Skinny Minded

Body image, especially in the realm of women, has long been a subject of many debates and controversies. The overwhelming desire to be thin is something that is no stranger to American women. Women have turned to crash diets and gimmicks for ages to maintain a skinnier figure, but when did this obsession with the perfect body come into play?

Throughout Season 1 of Mad Men, body image has played an integral role in terms of the female characters. Betty Draper dapples in a modeling career during Season 1, and shows a personal worry of gaining weight when alluding to her mother, who told her that she would end up “stout” if she kept eating hot dogs. There’s no doubt that the women of the show appear very thin for the most part. However, their lack of exercise or physical activity due to domestic or clerical confinement doesn’t seem to contribute to their slim figures. Why were they so thin?

Marilyn Monroe, an iconic actress and sex symbol, was an ideal woman to idolize during the 1950’s. Her size 14 frame, though, wouldn’t necessarily categorize her as petite once the era of the 1960’s rolled around. A British supermodel, Twiggy Lawson, appeared as the iconic woman during this time period. Her bony frame became the new desire, which overturned the want for a more curvaceous or voluptuous body type. As women began to progress away from the housewife status, less traditional styles were beginning to emerge. Women subsequently began to crave a modelesque figure, something that they viewed as being very chic and something which coincided with the more mod styles of fashion that were being introduced.

Just like in the series of Mad Men, advertising became a very crucial part in promoting the idea that a woman should strive to be thinner. Many massage type products, similar to Peggy’s “Relaxerciser”, promised a modelesque frame with minimal exercise. The idea of ‘diet’ soft drinks and artificial sweeteners alike created a frenzy in the advertising industry as well. Products like Diet Pepsi and Sweet’ N Low were introduced and took off quickly. The effectiveness of such ad campaigns are clear…as they are still very popular products by today’s standards! The 1960’s introduction of a more independent and chic woman, achieved by the means of being slim, has had a great deal of influence on female body image. To this day, the obsession of being thin is still reflected in the media. A very high spike in eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, has become evident among not just women, but very young girls. Such issues provoke the question of just what is a healthy body image. The 1960’s thin craze was surely fueled by advertising, and has left us women with the longstanding idea that skinny does sell!

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Don Draper: Proper Don or Dud?

From the beginning any viewer can see the appeal of the main character of Mad Men, Don Draper (Jon Hamm).  He seems to be in ultimate control of his entire life and everyone around him with extreme success and a perfect family.  Basically, he's got it all.  Every woman wants him, every man wants to be him.  According to Urban Dictionary a don is the "top man" or in another definition, "A man who is very sexy and powerful.  This man can control the hearts of all women.  A proper don is a guy that everyone wants to be like".  On the surface Don Draper is the ultimate don. A man that everyone envies and strives to emulate.  He has women hanging all over him all the time, with multiple mistresses and the ultimate housewife, Betty, while the other men at work like Pete envy his ability and want his job.  They all compete for his attention and approval, wanting the same success.  But is Don Draper a true don? 

As the show progresses we see that Don doesn't have it as together as it seems..  Marc Tienne's article asks the ultimate question in "Why Everyone Wants to be Don Draper… Except Don Draper".  The article addresses "Draper's outward perfection and inner ambivalence" and asks why everyone wants to be Don Draper if he doesn't?  In theory he is the ideal man.  Charming, confident, encompassing all the qualities women are looking for and men want to be.  Of course all of these men and women are disregarding his chain smoking, over drinking, cheating, lying, and overall unhappiness.   Tienne compares him to other leading men from The Sopranos and Rescue Me, all admired by viewers but all seriously unhappy.  They are all characters with prominent vices.  The seemingly perfect life lead by the seemingly flawless man turns out to be "not much of a life at all."

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Menken’s, Macy’s, and America

As we know, everything in America is bigger, better, and more easily accessible. But, where did this need for the one-stop shop begin? In Mad Men, Rachel Menken’s department store ‘Menken’s’ has troubles advertising and so they turn to Sterling Cooper to help. Yet, not all department stores had such trouble advertising. The evolution of the department store is one intimately tied to America and the vast variety of department stores reflects America’s need to facilitate shopping in the era of the housewife. 

In 1858 Rowland Hussey Macy open up the “fancy dry goods” store under the company Macy & Co on sixth avenue in New York City. It was one of the first departments stores to open in America, and even to this day it is one of the most popular. Albeit a precursor to the modern day department store, the “fancy dry goods” store did not sell exclusively clothes, but rather they sold tools for embroidery, in addition to carpets, oil, and cloaks As Macy’s progressed into the fashion giant that it is today, it left behind it’s multipurpose business to transition into clothing.

In 1864 Macy’s began to use elaborate window displays, and created the idea of the ‘window shopper’. This newfangled and direct way of advertising relied on impulse buying. By presenting their most beautiful new garments directly in the window, the everyday person walking by can be taken aback by the fancy designs and can be enticed to enter and buy. This new advertising method has been recreated all over the world, and nowadays one expects window displays to be showy, extravagant, and flawless. 

