep us focused through visual cues. How? She doubled up, dressing characters with key connections in similar outfits to help emphasize important themes.
My favorite example is halfway through, when Joan confronts Don with, "Just once, I'd like to hear you use the word 'we!'" She's wearing a jade green dress with short sleeves, buttons down the front, and a slim belt at the waist. A few scenes later, Ted Chaough kisses Peggy, who's wearing a powder blue dress with short sleeves, buttons down the front, and a slim belt at the waist. It's a subtle way to tie them together. While Joan once used her sexuality to get ahead, Peggy did the opposite and relied solely on her intellect. Now, they're in opposite positions: Joan is running the office and even barking out orders to the other male partners, while Peggy's getting kissed by her boss and liking it. It doesn't help that Peggy's actual boyfriend, Abe, is wearing the ultimate blue-collar uniform -- denim overalls sans shirt -- while she's in buttoned-up dresses and super-girly nightgowns. The clash in their relationship continues, and it's reflected in their clothing.
The floodgates of social upheaval open after Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder, but the Mad Men characters don't respond by digging out their raincoats and galoshes. Instead, costume designer Janie Bryant has them respond to the turmoil in more subtle ways -- some by digging into their signature looks and some by completely subverting them.
We begin with Peggy, who's framed in her potential new apartment just like Don's often captured in his office: Facing the window and viewed from back. Peggy's in a snazzy golden dress, and she's looking optimistic and professional. Abe wears a black leather jacket with a pop of red plaid. There's no rule that says you have to dress like your partner to be happy, but in an episode that's all about going two-by-two into a brave new world... Well, when the man and the woman literally don't match up, you have to wonder.
Speaking of literal match-ups, Bobby Draper is having a hard time with them. His cardigan's blue, exploding pattern makes him look like Wreck-It Ralph, trying desperately to bust out of his neat and tidy surroundings, where he's discovered that the appearance of perfection falters if you look close enough. And he's even more conflicted with that blue swirly sweater in the kitchen, when Sally wears a loud red plaid and Betty's in a yellow and purple paisley. Oh, and the kitchen's painted green. If you're not already dizzy trying to navigate the messy dynamics of the Draper/Francis family, you will be just by looking around the dinner table. Something to consider: In the next Francis kitchen scene, when the kids are with Don and it's just Betty and Henry, Betty's costume matches the room perfectly. It's just when she has to be a mother that things seem to go askew.
Are we destined to repeat our mistakes? That's something to think about as we take inventory of our main characters: In this episode, Don continues to cheat, Peggy pushes forward at all costs, and Joan allows men to subvert her authority. To visually highlight these vicious cycles, costume designer Janie Bryant puts each character into a repeat costume while they're falling into an old (and bad) habit. Don's classic shark suit is back in action; Joan revives last season's blue roses motif and last week's purple vest dress; Peggy's got her capable navy ensemble. Peggy even resurrects one of Don's classic lines verbatim: "If you don't like what they're saying, change the conversation."
Meanwhile, both Sylvia and Megan get loaded with black-and-white costumes: Sylvia continues her Sophia Loren vibe in a black coat with white fur trim. Megan wears a black-and-white French Maid uniform during her "scandalous" television scene. But Sylvia is having an affair in real life, while Megan's is only pretend -- so it's fitting that her black-and-white moment comes from a soap opera costume, whereas Sylvia's comes from her own closet. Another black-and-white moment in the episode comes from Harry Crane's checkered blazer, although when he meets with Cooper and Roger, Harry wears a brown and beige jacket with an orange-striped tie. His textures and colors match the office perfectly, adding to the effect that in this scene -- and maybe for the first time ever -- Harry is owning the room. Joan also has a black-and-white moment when meting out Dawn's punishment, and thanks to her lacy collar and sleeves, she looks a bit like a judge.
Don's had a virgin/whore complex since Season 1. (Remember the famous "Maidenform" campaign in Season 2? It posed the simplistic -- and volatile -- question, "Are you a Jackie or a Marilyn?") So maybe it's not surprising to see Sylvia Rosen embodying both, especially since this week's theme is breaking the rules. Consider the contradictions: Sylvia is rich, but never has any money. Sylvia truly likes Megan, despite partnering with Don to betray her. Sylvia can't imagine considering abortion -- because it's against her strict Catholic upbringing -- but she's already breaking a major commandment.
Costume designer Janie Bryant highlights Sylvia's jarring oppositions through her costumes: Sylvia wears a cross around her neck while sleeping with her husband's friend. She dons innocent white lace in the bedroom with Don, but fiery reds when hanging around the apartment with her husband. (She's even worn kimono-like pajamas and a turban that evoke the costumes of the whores from Don's childhood.) It's also interesting that Megan and Sylvia are in the same color palette (pale blues and greens) during the restaurant scene, except Megan's at home and her costume is a full-length quilted bathrobe of the Betty Francis variety, while Sylvia's is a bejeweled shift dress showing off her bare arms. To add insult to fashion injury, Sylvia has the same pearlescent white nail polish that Megan wore in the previous episode. (Alas, the E! Fashion Police segment "Bitch stole my look" won't exist for another 50 years.)
