Fluffers At Home- Betty Draper

I’m curious how styles from the late 50’s (especially casual wear) moves and breathes and lives, so I’m re-watching season 2 of Mad Men.  It’s “research.”  I couldn’t tell you much about the plot of this episode because I was watching the clothes, taking notes and the occasional screen shot.

The work of a detail oriented costumer/wardrober (who does their homework) always leaps off the screen at me.  In the case of Mad Men, watching the clothes is a special treat because I like to wear many of these styles.

I LOVED this dress from the first time I saw it.  It’s not flashy, it’s not a gorgeous cocktail dress or the wiggly secretary outfits this show is known for.  This is a simple shirt-dress for at-home wear.  I’m a sucker for plaids.  I love the bias placket on Betty’s dress and used that design feature last year on the Mirabilis Top:

It’s a nifty little method of avoiding matching plaids at the CF of a button-down shirt.  Even if you cut with 110% accuracy, chances are the placket will slip around either during the sewing or the wearing.  A bias placket is attractive and forgoes the entire matching issue, I’m a fan.

In a modern context, this type of dress might be too “dressed up” for coffee at home.  What do you think?  I know dressing well was pretty standard at the time- but isn’t Betty a little bit of a “doll” of a lady?  She always seems slightly more dressed up than her friends, and a little bit conscious of it.

As Betty and her BFF gossiped maliciously about Betty’s old roommate-cum-callgirl, she stood up to fold laundry. (I tried not to listen.  Most of the time, the characters on Mad Men do not impress me very much.)  Fold laundry.  She’s wearing pearls, a fluffer and a girdle, and she’s folding clothes.  Yes, it’s all worn with a sensible shirtdress, but still!

I mean, I do understand the fluffy skirt.   Sometimes I wake up and it’s a fluffy skirt day, regardless of whether I’m going out or not.  When I do wear one around the house, I don’t find it actually gets in the way.  You’d think it would, but it doesn’t.  Kind of how full skirts are actually pretty comfortable and practical.

Do you ever wear petticoats at home?  I like it, but then again I like petticoats in general.  It might also be fun for someone who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them outside the house.

This is the pattern I found that came closest to matching to Betty’s dress.  It doesn’t have a separate placket; in fact I couldn’t find any full skirted shirt dress patterns with a separate placket- how odd.  I would use a firmly woven but soft cotton (for summer) or wool (for winter) to make this dress.

I want to make this a regular feature- picking apart a Mad Men outfit on a Saturday night- until the new season starts in March.  Do you have a favorite dress or outfit from the show?  Which one?


60 comments

  1. It’s been a while since I watched it (it’s definitely time for a rewatch), but I can half-remember a purple dress with either red or orange box pleats (I think) that Peggy has worn a couple of times. I love the bold colours and the shape.

    Have you read Tom and Lorenzo’s episode by episode study of the Mad Men costumes? It’s fascinating stuff. http://www.tomandlorenzo.com/category/television/mad-men

  2. I like the Peggy dress Daisy describes too. Peggy also wears a lovely, black and white gingham dress (can’t remember which season). It’s fitted with a curved collar and buttons going up one side – totally gorgeous. x

  3. Oh Betty- she always has such a put together look even while everything around her is going cray-cray. I do love this frock and especially the bias placket. Plaid matching is vexing!

    I know this one is going to come up A LOT but my favourite Mad Men ensemble is Joan Holloway’s purple and fuchsia number from the first episode. I adore it and have looked around for a pattern to reproduce something similar but alas I have not discovered it.

    So much great costuming…

    • I might go look at the first episode to see what I’d suggest… Her clothes are often quite simple, it’s the impeccable fitting and the body underneath that makes them.

  4. I’m sorry, but the title of this post made me laugh so much. I’m not sure if you are aware of the current definition of a “fluffer” but it has nothing to do with clothes :)

    • Hehehehehe. Yes. But before I first started wearing them, I remember reading a post where the author called them “fluffers” and loving the term.

