The final season of “Mad Men” is around the corner, with a premiere date of April 5th. I’m a big fan. Super big. As a babe of the 60’s and child of the 70’s raised in the leafy suburbs of Westchester County, NY – this show slips into my mind like a glove.
Of course the heated, alcoholic haze and adulterous Don Draper world wasn’t in my purview – the style, the emotions and the nostalgic fashion brings me back to a time when I was safe, secure – and with the exception of being brutally teased by the big bully at our bus stop during my elementary school days – had no care in the world.
So, when I see the latest sneak peak photos from AMC on the next fashion phase of the Mad Men crew, I get a little warm and fuzzy inside. Not just because I can’t wait to see Don’s world as it closes in around him (still sporting the “wet” look – he is a man of out time), but to see the fashion – which is now closing in on the 70’s – the decade I really remember.
Yesterday was my mom’s birthday (in heaven, as the classified ads would say), and the latest publicity stills unveiling Don’s world really struck me hard. It’s all in the fashion. From Harry Crane to Henry Francis from Joan Holloway to Peggy Olsen – I’m seeing dresses worn by teachers and substitutes and fathers and businessmen of my childhood.
The one thing that struck me was Betty’s dress. The flowery chiffon – screaming ladies -who- lunch ease. Her demeanor and regal beauty – the cold stare of a women who has been screwed around long enough. A dame whose intelligence has been pushed aside. A proper lass who loves propriety and manners. Yes. Betty is a stoic one, lost in her dark mansion in Rye.
This reminds me of my mom. She lost herself in the leafy world of suburbia. She was much like Betty, She longed for glamor on a political scale, the grandeur, the promise of good etiquette and the high life of Manhattan, whose gravitational pull was a constant in the metropolitan area of NYC.
All that promise, all that fun and excitement – just a car ride away. Bright lights in exchange for PTA meetings. Charlotte Russe at Delmonico in exchange for Girl Scout cookies and Hawaiian Punch. Thinking about what might have been while watching a spring rain dampen the newly grown leaves on the cherry tree outside the window, longing for a view of lower Manhattan and “a matinee, a Pinter play”* on Broadway.
Betty’s dress in the photo above looks like a gown my mother bought for my cousin Burt’s bar mitzvah in 1973. The only exception was that mom’s dress had long flowing sleeves. She painstakingly picked that frock after browsing various racks at Wannamakers, Gimbels and Alexanders – departments stores that were in their last gasp of life back then. Trying on one after the other until she found the perfect one – a floral mass of chiffon.
In choosing this perfect dress, she could live out the persona of the perfect aunt – the fancy relative who’d step up to light the candles on behalf of her nephew, stylish and affluent. In her mind, she’d step out of the day to day life she led to live a brief moment of glamor within the excess and gaudy display of this over the top bar mitzvah. It’s a moment where I remember trying to fit in but feeling left out.
After the last hora was danced, and the final floral centerpiece was taken home by a lucky friend who had the winning ticket under her plate – after the kisses and the gifts and my mother’s quest for the perfect dress, hairdo and girdle – I wonder if she went home feeling as left out of the family hoopla as I did.
Betty Draper Francis would just light a cigarette, drink a scotch and look out the window at her Rye, New York acreage. Standing within the white bred opulence of dark mahogany and velvet wallpaper surrounding her pretty teased up head, swirling that drink – thinking of what might have been.
*”The Ladies Who Lunch” from the musical “Company”. Words and music by Stephen Sondheim