It's a mad, mad, Mad Men world these days. Fashion (p. 16) is all about re-creating those halycon days of the early 1960s, when the business of America was business, when American values were baseball and apple pie — not to mention cigarettes, booze, and casual misogyny.
Fashion, as it always has been, is about creating fantasy, a place where everyone is thin and beautiful. Mad Men has fueled the fashion world's current penchant for skinny ties and slim-cut suits for men and silhouette pencil dresses and high heels for women.
After hearing co-workers and friends rave about the show for three years, I decided to see what the fuss was all about. I caught up by watching the last two seasons before this year's premiere. Now I'm hooked. The writing is brilliant. The characters are nuanced and complex. And when Jon Hamm, who plays the tortured ad man Don Draper, is on-screen, you can't look anywhere else.
Much has been written about how the show portrays the Madison Avenue ad culture of the 1960s — the incessant drinking in the office, the smoke-filled meetings, the "girls" in the secretarial pool. But the show's appeal for me is the way it shows the characters struggling against the culture they're enmeshed in. The 1960s change-agents — Vietnam, feminism, rock-and-roll, the boho art scene, marijuana — are turning America on its head and, with it, American business practices. The decade-long cocktail party of the 1950s is about to end.
And that's part of the beauty of the show. As viewers, we know it's all doomed to crumble, that war protests, urban riots, assassinations, the hippie culture are just ahead, and the polyester 1970s, disco, impeachment, and the final Vietnam debacle lie not far beyond. We're in on the fix. We know we're seeing a snapshot that's doomed to fade.
My father was in advertising in the 1960s, though it was in the Midwest, not Madison Avenue. He's aging out now, in a nursing home, stuck with his interior monologue, his memories. In his closet at home are a bunch of skinny ties, a shelf full of those cool little porkpie hats, a dozen sportcoats, and lots of narrow-cut pants. My stepmother has saved them, saying, "Everything comes back in fashion, sooner or later."
She's right. Only the actors change.