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 style of “The Other Woman”—from Peggy’s mod-est outfit yet to the miscalculation of Megan’s audition dress—visit tomandlorenzo.com.
And there it is: the outfit that caused us to gasp out loud. That is, of course, the fur that Roger gave her back in 1954; the one that caused her to coo, "When I wear it, I'll always remember the night I got it." Well, fuck you, Roger Sterling. That's exactly what this outfit is saying. "You ruined what we had by letting me do this, so I'm ruining what you gave me." We'd be surprised if she ever wore it again. It's one of those beautiful costuming moments that takes a sad, horrifying scene and makes it even more so once you realize what she's wearing.
This scene mimics the scene in "Waldorf Stories" when she got the mink. She's in a hotel room, in a tight black dress showing a lot of cleavage, wearing a mink and accepting a gift from a man—in this case, that sad emerald necklace.
Note that she's wearing uncharacteristically large, dangly earrings, which we've noted before have been used to signal prostitution, such as in the whorehouse scene with the Jaguar exec. Lots of prostitution surrounding this one account.
The script fooled most of us on the timing, but Janie Bryant slipped in a little nod and wink with this bathrobe. The emerald green calls back perfectly to the emerald necklace Joan received as "payment."
The next day: reserved and businesslike, as if nothing at all had happened. She's worn this outfit several times before. It's simply a good work dress, which is all she wanted for this day: to get up and get on as if nothing had happened. It's also one of her more demure work outfits.
And finally, standing with—and standing out from—the partners. You will never see Joan Harris in a menswear-inspired dress, nor are you likely to see her wearing gray. It's bright colors most of the time (when she's not depressed) and this dress is almost defiantly bright. Head held high, she's not going to become a wallflower of a partner. She will proudly stand next to these men and even draw attention to herself because she knows whatever she did to become partner pales in comparison to the many things she witnessed these men do to get where they are. This is totally an "I'm here, dammit" outfit; a declaration that she will not be ashamed by what she did.
It's also extremely notable that she wore this dress when Lane called Pete a "grimy little pimp" and beat the crap out of him. It was, after all, the machinations of Lane and Pete that got her to this point.