Mad Style: Betty Draper, S2 Part 2
It’s a big night in the Draper residence. They’re having a dinner party for Don’s work colleagues and everything needs to be perfect, a situation that pushes Betty’s day-to-day need for surface perfection into overdrive. Additionally, Betty is still reeling from Jimmy Barretts’ revelation to her that Don is sleeping with his wife Bobbie. Betty kept this to herself and took all the energy it would have required to be angry into making sure this party impresses everyone who attends.
Duck Phillips notices that Betty is serving Heineken and teases Don for it, thinking Don had set it up. Earlier, in the office, Duck and Pete discussed how to sell the imported beer to the masses and Don mentioned setting up displays in supermarkets to appeal to housewives and their hostess duties. In other words, Don predicted that housewives would act a certain way and without knowing it, Betty proved him exactly right. When this is all explained to her, she gives only a tight, “What an interesting experiment,” (which provokes a knowing laugh in Mona) and bids everyone to sit down and enjoy the meal.
After everyone has left, she confronts Don, but as is the case with this show (and life, for that matter), people rarely talk about what they’re REALLY talking about. “You embarrassed me!” Don, not knowing what she’s talking about says what he always says whenever he’s confronted with a wife who has actual emotions and needs: “You’re tired.” Betty isn’t having it and she comes right out with it. “Dammit Don, I know you’re having an affair!” “How could you? She’s so OLD.”
Don lies to her face and goes to bed alone. Betty sleeps in Sally’s bed, still wearing her party dress. In fact, she keeps her party dress on for the next 24 hours, as she angrily drinks and rifles through Don’s suits looking for a sign of something, ANYTHING that will tell her more about this man she married. Typically, there is nothing to be found.
Quite possibly the most memorable thing she’s ever worn on the show. Not just because it’s stunning and she looks stunning in it, but because it’s a simple graphic that is easily remembered and she transforms from perfect hostess to depressed housewife – literally, overnight – while wearing it.
The huge skirt and cupcake silhouette sell her as the woman all women want to be, at least if you go by the ads of the time. Because once again, she is the very image of what was being sold to millions of American women at the time. To be truly happy, you needed to be thin, white, preferably blonde, extremely well-dressed, and the perfect wife and mother. By the next day, as she’s stumbling around the house with a wineglass in hand and her hair in her eyes, the dress becomes ironic. Again, the clothes tell the same story as the words: she LOOKS LIKE someone who’s supposed to be happy but in reality, she’s miserable.
There’s also something of a clown-like quality to it. The big circles and the simplistic color scheme are jovial and fun and a little child-like. She felt she was the butt of an embarrassing joke and Don treated her like an unruly child when she confronted him, so child-like and clown-like work surprisingly well.
Betty has ordered Don out of the house and got out of her party dress, but this dreary housecoat is the best she can manage. Sarabeth stops by to pick up a dress to wear to a party and makes light small talk that annoys Betty, especially since Sarabeth complains about her apparently doting husband and notes with some envy that “Don’s perfect.” Betty says she’s not feeling well and gives her some dresses.
Obviously, this is NOT the most memorable thing she’s ever worn, unless you’re keeping score of the times she looked her absolute worst. Then this would probably rank pretty high. We’ve seen Betty in housewife drag before, but never this bad. While it’s true that those of us of a certain age can remember our mothers wearing housecoats just like this, for Betty, this is only something she wears when literally no one else is around. For her, it’s her “sick” uniform. What’s notable from a costume design perspective is that, even though you really can’t tell unless you’re peering at it, this ugly housedress has the exact same graphic qualities as her party dress: white, with splashes of yellow, green and blue. Even though she looks and feels like shit, she’s the exact same woman as that ever-smiling perfect hostess of just a few nights ago.
Betty’s father had a stroke and she and Don put aside their marital issues to make the trip to Main Line Philadelphia to see him. Just before he enters the room, Betty stands and smooths her skirt, making sure she looks perfect for Daddy. Apparently she does, because he enters the room and exclaims, “It’s an angel!” when he sees her. Betty is angry that she has to deal with his father’s girlfriend and bitter that items that belonged to her mother aren’t out anymore (“Do I have to go around and write my name on all the things I want?”). Her childhood is slipping away from her and she feels like she has no family; not the one she came from, nor the one she made for herself.
