As Faran Krentcil so eloquently put it on AMC’s Mad Men Fashion File blog (check it out if you haven’t seen it!), the past season of Mad Men was all about unraveling, from Betty’s marriage and Peggy’s morals to Don’s very identity. About the heartbreaking scene above, with Don, Betty, and the kids, Krentcil writes:
“As Don and Betty announce their divorce to the children, the words and feelings are fractured but the aesthetic is that of the perfect American family: Sally’s Peter Pan collar, Betty’s sweater set, Don’s perfectly pushed-up sleeves exposing the starched white shirt underneath his sweater. They look like a Norman Rockwell painting, which only makes the news of the family’s breakup feel even more churning.”
Krentcil perfectly describes the power that fashion brings to Mad Men. However, she didn’t mention the way fashion communicates an unraveling of gender roles in this picture. Take a look at the photo–Betty and Bobby, seated side by side, are both wearing plaid, while Don and Sally wear a similar look of dark sweater with a white collar. The effect is eery.
Here, Mad Men fashion genius Janie Bryant is playing with the concept of unisex clothing and its connection to the break down of gender roles in the ’60s. The idea of unisex fashion trends–clothes which could be worn by both men and women i.e, denims, etc.–emerged for the first time in the ’60s. In this scene, where divorce shatters the “man and wife” gender roles that had defined this family, Bryant underscores the unraveling social identities through the character’s wardrobes, suggesting that Bobby and Sally will grow up in a different world than their parents–one where Sally can be more than a housewife and Bobby can be more than a breadwinner.
But, back to Betty–again, her look is an intriguing mix of masculine and feminine. Obviously, wearing slacks in the ’60s meant a more casual look–and a more masculine one. Plaid was also a unisex trend–another part of her look that makes Betty as masculine as we’ve ever seen her. Yet, the capri cut of her trousers makes them definitively feminine. If you’re looking for a good capri trouser for this summer, check out this pair–$59 at Bally hoo Vintage Clothing:
Or this pair, also at Bally Hoo, for $35:
Both trousers feature the stovepipe leg, still popular today, which first emerged in Betty’s day. The high waist and side zipper are other features that make these slacks distinctively ’60s.
But enough about the what’s happened in Betty’s past–what about her future? The finale cliffhanger I’m losing sleep over is whether or not Betty will marry Henry. In the final episode of the last season they were seen on a plane together, flying somewhere. Perhaps to a secluded wedding/honeymoon location? If Betty marries again, I wonder if she would wear white. Since a bride needs to wear something blue, perhaps she would choose that color. We know she looks stunning in it:
If you’re looking for a similar style, check out this vintage Hawaiian gown by designer Elsie Krasses, from Waikiki, available on Etsy for $205. I can picture Betty landing in Hawaii and wearing this for a formal evening on the islands or maybe even a wedding right next to the surf. It shares similar features with Betty’s dress above, including the rich aqua blue hue, a fitted shelf bust, and a long slim skirt with walking slit in the back. Whereas Betty’s dress is accented with a spray of silver flowers, this gown is accented with gold hibiscus, lily, and plumeria flowers that float across the bodice and then concentrate in a large border print near the hem line.
If Betty does decide to wear white, I’d love to see her in something like this vintage dress from 1960s California Couture label Lilli Diamond, available on Etsy for $300:
Does this look familiar to you? It should! It’s not unlike the corset-bra bodice trend taking over bridal fashion right now, as seen in Carrie Underwood’s “Augustine” wedding gown from Monique Lhuillier.
I love the crisp white cocktail length shirt, paired with the delicate sheer bodice decorated with the floral rhinestone/sequins applique. The icing on the cake is the sash waistline–so flirty and swingy. Just as Monique Lhuillier, Pnina Tornai, and other bridal gown designers working today have discovered, the appeal of this look is that it’s a little bit bombshell, a little bit ballerina–just like Betty Draper.
But Betty hasn’t always dressed this way. Remember her adorable polka dot party frock from her “Trip Around the World” Dinner Party? Here, she was much more ballerina:
We loved the delicate spaghetti straps and the whimsical, playful look of the polka dots combined with the traditional, formal, full skirt of the ’50s. It was a very feminine but girly–almost childlike–look. Very appropriate for a more naive Betty.
Now, times are a-changing. We’ve moved farther into the decade and Betty is a different, more empowered woman. I think this season we’ll see her embrace the more grown-up, statuesque, body-hugging silhouettes of the mid-’60s, like in this Red Beaded Evening Gown by Mandalay Creations, available on Etsy.com for $340:
A gorgeous mermaid pattern on the gown is created by an opaque red beading that outlines pearlescent semi-transparent rose sequins. The silhouette is pure hour glass perfection, fitted in the bust, waist, and hip to hug every curve. It’s easy to imagine a more empowered Betty turning heads in this dress.
Check back for one more Mad Men fashion post–we’ll be taking a look at Peggy’s fashion in the upcoming days before the season premier! If you missed it, check out our post on Power Girdles and Joan-inspired fashion here.