      But yes… I do know there’s a certain professional service that uses the same name. ;)

  5. How….do you not listen? It’s such a well made show, so smart and well crafted and painfully realistic! Well, to each their own, but I can’t imagine just watching for the costumes. That said, they are excellent, and most of them are original vintage pieces, which is cool. Joan gets the most vibrant stuff but I honestly think Trudy gets the most fashion forward ensembles.

    strugglesewsastraightseam.wordpress.com

    • I think it’s not terribly realistic. Sure, it’s gritty and cruel but there’s so little of the other side of life. Even the darkest lives have lightness. Mostly this show is an unrelenting downer with little relief. And the characters are perfectly nasty to each other, almost without exception. I find that difficult to engage with.

      I agree that the writing is pretty good most of the time, if it weren’t I couldn’t watch it. I just don’t think it’s necessary to draw such universally hopeless characters.

      There’s a line from Midnight in Paris where Gertrude Stein’s character is critiquing the main character’s writing. It could be Woody Allen talking to a generation of writers in the 21st century: “Don’t be such a defeatist. The role of the artist is to find an antidote to the emptiness of existence.” I guess I fall into that camp. :)

  6. I don’t watch the show but I’m thinking it wasn’t that uncommon for ladies to wear pearls and fold laundry. I remember watching Leave it to Beaver re runs and thinking how odd it was to see the mother in pearls and heels sweeping and pulling a roast out of the oven.

    I vaguely remember reading advice to new brides from that era too. It told the ladies to get the kids cleaned up and in their room, make sure dinner was ready and to throw on some pearls and lipstick before the husband came home. She was to greet him at the door with a smile and a stiff drink. Then she was to take his shoes off for him and let him relax before she set the kids on him and start harranging him about her day. When a woman’s value was placed so heavily on the shoulders of how her man and all his friends thought of her I can see pretty dresses and pearls being common place.

    • You know, the spirit of that kind of advice is perhaps lovely and well-intentioned, but it seems rather degrading now doesn’t it?

  7. I love the idea of a bias plaid placket. I love petticoats too! I do wear them about the house unless I’m sewing and cutting out fabric. All that poof makes me nervous that I’ll accidentally cut the wrong fabric.

    And now I’m in the mood for some poof! :)

  8. I finally made a skirt long enough to wear my edwardian petticoat under…. so OF COURSE I wear it. It’s a little dressy for cleaning the house (and a little long) but…uh… I did wear it to (very casual) ladies Bible Study last night. Because I really wanted to wear it.

    I love love love love loveeeeeeeeee foofy pretty delicate underthings and long long skirts.

    Call me a “doll of a housewife” if you will (I’d be thrilled if you did!) but it’s so much fun to dress in things that make you feel preposterously pretty.

    • Oooh very cool. I’ve always thought eventually I’d end up wearing clothes made from some farther distant era… The 40’s and 50’s are all well and fine, it’s shocking how many of the styles just “fit in”….

      I think so too- very fun to dress in pretty clothes. :)

  9. I made an ice-cream colours plaid skirt with quite a bit of volume, I didn’t think it suited me at first, and tried to palm it off (I mean generously give it away) but no-one seemed to want it. However I had a moment of inspiration when ironing, and thought it will go great with a pink cardi, so another outfit sorted. I haven’t got around to making the petticoat yet, but it will too will be quite full I should think. You should see me cleaning the cooker with pearls and a pencil skirt on, haha, and I’ve never actually seen any Mad Men episodes. X

    • :) Sounds like a winner. Do you REALLY wear pearls around the house? (I’m insanely curious)

      Unrelated topic to a fellow Miss Lemon fan- My husband’s Siri on his phone reminds me so much of her! Polite, crisp, efficient with a little bit of sarcasm…

      • Yes I really do! Little pearl stud earrings and 95% of the time, one of my collection of pearl necklaces. I say pearls but they’re probably glass/plastic. Love the sound of the phone voice! X

  10. If I’m wearing a full skirt, I wear a fluffer. I just don’t think they look right without. That being said, I don’t wear them all that often. I have two, medium and large, and while I love the look of large, I do find it a bit of a pain—I sweep things off shelves and tables as I pass, and it takes up a lot of room in the car or on the train. Mostly I wear the medium one, which gives just a bit of extra oomph.