This is a classic Main Line look. It never really went out of style. Betty switches her styles up depending on the situation. She can look like a child one minute and a movie star the next. She can rock the housewife looks like no one else in Ossining, but then when it comes time to go home to her roots, she puts on exactly what she thinks is expected of her. A perfect white dress with a preppy pleated skirt, a matching jacket, and a Hermes scarf to finish it off. She’s speaking the language of her tribe and she’s saying loud and clear “I belong here. Don’t I look like I belong here?” She dressed similarlyat the Ossining country club, except there she was trying to impress while here she’s looking more mature and serious. Or as serious as you can look in a pretty white dress and pleated skirt.
Breakfast at the Hofstadt homestead the next morning. Don and Betty had impromptu sex the night before on the floor of her childhood bedroom. He thinks their marital problems have blown over. He’s wrong. While making small talk with her father about what to do with the day, he momentarily forgets who she is and feels her up, suggesting some activities that Betty wasn’t thinking of. Everyone in the room reacts sharply and Don rushes to her side. “I’m fine,” she says quietly, but her face reveals the exact opposite.
Later, in her room, she’s reunited with Viola, the family maid who pretty much raised her. She’s the only person in the house who is allowed to see Betty’s real emotions. “I’m an orphan!” she sobs. It’s…not exactly the most mature way to react to her father’s decline, but it’s perfectly in character for her. Viola tells her that her family is in Ossining, not here; a bit of advice that only depresses Betty more.
She wore this pretty little sundress when she and Don took the kids out for a picnic and left all their trash behind. It works for these scenes because it is, once again, a girlish and slightly juvenile dress, befitting her child-like reaction to her father’s state and the later setting of her childhood bedroom. But it also works because she’s so bare. It’s rare for her to show this much skin. Because she’s so uncovered up top, it made her father’s roaming hands all the more shocking to see.
Betty and her perfectly manicured nails are back in Ossining, living the life of a single mother because she still hasn’t taken Don back. While signing his name to the back of his paycheck, she notices the smell of smoke and finds Sally in the bathroom attempting to light up a cigarette. Her mad mommy routine of pulled hair, locking her in the closet, and threats (“I’m taking away Barbie!”) doesn’t go as well as expected. Sally sasses her right back, blaming her for Don’s absence.
It doesn’t require a lot of analysis except to note that she’s getting on with her life because she’s obviously dressed to go riding, and also because, like Joan in an earlier scene, she’s literally wearing the pants in the family. You can only make those kinds of costume statements in this specific period, when women could wear pants, but most of them didn’t outside the home. In other words, it was allowed, but it was shocking.
Betty finds out she’s pregnant, unwelcome news at best. In fact, she attempts to ask about the possibility of terminating her pregnancy, but the doctor is shocked that she, “a married woman of means,” would think of such a thing. “That is an option for young girls, ” he sternly admonishes her.
She’s not wearing the pants anymore. In fact, she’s in as feminine a silhouette as possible. Like a princess on a toadstool. It’s a pretty dress, but the dark gray is pretty indicative of her mind set. She’s depressed and she just got the worst news.
It’s the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis and everyone in New York thinks they’re about to die. Betty drops the kids off at Don’s hotel room to spend the night and goes out into the deserted city alone. At a bar, a drink is bought for her by a very handsome man. She deftly turns down his advances, but just as deftly (she’s a beautiful woman who knows exactly how to handle situations like this), gets him to follow her to the back by pretending she’s waiting for the bathroom. They kiss, she ever so slightly protests that she’s married, and then they wind up on the couch in the back office, fucking. You could read this as revenge on Don and you’d be partially right, but it also comes across as her attempt just to feel something. She goes through life attempting to be numb to the unhappiness she faces every single day and she’s both pregnant and possibly about to die in nuclear war, so what better time for her to break her vows.
A couple times a season, Betty really kicks it up a notch and goes from a beautiful trophy wife to full-on movie star good looks. An outfit like this looks like it could have come straight out of some stylish film of the period. Check out those fur cuffs. Fabulous. They’re a little gross by today’s standards (although not across the board), but they read as wealthy, sophisticated and a little sexy in 1962. Her entire image here is straight out of the Hitchcock ice blonde playbook. She could be Eva Marie Saint here, or Tippi Hedren, or Kim Novak, or Grace Kelly. She is the very embodiment of a very specific type of woman in this outfit and we’ve all seen her in the movies of the time.
What we didn’t see in those old movies was Eva Marie Saint fucking a guy whose name she didn’t know or care to know on a dirty backroom couch. THAT’S why the outfit works so well. She’s an archetype who’s acting completely AGAINST type.
[Screencaps: tomandlorenzo.com - Photo Credit: amctv.com/originals/madmen]