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 “At the Codfish Ball” – from Marie’s portentous gloves to Sally’s go-go boots —visit tomandlorenzo.com.
What’s great about Peggy and Joan is that they’re clearly more comfortable and open with each other than they’ve been in the past, but their clothes still tell the story of their vast differences. Joan is, of course, wearing something streamlined and extremely body conscious. Motherhood and impending divorce (presumably) haven’t changed her personal style. This is how she’s always done things. The neckline is almost cartoonish and we tend to think that serves as an illustration that Joan isn’t really taking these tight dresses seriously anymore. It’s not about getting men to respond to her and do her bidding like it was in the past. It’s an echo and a caricature of a set of priorities she may no longer have. It’s also notable that she’s wearing purple here because in times past, she wore purple in scenes dealing with romantic heartache and disappointment. Her experience in these matters is all over her costuming.
Peggy is, as she almost always is at the office, working some form of grownup Catholic schoolgirl uniform, which is perfect for this storyline because she came smack up against her own Catholic upbringing.
And here she is, after taking Joan’s pointed advice to go shopping, wearing something that looks like it came out of Joan’s reject pile. Not that Joan would ever wear a baby doll dress, but the bright pink color, squared neckline, and bow to top it all off is right out of the Holloway playbook. When Peggy wants to be pretty and girly and flirtatious (a role that doesn’t come naturally to her) she looks to Joan for guidance.
Abe can put out all the Harvey’s Bristol Cream he can find; it’s not going to save this dinner from ending badly. From good Catholic schoolgirl, to coquette, and now to wife, Peggy’s cycling through all the roles she doesn’t actually have through her clothes this episode.
This is a highly unusual dress for her. That neckline is like nothing we’ve ever seen on her and the full skirt is more than a couple years out of style. These are church clothes to be worn for visits home; demure, ladylike and chaste. The shades of blue and green tie her into her surroundings, picking up the blues and greens of the table and couch.
Katharine comes in, all “Sacred Heart of Jesus” red and pink (“It’s very delicate.”), addressing her daughter’s boyfriend in the most biblical terms possible. “Abraham.” She’s almost literally wearing her Catholicism on her sleeve.
Or around her neck. Note that it’s a Celtic cross, because Katharine is of Irish descent.
Like Peggy, she’s wearing her church clothes. We doubt these are the best she has, however. This is a decent outfit, but she wouldn’t bother wearing her best for a dinner like this. She wants to get in and out of there as quickly as possible, keeping her hat on the whole time.
Not that she would have, in the context of the times, been expected to take her hat off, just that, in the context of the scene it reinforces how little she wants to be there.
Peggy’s predilection for menswear-inspired looks gets thrown into stark relief against Megan’s getup, which couldn’t be softer or more traditionally feminine in comparison. Peggy’s outfit says “Isn’t this job the BEST?” and Megan’s says “I guess so…”