    I think going against the conventions and norms is hard at any time. If the convention is girdle and fluffers for housework—it’s hard not to wear that. When the convention changes (my mom talks about her mother’s struggle over choosing to give up the girdle in the late 60s) it’s hard not to change with it. Some of us are better at flouting convention, but some of us have more “room” to do that, too.

    • Yes, sometimes I knock things over, but usually not at home.

      What do you mean by “room”? I think for me, moving to Australia really helped me learn to express my own style, “flout the conventions” so to speak. Is that what you mean by “room”?

      • Your house might not be as much of a tripping hazard as mine ;) (Of course, if I wore fluffy skirts around the house all the time, I might have my house skirt-proofed, as it was once babyproofed.)

        It’s a combination of things—your internal strength, how important the issue is to you, vs. how much you’ll suffer for non-conforming. Issues like this make me think of my grandma, who is a quirky, well-read, eccentric lady—but who has lived all her life in a small town where she has to be very, very careful about what she does, says, and wears around anyone outside the immediate family. Because the cost, in that situation, of being a nonconformist is very high. Whereas here in the big (albeit redneck) city, I can wear pretty much what I like, and the people who think I’m daft will have very little impact on my life. If I knew that I had to spend the next fifty years around the same group of people, I would be a lot more concerned about fitting in. Another example—in my extremely small, oppressive elementary school class, I made all my fashion decisions based on what wouldn’t attract notice. Wearing the wrong socks or having the cuffs on your jeans too wide could make for a miserable day or week. Once I got to high school, at a much larger school with different kids in different classes, I could wear whatever I liked, make friends with the kids who liked the same, and avoid or ignore the ones who didn’t.

        So yeah, I think for you maybe moving to Australia gave you “more room”—whether because you were in a different social situation, or place in life, or just in a different city. :)

  11. I really enjoyed this post and look forward to regular Mad Men inspired posts. I am a big fan of the show – of the wardrobes as well as the script writing. Watching the show always makes me want to put more effort into my clothes and makeup etc. I like the look of the impeccable grooming and the care that the ladies on the show take with their presentation. But I also like that, in 2012, I can choose to dress up like that or I can dag around the house folding my laundry sans pearls.

  12. I’m a fan of Mad Men for the costuming (also one of the main reasons I enjoy Downton Abbey) but also because this is the time period when my dad was entering the work force as a salesman. It is interesting – if uncomfortable at times – to realize just how much has changed in the workplace.
    I truly enjoyed Tom and Lorenzo’s costume analysis, so here’s another hearty recommendation to read through those posts.

    • Yes… There’s definitely some confronting scenes re:workplace relations… I see at as “yes, that’s what it was like, but we’ve moved on at least in theory….”

  13. Oh man, I started watching seasons of Mad Men on Netflix in the fall and was quickly caught up. I started taking screen shots of the drool-worthy clothes, because there were so many. There’s a white dress with multi-colored polka dots that Betty wears at home for an important dinner. Peggy wears a lot of super cute jumper dresses. Betty has a pretty pink floral dress with spaghetti straps and a lower back that I love. There’s also a white with blue flowers sleeveless shirt dress she wears with a collar and pleats on either side of the chest that is so pretty. Ok, I’m done. If you want to start a Pinterest board, though, I’m prepared.

  14. Historical note. I was born in 1946. I well remember my mother’s clothes from the 1950s. She put on powder and lipstick as soon as she’d washed, first thing in the morning before she made breakfast. She wore medium high heels to do house work, flats for gardening only. She often wore earrings, and sometimes necklaces. Her summer dresses had fitted tops, slightly less-full skirts than your pattern, often circular, or full-gored. And remember that underpinning all this was a long-line bra and a sturdy high-rise girdle. Firmly encased!
    And this was a farmer’s wife, living way out in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand.

