Monday, March 18, 2013

Mod Gone Wrong: Mad Men? (You Decide!)

Hey, I'm as big a fan of Mad Men as the next guy, really. Sadly, my wife and I have fallen really on the show, leaving off somewhere mid-third season. But we are planning on catching up real soon, because it is an amazing show.

Sure, there's the great set design, the beautiful early '60s costuming, the solid writing, and, of course, all those great characters.  But, heck, I was sold by the first episode when they referenced the famous Volkswagen 'lemon' ad, which is generally credited for shifting the tone of advertising to a more 'hip' sensibility in the early '60s. (If interested in this subject, look up Thomas Frank's Conquest of Cool book... yes, I'm a nerd for this stuff.) Over 50 years later, advertisements have pushed the idea of 'hip' way past its breaking point.

And, what's hip these days? Yup, you guessed it: Mod! (To paraphrase my wife, "'Mod' is this season's black.") And what show is delving into the American 'Mod' era of the 1960s? Yup, you know it: Mad Men! So, it makes perfect sense to sell people a hip new line of clothing inspired by 'mod' as filtered through Mad Men.
Want a chance to live the "Mod life" in NYC? Here you go!
It really is weird, if you think about it, though. One of my first posts, way back in 2011, gave slight mention of the influence Mad Men was having on men's fashion. It wasn't the only influence, but it was a good one! Finally, suits were more fitted, lapels were slimmer, trousers were more narrow. No, Mad Men wasn't having a direct major influence on men's style, but it was contributing to a changing approach to a 'new' look for men. Words like 'retro,' European fit,' and 'slim fit' were tossed around to describe this look.

My guess is that, in time, people are just going to refer to this look as (the catch-all) 'mod.'  And you'll probably be able to thank Mad Men and Banana Republic for that. You see, the big news all around is that Banana Republic has released an official Mad Men-licensed 'mod' line of clothing! Yup, Mad Men is about to have a very direct influence on men's style.

People are going to be walking around in clothing inspired by the clothing worn on a television show inspired by the clothing worn by real people in the 1960s. Talk about 'life imitating art imitating life!'
Another Mod revival?
Now the weird thing is how the whole 'mod' thing plays into this. You know the basic history of the culture that developed with English youth in the 1960s and remained relatively 'underground' until the media exploitation of "Modsversusrockers." This, of course, led to a commercial bonanza with 'Swinging London,' the 'Swinging Sixties,' and a whole world gone 'MOD'!

Soon, 'mod' found its way to the United States, no longer really used as a noun to describe those English kids, but rather as an adjective used to describe pretty much anything new and 'hip.' And the the American youth ate it up! Feeding them all the 'mod' they wanted were companies mastering all those new hip techniques of advertising.
The Mod acne solution! Image from Belly Buzz.
Stuffy old adults just looked upon this as another teenage craze. In time, though, even those adults fell into the Mod pool. After a few years, their uptight clothing choices became more free, youthful and, yup, mod!
Modnick slacks & shirts for the older man.
(And remember, in the 1960s, 'older man' probably meant anyone older than 25!)
And this is where Mad Men comes in. Think about it. The characters on Mad Men aren't young (by 1960s standards). The 'mod' look they're about to be wearing in this new season is what people their age would have been wearing in the 1960s, a look that was no longer that cool with 'hip' American youth. If you were an American kid in the 1960s, would you have wanted your parents dressing like you?

Now, don't get me wrong... you all know I LOVE the Mod look! But let's be real here. Banana Republic is releasing a 'mod' line of clothing based on what un-hip adults would have been wearing in the United States in the late 1960s.
I know, Pete Campbell, right?
And, boy, is Banana Republic going for it! "Mad For Mod" is the tagline for the ad campaign. But mad for what kind of 'mod'? This type of 'mod'? 
Dean Martin, the guy who didn't "get" The Rolling Stones.
Hey, look, the clothing isn't bad, really. For new clothing, it's quite nice. You wouldn't expect anything less from Banana Republic, which has developed a well-earned reputation over the years. But when it comes to "Mad For Mod," I'm not sold. Other than a slim fit, the men's line doesn't do a whole lot for me. The women's line looks a bit nicer, of course, what with the geometric shapes and bright colors and all. But what all this does is make me wonder what this means for those of us already into this Mod thing. Are you going to walk around in Banana Republic Mad Men® (yes, all rights reserved) attire

My wife pointed out a key reason why she'd avoid the women's selections of this new 'mod' line: "Are you kidding? The minute you show up in one of those pieces, everyone will know. 'Hey, she's wearing a Mad Men dress!'" Heck, imagine showing up to a party in your new chic Mad Men-approved dress and finding one or two other women in the same exact dress? Quelle horreur!
Plus, for me, it'd be a little weird buying clothes based on a fashion designer's interpretation of 1960s styles found on a television show taking place in an era I've been interpreting on my own all this time. It'd be like rockabilly people buying a line of clothing based on Happy Days. Steampunk people buying a line of clothing based on Wild, Wild West. Or, I don't know, gothic people buying a line of clothing based on Twilight (don't know if this analogy makes sense, but I like it). 

