Mad Men Style: Sympathy for Betty—or at Least Her Terrible Coat

The language of style.
May 16 2012 12:39 PM

Mad Men Style: The Drapers and the Francises

Inside the costumes of this week’s episode with Tom and Lorenzo.

Each week, Tom and Lorenzo analyze the costumes on Mad Men with inimitable wit and charm—showing how the work of the show’s costume designer Janie Bryant reveals character, supplements the plot, and just plain looks great. This article is a short excerpt from this week’s Mad Style post. For much, much more on the costumes of “Dark Shadows”—from Megan’s leather trim to Dark Betty herself—visit tomandlorenzo.com.

With families and family trees being so central to the story this time, it's not surprising that the two branches springing from the Hofstadt-Draper union are both being defined through their clothing, and that subtle points about the differences in each household are being made.

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Here, the Draper family is picture-perfect and in harmony as they all model the latest in 1966 knitwear. Don and Megan are both in shades of green and that's the only use of color to illustrate ties. This is, after all, "their" house and the kids only visit twice a month. It's also notable that Sally and Megan have almost identical hairstyles.

Contrast the relative visual harmony of the above scene with this one:

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Sally's "other" family life is cluttered and noisy and not at all harmonic, which speaks less to the quality of, say, Betty's parenting than to the fact that the day-to-day work of raising kids does not allow for white carpets, clean surfaces, and expansive city views for most people. Note that none of the costumes of the three figures call back to each other or to the surroundings in any real way. Family life is typically not harmonious and coordinated on a daily basis.

Given Bobby's outfit, it's a safe bet these kids are in private schools. We only fear that poor kid's going to get shipped off to a military academy soon, considering how little anyone pays attention to him.

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Had Betty even the slightest inkling as to how this evening was going to go, you can bet she never would have worn this large, sturdy coat. When you think of Betty from the first 3 seasons, you remember an incredibly stylish young wife and mother, but here, she's dressing in a more standard suburban-housewife style of the period. She looks both older than her age and larger than she actually is. We could say this all represents her state of mind, but the fact of the matter is, women over a certain size and over a certain age had little in the way of style options. This was the uniform, like it or not, and it was expected to span a range of ages from the late 20s to the late 50s.

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Megan is, of course, completely free to wear the latest styles. Betty's resentment and subsequent actions may not have been very nice or very fair, but this one scene illustrates her frustrations so effectively that it's hard not to see things from her perspective. She does all the hard work of raising Don's kids, but Megan gets to be their friend and live in a clean, modern, uncluttered home while wearing the most stylish of clothes. Given all that, it's surprising Betty didn't just throw her through the glass doors in fury.

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