Ode to a Mad, Mad Man: Don Draper’s Final Season

Beautifully sung by pre-Girls actress and my future wife, Allison Williams

Nearly seven years ago, AMC – then, a struggling network known more for showing your grandma’s favorite classic films than for the nuanced, game changing entertainment we know today, with the likes of a meth-dealing former high school teacher, survivalists living in a dystopian world full of zombies, and a misogynist adman from the 1960s – premiered a drama series that we now know as one of the greatest cultural influences in recent memory. Fingerprints from Mad Men are all over this blog and for good reason, as I continue to reference Draper & Company as prototypes that we all look up to in our development of refined trad mannerism.

We owe our immense recognition and gratitude to Janie Bryant, the show’s head costume designer, for bringing inspiration back into fashion’s lexicon for the modern male. Don Draper’s extremely well-tailored suit, crisp white pocket square, and pomade slicked hair has literally lead the highly stylized revival of men’s clothing in the past seven years. For those of us lacking context, you have to remember that back in 2007, we were just starting to heal from the hungover of a morbidly disastrous intake of purposely-frayed jeans, sandblasted graphic ringer tees, and trucker hats. Us younger guys had that Punk’d brodude Ashton Kutcher and the cast from The OC to follow dress from. Sure, soon the major fashion designers finally started to slim down and allude to more moderate appeal in contrast to the ridiculous shoulder-ridden balloon suits seen in the ’90s just a few years prior, but I still remember grown ass men religiously wearing in the midst Rainbow sandals, whiskered and holey jeans that have only been worn twice since buying, and Abercrombie button downs. And puka shell necklaces. Those damn puka shells!

By miraculous grace and just in time to fill the next gap of men’s clothing evolution, came series creator/genius Matthew Weiner and his fledgling concept, taking us back to the 1960s and experiencing society’s revolutions and historical events in the eyes of a sternly traditional advertising executive in New York City. I still remember watching the pilot trailer, shown below, as I flicked through the pre-HD channels to AMC one night a week before the first episode came out. The concept looked interesting: a corporate man’s American Dream slowly dwindling away. Perhaps a little mature for my 18 year old television habits at the time, but what immediately caught and kept my attention was the mid-century setting and wardrobe; luring me in as a faithful fan ever since. If you have been reading through my posts, you’ll see me gladly offering the origins of my own personal sartorial journey through hints of anecdotes and timeline flashbacks. You’ll recall that 2007 was a notable year for me: just graduating high school and now entering college, deciding to transition from teen brands like Hollister to truer prep houses, JCrew and Ralph Lauren (and eventually giving way to truest prep strongholds like Brooks Brothers and JPress). Mad Men was a major factor in the primordial soup that nourished my developing tastes. Here was a show that almost singlehandedly pushed a generation of young men, including myself, into putting more effort into their appearance. It was no longer teh gay to acquire discerning tastes and appreciate quality clothing, and while you will still see grown ass men in cargo shorts and flip flops, you will have noticed by now the increasingly larger number of 20 and 30-somethings in shined wingtips and collar pins. This was also around the time when the first crop of “male interest” bloggers came online, intertwining with the refreshing writing and cool looking suits on this new hot drama series from AMC, all setting their frequency to Draper and listening to his internal character conflicts that are just as multifaceted as his awesome collection of seasonal fabrics- keenly pointed out by those same entertainment and fashion buffs alike. We love his approach to the holy grail of alphaness. Much like the network’s other point man and spiritual brother, audiences identified with Don’s cool tempo and quintessential fear-inducing stare as he navigated office politics and love triangles. But unlike Walter White, Don’s authority comes partly from his powerful physical appearance, exuding confidence similarly to Frank Underwood’s (that other show I like to point to) modern political interpretation of suits and ties and how they add an extra kick to our affair of anti-hero archetypes. Yes, I do have a man crush on Draper. Who doesn’t want to have that amazing talent of seamlessly delivering a sales pitch to the client?

He had me at…**stares into the oblivion reflecting on his thoughts with the backdrop of the night’s tranquil city skyline nursing an Old Fashioned while caressing your girl’s naked body lying together on an Eames Lounge**

Soon enough, brands like Banana Republic hitched on the show’s popularity amongst the young, educated, and professional viewer demographic, soon wavering in countless design groupthink as all fashion designers opened up their archives to bring back the once-forgotten. Heritage Americana brands like Brooks Brothers, Gant, and Gitman Brothers were relevant once again.