"It must take a lot of work to stand out in paradise," declares Megan. In her case, it's easy: Wear a purple bikini, oil yourself up, and get your husband high -- although if you're really craving attention, you can also climb onstage at a Hawaiian luau and hula for the entire hotel.
Megan's dance recalls her "Zou Bisou Bisou" number from last season's premiere, but even more interesting is her encounter afterward with a fan calling her Corinne -- the name of a character she's playing on TV. Later, Megan exclaims the fan "really knew me." It's as if her career as an actress is the inverse of Don's alter ego: When strangers call Don the right name -- Dick Whitman -- he shudders. When they call Megan the wrong name, she loves it.
True to form, Megan and Don's costumes are on opposite pages too. In this episode, costume designer Janie Bryant outfits Don almost always in black and white, while she favors regal colors like royal purple or threaded silver for Megan. Even Megan's nails are painted a shimmering pearl on New Year's Eve, giving her an eerie "Midas Touch" vibe that could be foreshadowing... Certainly everything she's touched so far, from Don to an ad campaign to a television career, has turned to gold. And although Don appears to let loose in Hawaii, his costume is not the relaxed cardigans and soft chambrays he wore in California. Instead, it's his office disguise -- a strong-shouldered blazer, a button-up shirt, and slacks -- just camouflaged in tropical prints.
If you've always wished you could dress like a Mad Men character and have been searching for the perfect opportunity, Halloween is a timely option. Not only can you imitate one of the show's iconic styles, you can really go all out: hair, makeup, candy cigarettes, maybe even a homemade SCDP business card. Here are three Halloween looks inspired by Mad Men -- make sure you tweet @MadMen_AMC with a picture of your costume triumph!
The Youthquaker: Taking a cue from Megan's miniskirts and Sally's moon boots, this costume is fun, flirty, and perfect for the dance floor.
Dress: You need a really short hemline for this look. If it's long enough to pass a school dress code, it probably won't work here. Look for baby-doll dresses with fluted or bell sleeves. This Alice + Olivia dress combines the perfect '60s silhouette with a psychedelic pattern, but it's about $400. If you're not shopping with Megan's budget, try this ASOS version for $40 instead.
Accessories: Amazon sells $50 white shiny go-go boots, and Marc Jacobs has a high-fashion version for about $640. Pair them with giant plastic earrings and a candy-colored clutch. (Since it's Halloween, you can add a Ring Pop, too!)
Makeup: Black liquid eyeliner, false black eyelashes, and nude lipstick are mandatory! Try this Mad Men eye makeup tutorial from The Wall Street Journal to get the look.
Thanks to encores on AMC, we can re-experience Mad Men's Season 5 storylines -- and its brilliant array of period costumes. But honestly, some of the characters' outfits never left our minds. (Can't you just squeeze your eyes shut and still see Megan's peeping hemlines and Sally's after-school sweatshirts?) To honor this season's most iconic moments, I've selected one costume MVP for each episode. Click through to see the picks, including a scandalous cocktail dress, a retro fur stole, and (of course) the dinner jacket visible from space.
Episode 501-502, "A Little Kiss": Megan's Zou Bisou Bisou Dress
If anything reflects the generation gap prying Don and Megan apart, it's her jaw-dropping performance at his birthday party. First, Megan invites everyone to the new apartment -- a move that completely breaches Don's intense need for privacy. Then she reveals her many talents with a sex-kitten performance that was sweet, sultry, and completely inappropriate in a room full of co-workers. Megan's oblivion -- and utter glee -- shine through her costume, a diaphanous black dress that's so short it nearly doesn't qualify as a dress. Black fishnets, low-heeled pumps, and incredible Cleopatra eye makeup complete the look. (If you'd rather sing the song than wear the dress, that's okay, too.)
Ties and scarves have always had an integral place on Mad Men. Costume designer Janie Bryant has used their widths as a barometer for changing fashions. She's used their colors and patterns to reflect the evolving textile technology of the '60s (and sometimes the weather outside). And they've long been a staple of the Mad Men world's uniform, almost as if one's tie is an access key to the madness of Madison Avenue. But this season turned violent, and those key accessories have come to signify something much darker. We see it figuratively in this episode: When Don's in so much pain, he loosens his collar. We see it literally: Adam shows Don his noose-mark, a virtual tie and permanent scar. We even see it with women: Megan has traded her friendly green cable knit sweater for a black high-necked sweater and a green silk scarf in her hair, and Marie uses a scarf to cover up her pre-hairdresser mess. Megan's coincidentally also traded her honest behavior for nepotism and mild-to-moderate backstabbing, joining the "Every Man for Himself" parade led by Pete Campbell and Roger Sterling. Speaking of Pete, he also has a moment with a scarf -- Beth's -- which he grasps but can't hold on to as it floats away.