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 “Lady Lazarus”—from Peggy’s power yellow to the foppish gays of yesteryear—visit tomandlorenzo.com.
A grown woman yelling at a little girl. Janie Bryant has been having some fun with the late-'60s predilection toward infantilized clothes for young women this season. Megan has been dressed as a little girl when it suited the story more than once, and when Joan met Meredith the receptionist back in the season opener, the younger woman was dressed very naively while Joan was dressed in a very grownup-looking cocktail dress. This scene continues that dynamic. Joan's dress is perfectly acceptable, but it's certainly not something you'd see in a fashion magazine of the period. Maybe a few years before, but not now. It isn't really something a young lady in her 20s would wear in 1966, but it's very much of the period for women Joan's age. It's all about the generational differences this season. Meredith is to Joan what Ginsberg is to Don or Pete is to Roger; a bitter reminder of when they themselves were young, fresh, and hungry.
Another instance of the costuming doing as much work telling the story as the script. You could show these pictures to anyone and they'd figure out the gist of this scene. Roger is upbeat, full of life, and irresponsible. Joan—wearing her “dead roses” dress for the third time—is stern, not willing to put up with his bullshit, and a little dead inside right now.
After sporting either fading flowers or dead flowers on her last couple of dresses, Joan's in a vibrant green; full of life. We doubt one bouquet of roses solved all her problems or got her out of her funk, but it's notable how bright she is and also that her dress has no floral pattern at all. We could read that as a representation of her mental state: She's feeling turmoil (the wild pattern) but she's more optimistic than she was before (bright colors) because her marriage is firmly and irrevocably behind her (no flowers).
And finally, a bright line, demarcating the divide between the partners, all in establishment gray, black, and navy blue, and the staff, most of whom are in bright colors or patterns. Notice how every secretary is mimicking the way Joan's standing. Every single one. She is to those women what Don is to every man in the office: a stylish, good-looking, insanely talented person they all look up to and want to be.