Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Watching 'Mad Men' with Mom

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Watching 'Mad Men' with Mom

Article excerpt

To a woman who came of age in the early 60s, the stylish nostalgia of "Mad Men" isn't glamorous; it's painful.

My mom didn't watch "Mad Men." Despite the insistence of television critics, her bohemian friends, my siblings and myself, she held out. "Your father and I watched the first episode," she said. "It was slow." She shrugged. I shrugged it off, too -- until we went shopping together at Banana Republic.

I had taken her there to drop a hint about what I wanted for my birthday, happily trying on dresses from the "Mad Men" collection, frocks in bright floral prints with skirts as wide as bells or as tight as snakeskin. I twirled.

"I don't get why you'd want to wear that," she said.

I was expecting a compliment. I looked down at my little black re- creation of a favorite Joan Holloway dress. It had a wiggle skirt and a delicate lace top. I loved it. "Doesn't this look good, Mom? It's so womanly! It's actually cut for my figure."

She was silent. Then she blurted: "Why would you want to go through that again? I really like wearing pants."

Her reaction to the clothes seemed an extension of her reaction to "Mad Men." Why didn't she like the show? I asked.

"I found it painful," she said. All the sexism depicted on- screen was an ugly reflection of the times she lived through.

To my mother, who had come of age in the early 60s, these dresses weren't glamorous. They were constricting. At Boston College, she had to wear dresses that flared out at the waist, scratchy nylon stockings held up by a garter belt cinched around the hips. The clothes were flimsy and chilly in winter, starchy and uncomfortable in summer. My mom was too skinny to require the armaments of lingerie that made the clothes look right -- but her mother started every day by lying down on the bed to lace herself into her girdle.

"Mad Men" made my mother remember life in her 20s -- too clearly. When the show focused on Don Draper's wife, Betty, a repressed housewife in suburbia, my mom visibly cringed. "During Betty's scenes," she told me, "I feel this pain, right in my gut." She took a breath and explained that she loved her life and her marriage now, but when she watched Betty say she just wants to serve Don, it took her back to when she and my father were just married. …

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