  15. Saw today a design that reminded me of Betty’s dress had to share it had a slightly gathered aline skirt with a mullet hem line, betty’s original front bodice and collar but no sleeves like a halter neck. joining from the CB of the collar to the back 2 wide straps (upside down V)

  16. I’m actually not into vintage as an aesthetic for myself, but I do admire the craftsmanship that goes into the clothing of those eras. The bias placket is going to save many hairs on my head from now on. I can’t get into Madmen (wonderfully written but just doesn’t resonate with me.) I would never look pretty for house work. If I did, I’m sure the annoyed expression on my face would kill any illusion anyway. I do however find I must spruce up to actually sew a garment when I have to try it on for fittings. I have a difficult time evaluating how a final garment will really look on me if I’m looking like a schlub. Lipgloss, a pair of heels, and some manageable hair can totally change the look of a garment.

    • You are so right about that- I can’t tell you how many times I put something on, grimaced at myself and thought “Well this is a loser garment…” Then I comb my hair, put on shoes, sometimes a little makeup and viola- it’s a completely new skirt/dress/blouse/whatever. ;)

  17. My own dear little mother wore girdles under her shirt-waist dresses in the early 1960s: she weighed about 90 pounds then. My father could encircle her waist with his hands, yet she felt compelled to drag on that wretched undergarment every day. Convention in a small community DOES put pressure on you to conform, yessiree it does.

    • Wow.

      I always wonder what it would have been like to grow up and dwell in the same small community my whole life… Would I be more “centered” and feel like I belong, or would I be stifled?

  18. Interesting post about women’s dress habits… one of my graduate school roommates in 1971 was working on an MA in home economics, and felt quite challenged by requirements to care for the whole house, kids, and prepare a company dinner while dressed in heels, nice dress, and manicured hands. It sounded like a performance standard, the ideal for how grown women managed their home responsibilities. My own mother was hard working and practical–cotton dresses, attractive low heeled sandals and Keds, with a philosophy that the most important people to be attractive for are the people at home. It speaks to our habits of consideration. I like to think that the best fashion is comfortable AND attractive, and a little effort in the grooming department is good for my own morale. I don’t miss girdles (my mother insisted I pack one to take to college in 1966), but I do miss the sociable consideration that putting your better face forward is good for your social life. When the students in my classes (college level) come to class in ratty sweat pants, unwashed tees and uncombed hair, they look mentally ill, which I am pretty sure they are not. I am a little grossed out by the unshaved men in nylon running shorts, too. I hope our society is moving toward a little more consideration of others, and enjoyment of clothes appropriate for particular activities. When I begin a day of cleaning or home activities, I dress the same as when I teach, as it boosts my own morale and I am presentable for unexpected visitors. An exception is for really grubby cleaning, when old clothes are the best option, but I try to look decent and put together. Sorry for the rambling; self respect is a challenging subject!

    Several posters have mentioned how put down fifties women were; but I have also heard women observe that the fifties women had gotten benefits and support that made their lives easier, more pleasant, and in many ways, more fun. They focused on their homes and children and husbands, got enough sleep (on average), and generally enjoyed community support for being good mothers and citizens. Many had time to volunteer, recover from pregnancy, and enjoy clubs and friendships, games and sports. I am not advocating turning back the clock, but I just want to point out that it wasn’t all bad just because girdles were not particularly comfortable. My mother worked her way through college and for a number of years before marrying my father, who was glad to support her. She often expressed joy in her “promotion,” the freedom to arrange her own time and feel less pressure to do multiple tasks. She contributed with time and hard work to a number of worthwhile community projects, and participated with gusto in a rich social life. Few of us now can afford such a life.

    • Wow– I don’t know how I missed this response but wow. Thanks for that… Plenty to chew on and I agree with you mostly….