In 1924 the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was born. Through their strategic name placement, Macy’s became a household name, and their advertising infiltrated the America psyche.  This classic American tradition was characterized by the ever-famous department store, and thus continued their brilliant advertising. 

For department stores, advertising is almost as important as product. If it were not for commercials and window displays and strategic sponsorship, Macy’s would not have become the powerhouse of fashion that is now is. 


Swag Men: How the Clothes of Mad Men Changed Television and Our World

Before I had any inclination to watch or understand it, I genuinely believed that the new television sensation ‘Mad Men’ was about fashion.  You can’t blame me, considering that every Sunday my mom raved not about the characters but how fabulous the costumes that “Don” and “Joan” had worn were, or that each article I saw in USA Today or Rolling Stone emphasized Betty Draper’s clothes over plot notes. While I eventually learned the advertising nature of the show, it is still impossible to deny the sheer power of the clothes in Mad Men- after all, nothing that Walter White or Dexter Morgan has done has had anywhere near the impact of what Don Draper and friends WEAR.

The 60s have come roaring back, and the old look is the new look

A lot of theories have been generated about why Don Draper and the executives at Sterling Cooper are what “every man wants to be.”  Popular ones include the women, the drinks, the money, and the status.  But money and drinking are cross professional and generational, and adultery isn’t exactly glamorous anymore.  But the resurgence in 1960s wear that led Banana Republic and Express to create their whole fall lines after the fashions of ‘Mad Men?’  That can’t be a coincidence.  Clothes are everything that these men embody: the quality of clothes points to their wealth and position, their style lends to social situations like drinking, and their exuberant swagger from their fancy fashions leads to attraction from women.  The snugger fits, better ties and undershirts, and contrasting colors have been ripped off of AMC and put on every stylish man today. The fashions of women like Joan and Betty are what makes these characters truly universal- yes, both are beautiful and relatable, but in very different ways. The thread connecting this admirable appearance is the 1960s combinations of tight dresses, subtle accessories, and striking colors that have infiltrated 21st century society after years of grunge jeans and shiny, post 9/11 era overexuberance.

The characters of Mad Men exude fashion sense that has crossed into our world.  Swag! 

The characters and plot of Mad Men have certainly become memorable, but not on the sheer level of something like The Sopranos or The West Wing. The everlasting power of this show comes when First Lady Michelle Obama spends her time around the inauguration of her husband wearing one strap dresses inspired by Christina Hendricks treads on the show.  It is when Ask Men models a style guide for their large readership after the suits in the show.  And it is reflected on a personal level for me, when I went prom suit shopping.  I was dismayed to find that Banana Republic’s Mad Men line of blue suits was far too expensive for my blood, but when I combined another Mad Men navy blue line from Billy London with a pink shirt and colored bow tie from my father’s 1960 collection, I was quickly the best dressed man at the prom.  Long gone are the days of oversized, shiny suits and baggy dresses from the Steve Harvey collection.  The 1960s have come roaring back, and now the entire planet has become GQ and Vanity Fair. We may never have the drinks, the money, the lovers, or the ads, but with the clothes, we can all be Mad Men. 

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New York, I love you... but you're bringing me down

New York City has always been the essence of straight shootin’ and big drinkin’, but what was going on behind the bright lights and loud streets that are portrayed on Mad Men? New York City in the 1960's was a fast paced place, evident by it being the backdrop to an advertising firm in Mad Men.  While it is said that New York is the city that never sleeps, New York City in the 1960's was slowing down, socially and economically. 
As a result of a gradual population shift to the suburbs, much of NYC’s manufacturing industry migrated out of the city. The areas that once housed these manufacturing businesses became sources of crime and low-income settlement.  Strikes became the most common form of garnering attention for a cause, like with the Transport Union Workers of America transit strike (1966) and the United Federation of Teachers strike over firings (1968). Socially, new issues were being brought to the forefront, like the gay rights movement. The Stonewall Riots (1969) were some demonstrations by the gay community against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, which catered to a gay clientele.
Great economic stress called for desperate means to obtain money for residents. In 1967, the city council of New York removed licensing requirements for its massage parlors, which led to an underground prostitution scene. Landlords in middle-class areas of Manhattan would lease their residences to pimps that would run prostitution rings in the buildings disguised as massage parlors. In a time of social change and economic depression, it seems that the long-lived institution of prostitution reverted people back to older, happier times.
Although many of the rising issues in New York City took place towards the later ‘60s and Mad Men focused on the early ‘60s, it is reasonable to say that Mad Men planted the seed for future portrayal of these issues.  Many aspects of these social and economic issues can be seen in subtle ways in Mad Men.  The population shift out of the city is depicted by every main character (besides Pete) since no one on the show actually lived in Manhattan.  The constant asking of a bonus from multiple characters pulls into question if the staff was underpaid at the time. Salvatore’s abrupt departure from the show due to his refusal to admit his homosexuality and engage in a gay affair touches on the rising gay rights movement. Prostitution is a recurring theme on the show, but becomes obvious when Don and Roger are seen paying for women to sleep with them. Although Mad Men touches upon aspects of the changing city around the show, it never fully delves into the social and economic decay that clouded over New York City in the 1960's. 


