Taking A Page Out of My Grandmother's (and Mad Men's) Fashion Handbook

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I recently told a friend that I wish I could live in the world of the AMC television series "Mad Men," and she looked at me sideways as if to say, "Are you crazy?" So, just to be clear, I don't want the desperately sad, repressed, where-do-you-go-when-you-take-walks-by-yourself?, everybody's having an affair part of "Mad Men." No, no. I just want the clothes. Oh! The clothes!!

Okay, the clothes and the makeup. And the hair. And, sure, throw in the furniture while you're at it.

Mad Men ladies

The funny thing is, this show has given me real insight into my grandmother, who was the same age (and in a similar kind of life) as Betty Draper, the perfectly beautiful, but desperately sad and emotionally immature housewife of the series, during the time period in which "Mad Men" is set. And while most of the insight has been a sad but illuminating realization about environment in which the events of her life took place, "Mad Men" has also given me a context for her fashion sense. The meticulously color-coordinated outfits, down to the shoes and hat and purse. The bright lipstick from which she is never, ever without. Even the long, satiny nightgowns she wears, complete with matching kimono for the chill morning air. Even a half century later, a lot of her wardrobe seems taken right out of the 1950s and 60s. And some of the time, it's because many of her signature pieces actually are her carefully saved favorites from that era.

Betty Draper

Which brings me, finally, to my point. I may not have always wanted to dress like my grandmother (I really do dislike wearing hats), but "Mad Men" has done what years of matching pumps, purses, pearls and pillbox hats could not adequately accomplish. My grandmother's wardrobe has won me over.

Betty and Don

I mean, seriously, look at those pictures! Who wouldn't want a little bit of that? (Aside: the gloves in her hand! Squeee!)

I recently bought a bright pink circa-1950s Lord & Taylor wool swing coat with elbow sleeves off ebay for a steal (seriously, it was about $20 with shipping) and I've been scouring ebay and etsy for similarly retro aquisitions. I've also been rediscovering the dresses in my closet. None of them look remotely like Betty's or Joan's (or my grandmother's) dresses, but for a girl who usually only wears a dress for Special Occasions, it's retro enough just to wear this around the house while chasing my kids.

"Mad Men" influence has been quoted up and down this year's fall runways and, who knows, maybe I'll soon be able to buy dresses with crinoline at H&M, but for now it's been nice to rediscover the meticulous, beautiful and, yes, prim fashions of my grandmother's era. Now when I see pictures of her sitting with her legs crossed demurely at the ankle, her husband's hand resting protectively on her shoulder, her five children arranged neatly around her, I can imagine a little better what her life was like at the time. And I can also appreciate her amazing clothes.


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