(WARNING – CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS) Let’s be brief. Mad Men‘s final episode may have stolen the headlines, but this is all about a different fashion moment in the final run. In the penultimate episode “The Milk and Honey Route”, Don is on the road (Jack Kerouac, Beat style – except with tons of cash). He’s out of his slim/straight cut flannel and wool suits, white shirts and stripy ties. Off-duty Don Draper has always intrigued me. He tends to wear white t-shirts (which he always wore under his shirt anyway, as per the fashion of the time), polo shirts and chinos/smart separates. He might wear a plaid blazer on top. His style is the epitome of smart-casual.
One thing that I love about Janie Bryant’s Costume Design in Mad Men is how Don (and other characters’) “eye” and sensibilities are shown in their clothing. Don’s a working/under-class man living the upper-middle class American dream. He classically wears the suit-and-tie as well as smart-casual armour of a man from this adopted background, easily blending in with others of his self-made social stature. The other thing is that he does it very well – he wears flattering clothing, in either neutral colours like navy, grey and off-white. So why is this jacket remarkable? Well it’s a big diversion from his smart-casual uniform. It fits perfectly with his other clothes, but dresses them down. He looks like an old-school hero. Then, there’s the colour. A navy bomber jacket is hardly a difficult item to source – but this is a brighter colour than any of the navy he usually wears, when in the form of a polo or a suit. It’s a subtle shift in his personal style, perhaps, but for someone who watches Mad Men avidly, I can’t imagine a more disarming item for him to be wearing. Well, maybe apart from the workwear denim in the finale.
As soon as it appeared on screen, and off the top of my head it was in the very first scene, I was blown away. It’s expertly cut and really lifts the pale/neutral clothes underneath. It’s the kind of item that can be described as a “Hero Piece” – it fits nearly any occasion, and lifts the danger of blandness from any neutral outfit through the power of contrast. It’s also very practical. As you can see in the featured image above, Don is driving in his Cadillac in the varying conditions of the US. He needs to be wearing something that works well when the windows are down, can be fastened and unfastened quickly. That’s the genius of the bomber design. It also pairs brilliantly with his Randolph Engineering aviator sunglasses: men’s clothes frequently come from a military background, after-all. But it was in this period – that of James Dean, Steve McQueen – that such clothes became the signs of masculine, off-duty cool that they are today.
One thing that is neglected in guides and reviews like this is the emotional side of dressing. As Tom & Lorenzo have pointed out countless times in their superlative ‘Mad Style’ series, Bryant’s costume design plays a sophisticated role in materialising the relationships and emotions of the characters. There’s no doubt in my mind that one of the advantages behind wearing a jacket like this one is its casual cool – the feeling of confidence that it can bring to wear a “timeless” “masculine” piece that refers to icons like McQueen, Dean and (now) Draper from that crucial mid-century, post-war period. In my reading, this bomber represents several things that I think are useful for us to think about when looking at and wearing a piece like this:
1) Its signposting of a casual, handsome masculine identity.
2) The lack of “pretence” – unlike wearing something dandyish.
3) The colour signifies a confidence but an adherence to a “safe” (but still very chic and stylish, in a subtle way) way of dressing. Like I say, Draper’s “eye”, his own sensibility, is an important part of his character. He is a “Creative” after-all, even one who is now part-management. I think the “timeless” wing* of the “#menswear generation”, which is contemporaneous with Mad Men’s airing and production, can be read along similar lines. You want to show off and look your best, but maybe do it in a subtle way that is more obvious to those with your sensibility. It’s important that Don isn’t dressed here in a totally fashion forward outfit, like Kurt and Smitty from Season 2, or Michael Ginsberg. But there’s no doubt that it was a thoughtful choice by Don Draper/Dick Whitman.
*as opposed to the dandy type
Ok, you’ve convinced me, where the hell do I get one?
Well, we’re in luck. We don’t need to be on the set of Mad Men to wear an outfit of this kind – and Topman, who excel at these kind of essentials at a genuinely reasonable price, have a perfect bomber jacket that is nearly identical. The day after seeing “The Milk and Honey Route” (Sky Atlantic/AMC), I happened to be going shopping in town with my partner. I wasn’t going to buy anything, but I happened upon said jacket. It was like a dream come true. I got it for a snip at £36 (RRP £40, NUS discount applied) and now it is one of my favourite items. I’ve worn it to the beach, into town, driven hundreds of miles in it. It’s perfect for the transition to warmer weather. Its snap-buttoned breast pocket is very useful for a comb (to maintain that side-parted hair), some keys and maybe a phone or shades. It has pockets at the hips which are also good for incidental items. Why?: It’s a very wearable, versatile piece that would suit virtually any man’s style. It’s on the brighter, blue side of navy just like Don’s, which gives it a lot of interest. Where?: Topman.com, see photo below with link embedded. How much?: £40. This represents very good value, for me. Sizing?: Size up one. Topman are known for their slim clothes, but I’d say this is sized perfectly when you go up a size. I “sized up” with this one, and I recommend you do the same. I am typically a 36/XS, but the size S maintains a vintage-fit that mirrors that of Don’s. That way it’s not uncomfortable in any way when zipped up. The elastication on the waist keeps it fitted in the right place for it not to look silly.
Levi’s Vintage Clothing – 1950s shorthorn shirt. £149 endclothing.co.uk