Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Women of Mad Men

Le Duc went off for the weekend to visit his parental nest, so I rented Season One of the series Mad Men and gorged- delicious!

Like the Todd Haynes film "Far From Heaven", the production is steeped in an era I recall vividly:
circle pins, white gloves, baby-dolls, and every man at work in a dark suit.

January Jones' Betty Draper, the protagonist's wife, is a debutante/Grace Kelly beauty, softened angles of blonde perfection. Tapered wool pants, cabled cardigan, peignoirs, everything just so.

Cristina Hendricks plays bad wise girl Joanie with glee, all shake-it till-you-break-it bottom and red beehive, skin-tight sweaters, sprayed-on skirts. Hendricks said in an interview, "I don't think the 1960s were the most flattering time for women, but if you know how to work it, then it can be."

Every episode's a style time-capsule, with actresses in bullet bras, shirtwaists, twin sets and the kind of girdle that made you wait to go to the bathroom, because tugging it on and off was sweat-popping work.

Watch and notice, with very rare exceptions, how physically confined women were by their clothes. I read that the actresses had to be coached in how to move, as they had grown up without the foundation garments that changed how they sat, walked, even breathed.

The suburban homemakers in the show spend major time in rollers and pin curls. You were either on display or in preparation. The undercurrent of anxiety is palpable: being pleasing enough, thin enough, and "what do you want for dinner, dear?"

Mad Men depicts a time when racism, sexism, anti-semitism and homophobia were features of everyday life (at least inside this fictitious Madison Avenue ad agency). Forty-eight years ago, what a difference- not only in what was said, but in how people reacted. If you wonder where all the people went who talked this way, it's clear from the show: they died from smoking.

Michael Kors apparently loves Mad Men and is creating looks that channel early-60s ladies.

8 comments:

Deja Pseu said...

I'm so looking forward to the return of this show. In the early 80's, I worked in an advertising sales rep firm in NY, and the sexism, drinking, smoking were still a part of the package, although to a lesser degree than in the show. And no girdles.

materfamilias said...

I've just finished watching Season One as well (I love this relatively new phenomenon of being able to buy a season of DVDs -- such a great way to watch) having heard about the show from Une Femme (hi Pseu!). I'd love to know what some of my young female students would think of it, the ones who feel feminism is so passé. It's also making me want to go back and read Marilyn French's The Women's Room -- seems to me Mad Men covers much of the same territory more subtly (and of course it can afford to be more subtle 'cause of the work done by Marilyn French et al)
But primarily, oh yes, the fashion! (as for having it resurrected, didn't we have that a few years ago when that very stylized 60s pink satire-y film came out, can't remember the name . . .)

materfamilias said...

Down with Love is the movie I was thinking of (obviously, very different from Mad Men, but also focused on 60s clothing)

Duchesse said...

ma: "Catch Me If You Can" had a lot of early 60s looks in it too.

materfamilias said...

Ah, that's right, I remember now -- and the following fall we had twinsets in a big way and young women started wearing tailored plaid wool coats.

Duchesse said...

I was on a cusp. Went to university in '66 with matching Villager twin sets and monogrammed cardigans, left in bell bottom jeans and leather vests. A fascinating shift that we were aware of at the time.

Toby Wollin said...

I was just thinking about getting this series this morning to feed my fashion 'jones'. Now I will have to get it. I graduated from high school in 1970, so my teen years were spent in skirts(of varying lengths), a panty girdle(I will not discuss what the beginnings and endings of the school years were like in THAT), early iterations of pantyhose, and oxford cloth blouses. My little world was divided into 'good girls', 'fast girls' and girls who got fat and 'went to visit an aunt' someplace else. As I remind my daughters(who have grown up in a world where birth control is seen as a right and not something women have to fight for and protect on a daily basis), those were NOT the good old days.

Duchesse said...

Toby: My sister was 13 years older, so I had birth control as a young woman and she did not. She was incredibly jealous that I did not have to deal with "getting caught". Later I bought her a subscription to Ms magazine, but she said it was hard to read, because the notions of equality and not accepting certain behaviours (from men) any longer were so disturbing. Marilyn French's "The Women's Room" tells this story, of the transition and its disruption, very well.