Just a few examples of Mad Men’s impact: Metallic tie bars, skinny ties, crisp white pocket squares, short hemmed pants, fedoras, Draper’s Fitzgeraldian two buttoned tailored suits, Roger Sterling’s three-piece power suits, the glitzy side part which somehow brought back the extreme Nazi-esque high and tight, bowties, clean dress shirts, and “TNSIL” minimalism. Think about that for a second. In 2007, Mad Men’s arrival catalyzed the return of an entire genre of dress and lifestyle: The Dappered Look. Men steered away from pre-distressed Lucky Jeans and bought Levis 501 STF or Made in ‘Murica raw denim instead, mirroring the only way jeans were purchased new decades before- stiff and meant to be worn in naturally. Instead of Rainbows: leather shoes, and even more, with those clickity clack cobblered soles instead of mundane rubber tread. It was okay to look polished once again. The explosion of trad from this sum of parts that we all hold dear now was largely ushered back into the spotlight through the show’s outreach in our generation’s return to high ideals. It’s not conformity. It’s embracing the authentic. “If we want to follow in our grandfather’s shadows, we must walk in his black captoe shoes”, as I like saying in one form or another. Mad Men is partly why we now have the fetishization of anything made domestically and numerous advice columns like The Art of Manliness. Why other tv shows inspired by the Drapermania came along shortly after with very-well dressed characters like White Collar and Suits (although Neal Caffrey’s fedora and ultra skinny ties and mini collars are overdoing it) and a new crop of period dramas, albeit many short-lived, like The Playboy Club, Pan Am, and perhaps even Downton Abbey. And maybe even why you happened upon my very own doorstep here at CollegeTrad. Today’s heated current events, perhaps even mirroring the atmosphere of the ’60s in itself, calls for stability and adherence to what we know as tried and true. Maybe the whole Americana fad is wading, but for guys like you and me, we’ll continue to mind our details and fitting just as Draper does. I can see myself in a grey two button, flat front slacks, and no-break hem for the rest of my life regardless of changing aesthetics. Because if there is one thing that 1962 taught us, is that a manicured, well-fitting outfit serves as your contemporary shining armor. Mad Men helped remind us of that.

Ms. Bryant’s styling choices follows Mr. Weiner’s chronological order in his series. She faithfully reproduces the trends of each season’s point in time in the 1960s, highlighting the Madison Ave. conservationism of the late ’50s and early ’60s in the earlier seasons, to the changeover to hippy fashions and vibrant colors nearing the arrival of the rowdy soultrain era of the 1970′s in the latter part of the story arch. I’ve always enjoyed Janie’s eye, who lends voice to the show’s deeper themes through use of fashion. Of particular interest to you and me, she gives insight behind Pete Campbell, the firm’s budding accounts man who is a yuppy 25 years old at the start of the first season:

“Pete? Oh he’s great. He’s always in different shades of blue—it could be like a sharkskin or the gabardines or even a dark blue Glen plaid. It’s always in varying shades of blue, which is about the youthfulness of that character and the young generation on Madison Avenue…but it’s not like navy. It’s like this teal, very 1960s blue. It’s almost like those teals that you see in the Sterling Cooper office design. It’s about that character being the younger generation. Not the hipster generation, so much, but the younger generation of businessmen.”

Which is why I like my shades of blue in my own closet and advocate navy as your starter shade. Let Draper be the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, while you are at the start of your career, and should paint yourself with the sky’s blue limits.

The show’s first episode of a two-part final season premieres tonight. As the years have gone by in Don’s life, we’ve seen clues to the sad decline in the impending future and clothing fashions. Oxford shoes gave way to platform shoes, which gave way to sneakers, which gave way to flip flops. Where there was an episode in the second season of Don noticing the newest crop of youthful business men no longer wearing a formal hat daily, as custom in decades past, and leading up to a scene of gesture and manners; we’ll now see the final nail in the coffin of all of that was remaining in the show’s last remnants of 1960s glamor. I like to think Mr. Draper continued in his old set ways in the coming years, even as suits worn in and out of the office eventually morphed to baggy polo shirts tucked into triple pleated khakis.

I realize that it is “just” a tv show, and that the actual ’60s may or may not have been as dramatically stylized in terms of awesome clothing. But when you see a scene of Henry Francis doing yard work with a manual push mower in the tradder than trad man’s workwear- old pairs of chinos and brogues, and Don never ever seen in jeans, or suits worn on airplanes and sport jackets to “casual” household dinners, you can’t help but romanticize the era and want to adhere to such commandments of what ought to be. I concede however that the show’s outfits are so extreme in formality on the trad spectrum that it isn’t practical for today’s custom. Still, makes you wonder how common place it really was back then; to wear fedoras without looking ironic, or a tie+coat to pick up a girl on a date and not have the chance of her thinking you’re trying too hard (even though back then, it was standard to look like you’re working for it!)

Not seen: exposed butt crack on a riding mower and can of warm Budweiser.

If you haven’t seen Mad Men, you can watch all past six season on Netflix (I assume you still have the rest of the paid month’s membership left over from your House of Cards marathon?) Soon, you will be as depressed as me to see the end of a great, great show. There is a reason it has transcended into elevated ethos, now even having a place in presidential addresses. Men’s fashion needed an invigorating resurgence from the missteps of the ’90s and early ’00s, and if it weren’t for Jon Hamm’s handsome face, who knows what GQ would be taking dress cues from.

And for you newcomers…be prepared to bask in the aura of your new role model. Maybe you’ll soon have a man crush on those chiseled cheek bones. I’ll be the first to admit it. But ending on a piece of advice: don’t smoke or cheat on your wife as much as he does.

Here’s to you, you Mad Man. *raises Old Fashioned*