Monday, April 2, 2012

What is it about these Mad Men?

With a whiff of vermouth and just a hint of shoulder pad, "Mad Men" has come off of hiatus and returned to the AMC broadcasting schedule. I myself witnessed it's triumphant return Sunday before last, watching as these familiar characters and the pace of this unusual period piece raised countless high ball glasses to tight lips across my television screen. While I was watching events unfold in the episode, it occurred to me how long Mad Men has been in vogue, and the effect it has had on popular culture at large, especially in its sartorial commentary. Even glancing around Booksmith, you can see the ripples Don Draper and co. have had; more than a few hardcovers sport references to "Mad Men" style cocktails, advertisements, or clothes. Even things that tout "retro" as part of their benefits, we all know what these products really mean. As a culture, something about these mad men has bewitched us, and across fairly stark generational lines, to boot. But why? What is so appealing about this particular series that makes us so captivated?

 The series premiered in July of 2007, against all odds, it seems. Matthew Weiner, created of the series, wrote the pilot when he was working as a staff writer on the show "Becker" in 2000, then got hired to write on "The Sopranos" in 2002, meanwhile shopping the pilot around and trying to catch the eye of a network; Showtime and HBO both passed. When "The Sopranos" wrapped in 2007, cable network AMC just happened to be available for new programming. Just like that, a culture obsession was born.

It's not the first time an episodic drama has captivated our collective interest. "Lost" and "Downton Abbey" spring to mind immediately, but I find it interesting they have not had the same effect on our couture, at least, not in the same way. The sequined gowns and high necked numbers the Dowager Countess flaunts have certainly had their ripple in the fashion world, but no one is having "Downton Abbey" dress up parties. But if they are, they should probably invite me.

If I had to guess, my suggestion would be that "Mad Men", while more similar to our own culture, harkens back (if I may) to a time where things were not quite so disposable, an era of tailors and rules for dress that people passed down to their children. It also consisted of a lot of non-breathable, synthetic fabrics, and, since I happen to be a talented thrift-store shopper, a definitive absence of almighty stretch material. It could also be called the last few years of private America; each decade since then we have increasingly come further and further out of our assorted closets, for good and for ill.

What I really want to talk about is what you're going to need for your Mad Men parties.

First off, here's a little ditty called "Mad Women", written by Jane Maas, a woman who worked as a copy editor in 1964. In easy to read, sassy prose, Maas talks about what it was like to be a woman in that place in that time. She discusses all the things you want to read about in a book like this, glass ceilings, fashion trends, and how the heck they managed to keep awake during the workday while still ingesting all that alcohol. The answer to that last one comes a little fuzzy to Maas, but if you're interested in reading about the time period, I recommend this memoir.

But the two components of any good Man Men party have to be the outfits and the cocktails. Some of us were not blessed with the kind of decisive palettes that will clue us in on the difference between high class booze and low class booze. For our specific brand of idiot, Charles Shaw will do. For the rest of you booze snobs, take a look at these cocktail guides to ensure you will whip up something impressive to please your high brow guests. Cosmopolitans for the cosmopolitan, I always say. Okay no I don't, I once accidentally served my guests double margaritas by accident and everybody got so plastered they could barely walk home. The next morning, a barrage of woeful "worst hangover of my life" texts appeared on my cell phone. Sorry guys!

Finally, a smart young upstart like you doesn't need to be told what to wear, bu
t if you find yourself awash in a sea of confusing hems, constricting zippers, and perplexing head wear, take a few cues out of this book, Decades of Fashion. It covers 1900 and on, but it's section on the 50's and 60's are particularly well documented and interesting.

That's all from this neck of the woods. I'll see you cats and kittens around the internet and beyond.

Also, friends, if you have been reading my posts on this blog (or, if you haven't, but know me personally and just think I'm cute) you can read an interview of the great Tim Fish I wrote for the first print issue of Abstraks, a monthly magazine about artists, available at Brookline Booksmith. You can also read my interviews every week on the interwebs, at

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