FashionSpite: Mad Men or whatever

So, you know, I lost some weight a while back, and then I started dressing better, and then I started dressing a lot better once Cat introduced me to hats and I realized I couldn’t go around wearing a hat without clothes to match. This has been established. I quickly found myself annoyed by people’s frequent smirking comparisons to Mad Men — all the Hey, you’re wearing a tie, jacket, and hat, you must wanna be Don Draper! remarks, when I had never watched the show and had no idea who Don Draper was.

Now that I have watched the show, I’m even more annoyed. Mad Men is incredibly good, and the characters in the show dress incredibly well. But geez, the idea that simply donning pieces of clothing from a few broad categories of apparel creates an instant similarity is kind of… well, I guess “dumb” is the word I’m looking for. Never mind that I have very different and very personal reasons for dressing up. It’s like saying “Hey, you’re wearing a hat and a scarf, you must want to be Doctor Who!” (Sadly, on cold days, I hear that particular gem a lot, too, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure I have never looked like a Welshman cosplaying as a scarecrow.) The most prevalent men’s apparel in Mad Men are suits, often three-piece suits, with classic broad-brim fedoras. I certainly wouldn’t mind dressing like that, but I could never even begin to afford the quality of goods you see on the series.

Nah, I just wear slacks, occasionally paired with jackets — never matched jackets, though, only separates. Many of the jackets I wear are cotton and can’t be paired with ties. I never wear broad-brimmed fedoras, because any man who wears a fedora in this day and age runs the risk of looking like he thinks he’s Indiana Jones. I never wear plain white shirts except on formal occasions, like getting married or something. You know how people who don’t understand video games assume something like Mass Effect is basically just Super Mario Bros.? Conflating the wardrobe I’ve accumulated with Mad Men‘s style is essentially the same mistake in reverse.

The funny thing is that before I started watching the show, I bought a hat called the “Mrs. Draper” — a weird name, not only because it’s a men’s hat, but also because it doesn’t look the least bit like anything I’ve ever seen in the show:

(It’s a short-brimmed high-crown trilby with a velvety brown poly/cotton exterior and a orange-and-white paisley wraparound interior and matching band. You can bet your sweet bippy I didn’t wear that one while I was in Texas last month.)

One thing I really love about Mad Men is that even though all the men wear generally similar outfits — suits — the specifics of their respective wardrobes reflect their personality perfectly. Don Draper is always super sharp, put-together, and modern — except in flashbacks, where he’s often seen in incredibly tacky suits with metal-flecked thread and cheap shirts. Roger Sterling sports a more traditional look, donning a vest or waistcoat beneath his jacket. Bert Cooper is an eccentric and tends to dress down despite ostensibly dressing well; he’s one of the few you see in separates and even without a jacket or vest. Salvatore Romano’s closeted sexual orientation is subtly hinted at in his preference for colorful accents and the European mode of his apparel (giving him a unique style until the British characters show up). Pete Campbell has the preppy look of old money with a touch of tackiness to reflect his overconfidence (or overcompensating for a lack of confidence). I’ve discovered over the past few years just how many shades of variety there can be in nice, seemingly uniform styles of dress — I’d say “belatedly,” but I guess it’s not something that we bumblers in the middle class really know about these days, so we’re all outsiders.

If it seems strange that I’m writing about this, because it seems nitpicky and pointless and completely beside the point of this site, I apologize. But you know, my secret goal is to quietly tempt everyone who reads this site to slowly gravitate away from the modern American uniform of T-shirts to… well, to whatever you want. Make your own style! It’s OK for nerds to dress well. And if you want to do that, you gotta transcend simplifications and generalizations.

P.S.: Disco!

22 thoughts on “FashionSpite: Mad Men or whatever

  1. Always wanted to wear a hat like that. And I think I could pull it off, too, but it’s just as you said – you don’t wear that kinda thing in Texas. No, it wouldn’t be all bad, but I would certainly feel a little bit uncomfortable. But I’ve definitely convinced to give it a try when I get outta here later this year, as I plan to move to Japan. Then I can be the mysterious gaijin in a hat and vest. This is my dream.

      • I’m from Fort Worth, though at the moment I’m at school in Alberta. Which is basically the same thing, except with snow.

        And no way will I be mistaken for one of the Mad Men wannabe hipsters around the campus.

        I guess weather is another issue – it’s too snowy/muddy in Canada for nice clothes, and too hot in Texas for them. It’s funny how quickly fashion goes out the window when you gotta walk through a foot of snow and -20. If not, then you’re looking like the girl who wears high heels and mini skirt in a foot of snow and -20.

        You’re right about finding a style, though. Jeans and button-downs are my calling card, I guess. Never wear t-shirts, except to sleep in.

    • Near as I can tell, it’s a fake Welsh news site with stories about Welsh people doing things they didn’t actually do. Wikipedia says Geraint Talfan Davies is the chairman of some Welsh think-tank.

