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Arts in Review

Haute Stuff: Mad Style in Mad Men

However, as great as a television return to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce may be, I have to say (with some embarrassment as I attest to my fashion-minded ways) that my eyes were more so on the clothes than anything else!

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By Leanna Pankratz (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: April 4, 2012

I was pleased to stay in two Sundays ago, due to an event as delightful as the season five premiere of my favourite TV show, Mad Men. I’ve waited 17 months for this, and was not disappointed. After all, what could be better on a night in than voyeuristically enjoying the pursuits of a group of men (and women) who drink Canadian rye at noon, pass cigarettes around office meetings, and consider romance their prime physical activity?

Yes, I was more than enchanted to see the return of Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell and Joan Holloway. However, as homey as a television return to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce may be, I have to say (with some embarrassment as I attest to my fashion-minded ways) that my eyes were more so on the clothes than anything else! Janie Bryant, long-time costume designer for the series, has worked her magic yet again with a set of outfits that reflect the ever-passing ‘60s and, in this season in particular, descent into mod.

The show does a fabulous job of incorporating clothing into the storyline and into the plot, and many characters are solidified through their clothing choices, from Betty Draper’s clipped in waists and elaborate dresses characteristic of a ‘60s housewife, and Peggy Olsen’s. Don and Roger’s suit-and-tie combos are not to be ignored, either, and the anticipation surrounding the coming fifth season has certainly been felt in the fashion world, with a wide-ranging return to a time where people really knew how to dress.

“Today the well-off 55-year-old is likely to be the worst-dressed man in the room, wearing a saggy T-shirt and jeans,” says Bill Cunningham of The New York Times. “The cash-poor 25-year-old is in a natty sport coat and skinny tie bought at Topman for a song. Young men are embracing the “Mad Men” elements of style in a way that the older men never did, still don’t and just won’t.”

Is it true that our very own youth culture is harkening back to the days of wine and roses? One might agree when they see the looks pitched on Fashion Week runways for the coming spring/summer season. Looks are all about browline glasses, sport jackets, styled hair and all things plaid, tweed and suede.

The women in Mad Men are even more decked out than their male counterparts. The season has returned with its characteristic looks – slim waists, pencil skirts, necklines with more than a suggestion of endowment, and day and evening coats that would make Jackie Kennedy stand up and applaud. These are the ’60s, and these are women in New York, the fashion and career capital of America. It’s going to be fabulous. I was delighted by the mad prints, amazing sunglasses, and, of course, all that backcombed hair. “Casual Friday? Not my tree,” states a new Ralph Lauren ad, and I am fully inclined to agree.

The show’s creators do a wonderful job of showcasing the transition to the later ’60s through clothing, particularly the emerging “Youthquake” that was to be the onset of a whole new generation of party people, of mod, the Beatles, and all things sex, drugs, rock, and of course, fashion.

In one stand-out (and tweeted-about) scene, Don Draper’s former secretary and new wife, Megan, throws him a surprise 40th birthday party. While Draper himself isn’t as charmed as some would be by the gesture, I was certainly charmed by the array of amazing party wear worn by her guests – a mixture of old friends and new Sterling Cooper acquaintances. The style dichotomy is beautiful, with Sterling Cooper’s older members in clean cut, tailored suits, and well-mannered party dresses that we viewers have grown familiar with.

However, the aforementioned “Youthquake” also makes its scene in the likes of the younger characters – brightly patterned coats, coloured and printed dresses with increasingly short hemlines. The new Mrs. Draper makes perhaps the episode’s most enduring style scene as she presents her husband with his birthday gift – an erotic, exotic rendition of New Wave classic “Zou Bisou Bisou.” The character, a French Canadian bombshell, utilizes the era’s best style to good measure, donning a black microdress with flowy, chiffon sleeves, black patent heels, dark, winged eyeliner and a blunt haircut with more than slight implications of mod. As you can imagine, my style-inclined mind was singing, and the song, as well as the look, has been stuck in my head all week.

Oh, Mad Men, thank you for your return.

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