      I look at dress as an expression of self-respect, and respect for the “public sphere.” It actually angers me to see people in public who are half dressed, with fountains of body hair sprouting from their clothes, underwear hanging out or visible through thin fabric, etc. I even see people going barefoot… Really. In shopping malls and grocery stores, even on the bus. I see that and I think “Now there’s a person completely lacking in self-respect or respect for my eyes..” My husband is from here and thinks I’m ridiculously uptight, but there you go…

      I also see your point about staying at home, and I have to agree with you. I wish our society placed more value on the role of a “home maker” without assigning a specific gender role… Some women are genuinely more suited to making the money, and some men are fantastic house husbands…

      But no- it seems that for now we’re all compelled to make choices about the shape of our family life based on money alone. It’s hard. I prefer working from/at home to working outside the home. It makes a big difference to our quality of life as a family.

  19. I am not really a skirt person wearing jeans or shorts for daily stuff and my fave denim. I am going to get into skirts more because I find myself in a bit of a wardrobe rut presently tending towards frumpy which I don’t want. So, perhaps I should get the pearls out (need a safety catch) from my grand mama? Now, skirts …..

    Love the idea of dressing for dinner and sometimes I do tidy up after the rush of school pick-up or housework binges.

    I remember being at school and never having the gear the other kids had so I always stood out. Now that I’m a little crinkly around the edges I don’t want to be just like everyone else, though I’m not sure how that is going to come into play! Oh, sewing machine shall we have a talk?

    • I love the way my mom dresses. She takes her time most mornings, lingering over her tea and newspapers in her dressing gown, hair tumbling down… Then she disappears into her room for a while and emerges with her hair pinned up, freshly showered, light and tasteful makeup and a simple but nice quality outfit with a few well-chosen pieces of jewelry.

      Dressed like that, she’s literally ready for anything. I have seen her perform an incredible range of activities dressed that way: from shopping for antiques and lunch out at a fancy cafe, to visiting an immigrant friend and helping slaughter chickens, to translating for people in courtrooms, to cradling someone else’s sick and snotty infant, to visiting an art gallery, to setting an impeccable table and preparing for a big dinner at home… Everything. She’s like superwoman.. I love that she does that kind of stuff, and I love that her clothes are so simple and tasteful…. Frumpy she never touches….

  20. So, question for you if that’s okay. I wear late 50s silhouette dresses all the time to the office. I LOVE them. But right now I’m pregnant and desperately missing my waist. I’d like to be able to return to my favorite style post-baby, but wondered if you have any advice for breast feeding friendly clothes. I guess shirt dresses (like Betty’s) are a start, right?

  21. Pingback: Pregnancy Body Image and Vintage Maternity Wear « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  22. I just finished watching season 2 as well. I love the black and white gingham Peggy dress mentioned above (thanks for those links!). I also keep thinking about one of secretary Jane’s dresses– a wiggle dress, I guess, but not super tight. It was cream, belted, with a modern looking scoop neck and an abstract impressionist pattern of colored blocks on one side of the skirt, very painterly looking. Mostly I prefer the shirt-dresses and casual wear to the wiggle dresses, though.

    I try to break out my grandmother’s pearls on a regular basis and recently bought a petticoat to wear under full skirts. Not for everyday, and definitely not if I’m not leaving the house.

  23. Just thought of a couple more memorable outfits from season 2– Kitty’s full-skirted dress with the amazing large-scale red and green flower print and Betty’s little girl look (sleeveless shirt and shorts) when she shares an afternoon with Glen.

  24. Pingback: Colorblocks at Work- Jane’s Wiggle « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  25. Pingback: The Transformation of Peggy- In Color « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  26. I do not leave comments ever but instead of visiting a website in which gals are exhibited I made a commitment to take a break from self misuse and compliment you on your knowledge and vocabulary, nice one.

  27. Pingback: Mad Men Mod: Megan « 3 Hours Past the Edge of the World

  28. Pingback: Channeling Betty Draper « Rolling in Cloth


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