Mad Style: Betty Draper, S2 Part 1
“Honey, you forgot to take out the trash.”
“Aren’t you funny. Are you scandalized?”
“Dammit! The cat threw up another hairball!”
“Aren’t you funny. Are you scandalized?”
“We’re gonna need to call a plumber about this.”
“Aren’t you funny. Are you scandalized?”
Later, a reluctant Betty returns home and informs Carla without a trace of concern, “Bobby’s turning blue out there.” When Sally informs her that everyone in school got a Valentine because everyone was required to give one to everyone else, Betty responds with, “Well that defeats the purpose.” Two short lines that reveal a lot about Betty’s state in 1962. She’s still keeping score for the pretty girls who deserve Valentines and she’s not particularly interested in or emotionally connected with her children, especially Bobby.When Sally tries on her riding boots and begs her to take her riding, Betty responds with, “Do you remember what happened to the little girl in Gone With the Wind?”
Both of these scenes exist to point out where Betty is at this stage in her life. She is spending a lot of time on rich-girl pursuits, away from her home and with a friend who can help her indulge in a little fantasy flirtation. When she IS home, she’s disconnected with her son because of her issues with her husband and she’s determined to corral Sally into a lifestyle much like the one she was corralled into. Unlike last season, where she was meek and manipulative in the face of her empty lifestyle and marriage, this season she’s angry and attempting to be disconnected from it.The outfit is merely there to point out how rich she is, or at least, how rich she appears to be. The gloves are almost certainly kid leather, the cashmere coat is of the finest quality and the scarf is probably a Hermes or acceptable runner up. These are timeless clothes, of course. It wasn’t really until the early ’80s, when Ralph Lauren and Izod became household names, that we started to view them as such; as representative of a certain class of Americans to which the majority aspired. In 1962, these were purely clothes to be worn at the stable and nowhere else.
In the second scene, the outfit serves to separate her from her family. Not only is she in a sleek, panted silhouette, but Sally is in the MOST frivolous of cupcake silhouettes, which were extremely common for young girls at that time. Sally literally wants to stand in her boots, but can’t and Betty isn’t going to let her any time soon.
Later that night (it’s Valentine’s day) she meets Don in the city for dinner at the Plaza. Don watches her descend the staircase in slow motion and then rises to kiss her. The description of this scene doesn’t do it justice. It’s an amazing minute or two of film making and as she descends the stairs in slow motion to haunting music, you would swear you’re watching a classic movie of the period, so perfectly does it mimic them. She looks amazing, mainly because she was shot like a movie star. Any movie star would have killed to get an entrance like that one,.During drinks, she runs into her old roommate who turns out to be a hooker. Betty, of course, doesn’t pick up on it. “Can you imagine dating at our age?” But Don sets her straight and Betty pretends to be shocked but is secretly pleased and titillated by it. Please because she got confirmation that she’s “better” than some girl from her past, and titillated because there’s clearly a part of her who wonders what that type of “freedom” must be like.
Later, they get a room upstairs and despite Betty deploying the 1962 lingerie, Don can’t get it up.
Really, the only purpose this outfit serves is to make both her AND Don look absolutely flawless. You don’t see it, but it’s easy to assume that when Don rose to kiss her, every head in the room turned just to look at the beautiful couple look beautiful. Jon Hamm and January Jones are both extremely attractive people, but there’s a reason so many believe that they look better in the period drag. It’s because they perfectly embody what was considered beautiful for that time period. Over and over again, their vignettes are staged to look exactly like advertising of the period. Don kissing her could have been a Seagram’s ad, or even an ad for a bra. They’re both young, beautiful and well-appointed. Throw in the house and the two kids and they’re living the perfect life in the eyes of their peers. Their beauty, as enjoyable as it is to us, is a major part of their story, even if it’s only commented on occasionally.
And of course, the two stunningly beautiful people are incapable of having sex together because they’re both so unhappy.
Season 2 Episode 2 – “Flight 1″
Betty and Don (much to Don’s chagrin) have neighbors Carlton and Francine over for cards. They engage in typical suburban small talk about property developments and news events. Betty snaps at Bobby to go to bed. “I don’t care what they do when they’re up there. I just want a few hours of peace and quiet.” She tells them a story about Bobby tracing a picture and getting praise for it. “He’s a little liar.” When Francine tries to suggest that lying is normal for them at that age, Betty acidly responds, “I don’t need a book to know what little boys do.”After they leave, she picks a fight with Don about Carlton’s past infidelities (although really, no one had any illusions about what they were REALLY talking about) and storms outside to smoke furiously.
