Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mad Men, part 1

A young woman I know, in her twenties (I’ll call her M) and I are both fans of Mad Men. We both enjoy the attention to period detail, the acting and character development, but M really surprised me when she told me how much she admired the clothing and wished we dressed like that now. She especially likes the look of Joan, the famously curvy secretary

I later mentioned this conversation to two friends, in two separate conversations. Both are in their fifties, like me, with a twenty-something daughter. And both had had the same conversation with their daughters. It went something like this:

What??? Do you realize how restrictive those clothes are?
Yes, but they look nice.
But they kept women from being able to achieve equality.

And there lies the problem. To us, having been children during that era, they aren’t just clothes. To these young women, they aren’t either. In fact, it turns out that what they saw was that a woman who is more full figured could be admired, and that there wasn’t one body type that was considered attractive. To us, these clothes (I’m not talking about the pretty little “Mad Men” dresses that are showing up in the stores now) and their undergarments go hand in hand with a time and place that we never want to return to. So to one generation, they mean strangulation both literally and figuratively, and to another, freedom.


Patrick J. Vaz said...

The thing about admiring women who are more full-figured: if you remember Ms magazine in the 1970s, it was full of articles about women who grew up in the 1950s who were traumatized because they weren't full-figured (i.e., small breasts, slim builds). I don't think it was a time that was more open to different body sizes; I think it was a time that preferred a different body type.

To some extent we all have to deal with being born in the wrong time.

Ms. Baker said...

I think so much of it has to do with being young. I think that when you get past your twenties, you realize that all different types of people are considered to be attractive. And, I think that most women get to a point where they realize that men don't really care about changing tastes and fashions so much. Some like curvy; some don't; others don't care.
Every decade has its ideal, and millions of people who don't measure up to it. What I find kind of interesting is that I thought our latest ideal was fairly curvy (I grew up in the shadow of Twiggy), so I'm not totally clear on what these young women are finding so freeing.

Unknown said...

My problem with the current ideal is not so much that it's not curvy.* My problem is that we're supposed to meet this stupid ideal "naturally". Styles these days don't allow for support garments - everything is just supposed to sort of suspend itself, people gripe at you if you wear nylons but they also gripe at you if your legs aren't perfect without them, there's the whole no-makeup makeup look, which is time consuming and expensive.

I also find the current ideal to be really, really detail-oriented. I could go on about this at length, as you know.

I'm way too lazy for that.

* I'd still argue that it isn't, though. That's just not the particular problem I have with it.

vicmarcam said...

The no makeup makeup look only seems silly to someone under 30...take my word on that. The face that I wake up to every morning needs help, and there's a world of difference between me looking like I'm not wearing makeup and me not wearing makeup.

But I'm mostly responding because you can't leave me hanging. What do you mean by detail oriented? I really want to know because, as you know, one of my favorite things to do is look at movies that are supposed to be period pieces and find evidence in them of the era in which they were filmed. Although I'm very clear on what the male ideal looks like in 2009 (tall, thinner, narrow face, slightly messy look, clothes that don't look carefully chosen), I'm not so clear about the female and I'm very curious to know what you are seeing.

And being expected to meet the ideal naturally has always been around, too. I'm sure you realize this. If I think of the late 1960's/early 70's (where I was the age to become painfully aware that I didn't meet the standard), when only straight hair was acceptable. Some girls tried to straighten theirs, but it didn't really work because the ideal was very, very straight (oddly, I did meet this standard, but your grandmother hated the look, so I got a lot of pressure at home to get cuts, perms, etc). The ideal then was to be very natural, anyway, and it didn't matter because no amount of supportive undergarments would have removed my hips. But at least it wasn't the flapper era. I look at those straight from shoulders down dresses and just shake my head in wonder (they had the best shoes, though).

Unknown said...

I'm not sure that it has always been around, as the late 60's/early 70's are actually pretty recent. I just figured that that's when it started and now it's being taken to its insane conclusion.

What I mean by detail-oriented is things like botox, teeth whiteners, medicine to grow your eyelashes. It's the fact that nowadays these products exist and work and are affordable for the middle class, so now we're all expected to use them. This why I probably would not date an American. I am just too lazy.

I wonder if you don't find the female ideal in period pieces because they've just gotten more accurate at making them.

vicmarcam said...

It is nearly impossible to find the female ideal in a period piece until about 10 years later. For example, the other night, I surfed past Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid from the late 60's. At the time, it looked like it took place 100 years in the past in the wild west, but if you watch it now, you see that the make-up and hair styles and even the cut of the clothes, not to mention the choice of actors (poor Katherine Ross was so much the 60's ideal that her stellar career pretty much hit a dead end when styles changed a few years later) is very much of the 1960's. A period piece made today, no matter how meticulous, would still have signs of today, but we are so immersed in today that we can't see it yet.

I see your point about detail oriented and it's very interesting. In fact, I wonder if that is what will end up being the telling sign of period pieces from the 2000's. However, in all eras there is the ideal and reality. Of the 300 million of us, I guess there are enough thousands who feel that these details are important, so that profitable businesses can be built around them, but how can you possibly think that it is an expectation? Even many Hollywood actresses are refusing to go along with all that. In fact, I'm starting to notice a new trend--women who defend their decision to age. I guess this was inevitable with the ready availability of all these ways to change yourself, but I can see how it might become tedious in its own way.

As far as getting more accurate at making period pieces--there have always been movies that tried very hard to be realistic, but something usually gives them away (I wonder what will give Mad Men away), and then there's the more interesting case of movies where they choose to not make it look quite of its period on purpose (see part 2 of this entry).