But hey, always look on the bright side, right? When you're walking down the street you'll be hearing a lot less "Hey, it's a Beatle!" Instead, that'll be replaced with "Hey, it's a Mad Men!" And, you won't have to bother explaining what you're about to strangers anymore. "Oh, I know what a Mod is. Mad Men, right?

The flip side of that is that in a few years time, when mainstream fashion has moved away from the "Mad For Mod" look, you'll get to hear comments like, "Hey! 2013 called. It wants its Mad Men clothes back!"

But in the end, if I'm being honest with myself... yeah, I'll probably be looking for one of those Mad Men ties in the sales bins.
Besides, somehow we survived The Nanny going 'Mod' in the '90s. We'll survive this too.



  1. Not to mention that even after all these years I have someone say HEY! AUSTIN POWERS WHATS UP at least once a month or so. Not only will we survive, but continue to thrive!

    1. Luckily, I don't get Austin Powers anymore. I think my dress is a bit more mellow than it used to be these days. It was tough back around 10 years ago when I was more into scarves, cravats, and striped trousers!

  2. To alot of people, it'll be just a fad. A seasonal fashion. They'll tire of wearing fitted clothes & go back to the comfortable loose clothing. To paraphrase Brian Setzer - "I stopped wearing bowling shirts when I saw them in the windows at Macy's."

    1. Oh yeah, this thing cycles through every few years (more often, it seems, lately). Well, it cycles through for women. Men's fashion tends to stay baggier, wider, etc. Recent years, this has changed, but who knows for how long?

  3. One of the things I've always really enjoyed about Mad Men is the attention they give to what each individual character would be wearing. Pete, the modern man (by SCDP's standards) has always been a bit more fashionable than say, stodgy Harry Crane, who still mostly dresses like it's 1958. And of course, Roger's crazy modern office that was decorated by his young wife, Don's sunken living room penthouse apartment, all contrasting to Betty (who ONCE was modern and hip) now living in an old, dated mansion and the Campbells trading in their swanky apartment for a drab suburban tract house. I've always felt like the clothes and sets are a character themselves.

    1. There is such incredible attention to detail on this show and what's also great is that they know how to use clothing to reflect the changes going on in society at the time.

      When I was a kid, my uncle used to always complain to me about 'The Wonder Years'. He hated that everyone on that show looked 'hippie'-esque, because he remembered 90% of the people (both kids and adults) looking super square.

      Mad Men, on the other hand, gets it so right. Everyone's about to go 'mod' in this next season, but they're really a year or two behind the times. My favorite is Pete Campbell, who's young enough to know better, but is still too uptight to really know the score. I've lost track so maybe this isn't the case in recent seasons, but he should be the guy with his finger on the pulse. Instead, he's too busy trying to keep up with those older than him. In the ad world at this time, that won't be working too well for long.

      Man, I dig this show (despite what it sounds like above)!

  4. I am glad to posted this, as I was in the middle of writing a post which touched upon this issue, but you went into much more detail, and anyhow, it sounds better coming from somebody who actually is a mod.

    I could never understand why would people associate Mad Men with Mod. Just because a suit is bespoke/made-to-measure, it doesn't automatically make it Mod. Suits in Mad Men are completely different than those worn by British Mods in 1960's. Trousers have higher waists and are generally baggier, the jackets are usually looser around the arms. and lapels and button placement would make a true mod scream in horror. Don Draper - as cool as he is in his own right - is sporting more of a Cary Grant style - hardly a mod icon.

    And, as you pointed out, Most of the characters in Mad Men are from generation of Mods' parents and, to 1960's Mods, their style would have appeared hopelessly square. I hate to use a Mod cliche as an argument, but we all remember what Jimmy in Quadrophenia (who incidentally worked in advertising agency) thought of his boss...

    I don't know about America, but in Britain today, mainstream public is at least exposed to celebrities who do Mod style well - like Bradley Wiggins or Miles Kane for example - so, more enlighted members of the public are probably able to make some distinction between what is and what isn't Mod. A lot of course aren't, but hey, there's always gonna be the ignorant, right?

    Mad Men - good show (apart from awfully dull first season, but that's besides the point) but definitely not Mod.

    1. I'm hoping you do work up that post!

      I think the whole topic is interesting and it shows how watered down the term 'mod' became in the sixties and how that's continued to this day with mainstream fashion.