      What really confused me was that the “personal reasons” link also went to the Doctor Who page, but then I thought about it and realized Jeremy probably meant to link to when he wrote about his grandfather.

  2. I really like shorts and T-shirts. They’re comfortable, they’re easy, they’re economical, and they bring out the inner-jerk in other people when I wear them in formal situations. I like your attire, especially because I know why you’ve chosen it, but T-shirts are a choice rather than a default for me.

    In conclusion, I like shorts! They’re comfy and easy to wear!

    • That’s cool. All I ask is that you make that style your own somehow. Like… I dunno, wear a bandanna around your leg like an E Street Band escapee or something.

  3. Dressing well stands out because no one does it–that’s all. When I started wearing dress shirts and slacks to work, I had people asking if I had an interview or funeral somewhere else. The thing is, I’d just gotten sick of trying to get “normal” clothes for my 6’5″ thin frame. It’s actually easier and cheaper to buy dress clothes and get them tailored.

    Though, there is a hat-wearing man in my office at whom I will admit to raising my eyebrow. But I think that’s due to the vestigial part of my brain that thinks wearing a hat indoors is improper for all but ladies and certain clergymen.

  4. Iconoclast that you are, you could too have worn the hat in Texas while there. You certainly bucked the norm in high school with your hair.

    You are not old enough to use the term you bet your sweet bippy. I’m NOT old enough for that one and I watched Laugh-In back when it first aired. Geesh.

  5. I would imagine that the Mad Men comments are pretty irritating, but you’ve got to understand that the show’s popularity *has* caused an insufferable tidal wave of people with no style whatsoever dressing up like they’re hot stuff and ordering Old Fashioneds because they think they’re Don Draper. Unfortunately, you have been lumped in with them, despite your aforementioned legit-ness. No excuse, obviously, just an explanation.

    P.S.: Your mom is cool.

    • That article is fantastic. My “legit-ness” is certainly up for debate, but I definitely am not trying to be… that.

      And yeah, my mother is pretty rad.

  6. And we’re back to pestering you about Breaking Bad, if not for being the best show on television in years, then for the fashion choice of an evil porkpie. At least I think it’s a porkpie…

  7. I have had one of those hats for a few years now. I dont feel I can pull it off very well though. I have a tall thin head and long hair; maybe I just dont know how to dress myself but I feel I dont pull it off quite right.

    • Actually, long thin faces work well with this style of hat (I wouldn’t bother trying to wear them if my own face weren’t that shape — a wider face would make me look like a bookie or gangster or something). Unfortunately, long hair doesn’t work with them. There’s a reason men’s hats went out of fashion around the time men started wearing their hair longer. But long hair is its own statement; it doesn’t need anything else to be distinct.

  8. After reading this post, I will gravitate toward asking you what were your first steps in defining a better wardrobe? I use a suit and tie from Monday to Friday (when required), and on Saturday and Sunday its free choice. My free choice wardrobe consists mainly of T shirts, jeans and tennis. I´ve faced my demons and noticed I have very formal wears or my T shirt uniforms as you well pointed out.

    • I started by buying clothes that fit better, then gradually added more formal pieces over the course of a couple of years — dressing up my jeans with better shoes, adding nicer jackets, wearing button-down shirts in place of tees, replacing jeans with slacks, then adding hats, then ties, and finally narrowing it all down to the items that looked best together and on me.

  9. Mad Men is phenomenal. Trying to dress like Don Draper brings to mind those “what you think you look like, what you actually look like” memes, though. Draper looks good in anything, from the most luxurious suit to a T-shirt.

    Hell, I would settle for shopping at the same place he gets his white T-Shirts. Mine look all sloppy. Probably costs more than my suit.

    Also, I like how they drink booze and smoke like it’s going out of style. I swear, that show is like Atlus Shrugged come to life.

  10. Since leaving grad school and getting a real job, my personal style has become nice shoes, jeans and a good dress shirt. It’s not exactly “dressing up,” but among software research folk who aren’t managers, it’s on the put-together side.

    Also, if anyone wants to see well-dressed men in modern styles, pay attention to Alec Baldwin and Will Arnett on 30 Rock.

  11. Glad to hear you’ve gotten into Mad Men. For a series that has no “action,” the sense of momentum it maintains is tremendous. Every moment, every exchange of words is building towards “something.” I don’t what that ominous “something” is, perhaps it’s not a singular event. Either way, it’s on the horizon and it’s not good.

    The show is also commendable for it’s ability to develop such morally questionable characters that people still care about and, in some cases, even sympathize with. That’s a difficult feat to accomplish in any medium, but it’s refreshing when pulled off.

    You’re right about the costume direction, it speaks volumes about the characters themselves. I’m eagerly anticipating the next season.

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