"Slug Bug, No Slug Back!"

Many view the Volkswagen (VW) Beetle, first built by the Germans in 1931, as an ugly or delicate type car, but fact trumps over everything.  The Volkswagen Beetle is actually the bestselling and longest lived car in the history of the automobile industry. In the first season of the AMC television series Mad Men, Episode 3, the guests at Bobby's birthday party (Carlton, Chet and Jack) are caught making fun of Helen Bishop for driving a Volkswagen Beetle. In the episode there is a reference made by Chet at the party by saying, "The last time I saw one of those things (Volkswagen) I was throwing a grenade into it." This line, although it seems of no significance, is actually quite informative.  The history of the beetle car is an interesting one.  It actually began being produced in the 1930's and it was used exclusively by Nazi Germany in World War II.  This is why it is believed that the beetle car actually had a lot of trouble selling when it first was released into the world market. 

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The car that was at first most hated by just about everyone around the world turned it around and became the bestselling car in the automotive industry, even beating Ford's Model T.  How could this possibly happen?  One word: Advertisement. During the 1960's the Beetle had just started to become quite a bit popular through witty advertisement. In Benjamin Preston's article "The VW Beetle Started with the Nazis, Boomed under MadMen and Died in Mexico," he mentions the low points and how it managed through advertisement to reach a bestselling status. In the television series Mad Men, Episode 3 Marriage at Figaro, Don discusses the VW Beetle with his coworkers. They are trying to find something wrong with the famous "Lemon" VW ad.  The guys can't seem to find a thing and Don says, “Love it or hate it (The Ad), the fact is we have been talking about this for the last 15 minutes." This is the type of advertising that brought the VW out of being just about bankrupt to being one of the most successful car industries in the world. 

Image credit: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-UKmC6-td_bM/TilzokfdAuI/AAAAAAAADLo/xkrmDllQOCY/s1600/HitlerPorscheVW1938.png
The beetle in present day is actually looked at as an affordable and economical car. Nowadays, most people couldn't tell you that the beetle was first produced by the Nazi's. In fact today the VW Beetle has grown so popular today that even kids play games with relation to it. VW still dedicates a lot of time and money towards advertisement. VW always has an ad during the super bowl, which is considered the best time in the world to advertise.  VW is a company that has made one of the greatest comebacks of all time.  They did this not through a bail out or through creating something new, but through advertisement. Don portrays this type of effective advertisement when he presents his pitch on The Wheel. Don takes something seemingly useless and turns it into a present day slide show of pictures.  

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Bert Cooper: Mystical Guru or Advertising Genius?

Bert Cooper is known as one of the two names behind Mad Men’s main advertising firm Sterling Cooper, but what is the one thing Bert is notoriously known for? His beliefs of a shoeless office and well-groomed bonsai tree. An avid philosopher, Bert Cooper is known as the calm of the many stormy days in the advertising office. He is one of the most paradoxical characters of Mad Men because he has the highest position in the firm, but most of the time we don’t see Bert doing actual work to benefit the company. Maybe his inner spirits have prompted him to relax and let the others run his business. Or maybe we don’t see many of Bert’s actual efforts because the absence of drama in his personality could make his duties seem boring and unexciting.

Subsequently, there are many cases in today’s society that a spiritual mindset in the work place makes a more successful worker. Since Bert is “running” an entire business, it can be odd to find him acting so calm at the most unnatural times. In the article, the parallel between emotional intelligence and Bert’s persona in the office exemplify his management style. His “self-awareness” is displayed in his confidence like refusing to smoke or drink heavily. Bert rarely talks down upon people, so when he does, there is more of an effect behind his voice. He calls out Roger about his about his excessive smoking in episode seven “Red in the Face,” and how “it’s a sign of weakness.” Weakness is a characteristic that Bert obviously doesn’t have or refuses to reveal.

Bert also possesses very high relationship skills. He values hard workers like Don and this is seen in his spontaneous gesture to give him a generous bonus in episode eight of season one, “The Hobo Code.” We also barely see him yell and pick fights with the people who consistently focus on the “bad.” A good example of this is when Pete Campbell tries to unveil Don’s real identity in episode twelve, “Nixon vs. Kennedy” and Bert practically blows Pete off. He tries to manifest Don as a good man, even though he may not be who he says he is.           

The Bert Cooper aura of socks and Ayn Rand provide a sense of peace in the office. His spiritual ways can prove that being a “chill” manager can be beneficial in a high-paced business. Maybe one modern 1960s hippie is what the “mad men” need in order to prevent each of them from destroying the business with their day-to-day petty ordeals.