Again, we’re seeing perfect Betty and Don in their perfect home living in yet another Seagram’s ad. This time, Betty’s in perfect housewife hostess drag. There’s an in-between point on the clothing scale and this falls squarely in the middle with “day/night in the city” on one side and “stuck in the house taking care of the kids” on the other. It’s a shirtwaist dress, but it’s of a slightly dressier quality than her day wear and it’s jazzed up with pearls and heels. Very typical for women of that time and place. During Sally Draper’s birthday party in season 1, she was dressed almost exactly the same. It’s pure Donna Reed.
Season 2 Episode 3 – “The Benefactor”
Don taps Betty to fulfill her ad exec wife duties and come to a tense client dinner. “Is this one where I talk or where I don’t talk?” It’s one where she talks, and she babbles away on small talk and thrills at the attention she gets from famous comedian Jimmy Barrett (“I bet little birds hang up your laundry.”), who even makes a joke about how ridiculously good-looking both Drapers are: “Are you two sold separately?” Even in-story, the characters are aware of how much the Drapers embody the summit of consumer culture. Jimmy and his wife Bobbie are there to smooth things over with one of the SC clients, whom Jimmy offended while shooting a commercial for their product.Compare this with Bobbie’s outfit from the same scene. In the sophistication sweepstakes, Bobbie trumps Betty every time. This is a very pretty dress and she looks amazing in it, but it’s not as of-the-moment as Bobbie’s dress; not nearly as glamorous or magazine-cover fashionable. Still, she looks fresh, young, and beautiful and that was her entire purpose in this scene.
Season 2 Episode 4 – “Three Sundays”
The Drapers are at the Country Club, although they are not (yet) members. Don makes business talk with a colleague and Betty makes small talk with a couple of snobs who scoff at her “high class problems.” She runs into Arthur, who is visibly shaken upon being confronted with her children.How FREAKING CUTE is this little tennis dress? With the little beaded tennis racquet and tennis ball? Adorable. Probably too twee for a grown woman in 2010, but the height of preppy Main Line cute for the time.Once again, Betty and Don look better than everyone in the room and once again, their marriage is revealed to be in shambles, as Don leaves the family there to pursue a hookup with Bobbie. It’s also notable that this dress is excessively girl-y and may have bordered on being just a little too precious for a mother of two, which ties into Arthur’s reaction to her children. She looks like the eternally available virginal bride, but she is in fact, a wife and mother.
Season 2 Episode 7 – “The Gold Violin”
Don convinces himself he needs a new Cadillac to go with the Drapers’ new social status and after buying one, the family heads out to a picnic. Don regales the kids with his days of poverty and having to use an outhouse. He’s normally nowhere near this open about his past, but the acquisition of the Cadillac has him feeling a little philosophical and he lets his guard down. Later, the Drapers leave a pile of trash on the ground and drive away. This is years before the “Don’t Pollute” and “Make America Beautiful” movements that would render such scenes monstrous in the eyes of the public. At the time, it was perfectly normal.Later in the episode, Don gets told by someone that he’s “garbage” and this scene was a slightly heavy-handed way of foreshadowing that. Betty and Don both look amazing, but they leave a trail of destruction behind them because they’re both so unhappy. Betty’s gorgeous little sundress would make you believe that she’s happy and in love, but the image of her literally shaking their garbage out of their blanket and leaving it behind makes the overt floral of her dress seem a little ironic.
Betty and Don head into the city for a formal party to celebrate the launch of Jimmy Barrett’s new television show. At the party, Jimmy tells Betty that Don and Bobbie have been having an affair. She utters a vaguely anti-Semitic “you people” back at him, but she knows the truth and in the ride home in his brand new perfect Cadillac, she, the perfect wife, throws up all over the interior of it.This would have been a big deal for Betty. She’s been to client dinners, but not glamorous New York City parties full of television people. This dress was almost certainly bought special for the event, and to our eyes, it looks like she paid a dressmaker to make it for her. Too much beading and embellishment for this to be something she picked up at a boutique. No, she had this made and she paid good money for it ( in the commentaries for this episode it’s revealed that costumer Janie Bryant made this dress herself). In fact, taking the costume story further, we’d bet she brought those ostentatious (for Betty) earrings to a dressmaker and told her to make something around them.
It would have been considered a glamorous dress for the Ossining social set, but it doesn’t read as top of the line among the glitterati of NYC. Compare this, again, to Bobbie’s dress for the same scene. Betty’s dress is beautiful and stylish, but Bobbie’s is couture. Betty is in an icy blue, dripping with embellishments, and Bobby is in a fiery orange, sleek and slightly sequined. Betty looks fussy and Bobbie looks self-assured. Betty looks young and unsure; Bobbie looks mature and confident, Betty is the suburban wife; Bobbie, the urban mistress. Totally in opposition to each other.
[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com - Photo Credit: amctv.com/originals/madmen]