4.23.2010

In Episode 6 of Season 1 of Mad Men, Sterling Cooper is working on the Belle Jolie lipstick account. In one particular scene, the secretaries have been led into a room to try out different shades of lipstick while the men watch from behind a one-way mirror. The transition into the scene is noteworthy, as the account executives say they cannot understand the women (“they don’t speak moron”) and refer to them as chickens. This scene is stunning both visually through the costuming and in the gender roles that are expressed during the scene.

The costuming is truly effective in this scene because it immediately tells the audience about each character. The woman from the research department, Dr. Greta Guttman (Gordana Rashovich), who has a “man’s” job, is wearing a masculine grey suit and grey shirt, the manliest wardrobe for any of the female characters. From previous episodes, the audience knows that this woman is not accepted by the men or by the other women. She, like her costume, is somewhere in between what was expected in the gender roles of a man and a woman in the workplace of the 1960s. Her palate of grey is just as boring as she is to all of the other characters.

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Joan (Christina Hendricks) stands in stark contrast, wearing a vivid red dress that shows off her feminine curves, as well as highlighting her bold character. Red is associated with passion, desire and lust which perfectly fits Joan’s use of her sexuality in the workplace. When wearing red, all heads turn to Joan, her usually eye-catching look taken to extreme. Red also symbolizes power. Joan’s power over the other women is very clearly shown in this scene because they all look to Joan before answering the researcher’s questions, as though they are seeking her approval.

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Peggy (Elizabeth Moss), dressed in a conservative and juvenile outfit, does not participate with the other women in trying on many shades of lipstick. Her brown dress is rather boring compared to the other secretaries’ pastel outfits. Brown traditionally denotes masculine qualities, and its frequent use in her wardrobe foreshadows her future rise to a masculine job. Also the color of the earth, brown implies genuineness and wholesomeness. Peggy is seen as a very na├»ve girl, still genuine in comparison to the people she works with. The styling of Peggy’s dress is oddly matronly and stiff with a very high neckline, letting the audience know she isn’t using her sexuality to advance in the workplace. Clearly Peggy is set to contrast Joan, both in personality and costume.

The wardrobe for the women of Sterling Cooper, while stunning and era appropriate, helps progress the narrative by telling the audience more about the characters. The color and styling of each costume gives further understanding of the complexities of each character. Each of these women’s roles in the workplace is typified by her costuming.

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