      Banana Republic is emphasizing the 'mod' aspect and people do swallow that, but by the late '60s, in the U.S., these styles were so embedded in mainstream culture, that the term 'mod' wasn't even really used. That term was reserved more for the 'Carnaby' swinging looks (polka dot shirts, striped flares, and pointed boots).

      I really like the Dean Martin/Rolling Stones clip, because it emphasizes the different attitudes between two generations. I think Dean Martin represents the Mad Men team and their tastes at the time. His dismissal of the Rolling Stones mirrors the dismissal most of those people had towards teen culture, which would influence their own clothing a couple of years later. Much like Don Draper's attitude toward the VW lemon ad, he's a step behind the changing times.

      Most people probably don't think about that so anything 'sixties' that doesn't involve peace signs, long hair, and tie-dye is 'mod' to them.

    2. It is perhaps ironic that in one of the episodes in 4th season , 'Satisfaction' is used as a background music while Don is strolling Madison Avenue. Everybody in the show seems to a bit behind the changing times, apart from maybe Peggy. A rather unfavorable portrayal of beatniks in Mad men is probably in tune with what mainstream America really thought of rising counterculture. I am quite curious to see how the year 1967 will be depicted in the show.

      As far that Banana Republic collection is concerned, I don't see what the big deal is. It may be a novelty in America, but I don't think it will have much of an impact in Britain, mostly because high street appropriation of Mod had been going on here at least since Britpop. Topshop/Topman had been selling clothes like these for at least a decade. Only last summer this awful high street chain called Peacocks did a collection for girls called 'Back To Carnaby' (or something like that) and the clothes looked exactly like the banana republic ones (I remember they even used similar pop-art-y background). Recently even Primark started doing button-down shirts. I could go on and on.

      Banana Republic simply recycled some Topshop/Topman's designs from mid-2000's and stuck words Mod and Mad Men on it, Yes, people will buy all this stuff, but I seriously doubt that anybody will think it makes them more 'Mod'. If the quality of clothes from BR is as bad as those from Topman(their stuff usually falls apart after 3 months) , soon the whole trend will be gone and forgotten. I don't think Mod legacy is threatened in any way here.

    3. Not sure how it's been in England, but in the U.S. for the past couple of decades, whenever 'the sixties' are addressed in entertainment, they always surround Vietnam and the hippie counterculture. It seems since Mad Men, that's changed, so 1967 will be interesting to see on that show. Previously, the majority of people were already wearing long hair and peace signs in 1967, according to our television shows.

      And I agree... I'm really not that worried about Banana Republic or any label that co-opts the 'mod' look. It's happened before and never really affects my own clothing choices or anything. In the U.S., though, it's a new thing, for the most part. When I was in London a year and a half ago, what struck me was how embedded Mod culture had become: there were ads for one of the department stores touting 'Go Mod!' let alone all the Fred Perrys and Ben Shermans being worn throughout the area.

      The difference is that with you guys, there's knowledge of that original Mod movement so, I'm guessing, a lot of the imagery uses that (in addition to Carnaby Street). In the U.S., anything op-art, Saarinen, or mini is considered 'mod' with no real knowledge of the original movement.

      But man, with Mad Men's success, I'm surprised no one's thought to do a drama (not a comedy) surrounding '60s Carnaby Street yet... now there's an idea!

  5. *You* posted this. Sorry, I type too fast.



  6. All good points in the article and in the following comments. The only thing I will add is that I've always interpreted "mod" men's style, no matter what incarnation (60s, Britpop, Topman etc), as being the indigenous, default style of England. Or at least London. It's quite common, for example, of seeing financial workers - hardly countercultural figures - walking around 2013 London wearing tightly tailored suits whereas you would never see that on Wall Street here in NYC. So it makes sense that as mod made it over the Atlantic it would adapt to more conservative, looser fitting gear that reflects the American man's choice of comfort over hard style. And frankly, I think a lot of the characters on Mad Men (and maybe modern Wall Street) might feel that tighter cut clothing might signify homosexuality. That's always the 500lbs elephant in the room in the US re: mod.

    1. I'm guilty of using 'mod' in different ways, which is why I confuse myself when I capitlize it or don't. Sometimes I use it in a broad sense, other times I use it specifically, depending on where I'm going with a thought.

      What we're seeing now, with this new Mad Men BR line, is 'mod' in a very general sense, with no real attachment to the English origin. It's pretty much referring to that later period when mainstream U.S. caught up to the trend.

      But you bring up an intereting point regarding London works as opposed to U.S. workers, in terms of wardrobe. Are London workers more at ease with tighter fits because of a different attitude toward their own sartorial history? The U.S. lacks that history and seems to hang on to a more 'macho' Western/cowboy personality (in general, mind you).

      Man, all this really has me excited about the new season of the show!