“As far as I’m concerned, as long as men look at me that way, I’m earning my keep.”
— Betty Draper, Mad Men
I binged, I saw, I fast forwarded and re-winded. Yes, I’m mad about Mad Men.
I could gaze at and fantasize about Don Draper endlessly, but that’s not what jumpstarts the New Yorker in me.
Sixteen years ago, my parents died, three weeks apart. Aside from the shock and mourning, we were newly dubbed as ‘orphans.’
Our legacy included four decades of furniture, clothes, Bonwit Teller hat boxes, school uniforms and blazers, monogrammed stationary, fountain pens, photos, home movies, 45’s with discs, record players, and silverware that we would never keep polished.
My sister, who had given birth to her first daughter, the day before my mother died, was in California.
Her room in our New York apartment looked virtually untouched, from the posters of Billy Idol, Hewitt and Spence year books, and Sesame Street toys, to the twin beds that my mother and aunt had once slept on when they lived in the Beresford.
My sister is highly allergic, and the apartment was oozing dust.
When she arrived, baby in tow, I unpacked the boxes of baby and young girls’ clothes, one by one, and held them up for her to look at.
We “oohed” at Lilly Pulitzer bikini bottoms, then “ahhed” at the smock dresses that were impeccably cared for and still classics; the plaid kilt skirts fastened by oversized safety pins; Mary Jane shoes with special hooks to fasten them (we polished them with Vaseline) and Rowes of London’s coats with velvet collars.
(Rowes took a room at the Carlyle once a year for their New York customers).
Flash Forward: An impressive selection of my sister and I’s clothes are now draped on Sally Draper.
Sally Draper is officially two degrees of separation from our “wardrobe family.”
These memories are magnetic bull’s-eyes.
There’s Sally in a skirt that I wore for my Hewitt interview, a blue and white plaid, hastily unwrapped from a De Pinna’s box, and there she is again in a dress that either my sister or cousin once wore.
Betty Draper knew how to dress her daughter. No matter the scandalous altercation, or how alienated she was from her child, Sally was always perfectly turned out, even after a self-made disaster of a haircut, rectified by a pro.
Such were the disciplines of the time.
Only Betty Draper could go to bed with her hair in pin curls and still be Donna Reed/June Cleaver perfect and 60’s sexy as well.
I loved Betty’s clothes, from the flouncy shirt dresses (was there an itchy petticoat under there?) to her growing up into Chanel-esque suits.
The scent of Blue Grass perfume was likely to be in the air.
I have met many a Betty Draper in my life, although most of them went to Briarcliff or Finch College, not Bryn Mawr.
The image of the floral couch in Trudy and (sometimes Pete) Campbell’s Greenwich Connecticut home woke me up at four a.m.
That print was imprinted somewhere in my decorating DNA, but where?
It had to be in our East Hampton house.
The flowers were too large to be splashed on my parents’ drapes or bedspread; the living room was not that trite; and finally and thankfully, the pattern identified itself.
It was flourishing on a bedspread, in a tiny alcove of a room, on a bed that my sister, her friend and I used to hang out in.
The room made us feel safe: especially my sister’s friend, whose parents owned one of the largest beach mansions in East Hampton, but didn’t seem to care if she threatened suicide if she couldn’t leave her English boarding school.
My cousin read patiently to my young sister for hours there.
While Don Draper’s close-up is beyond the beyond, it’s the nostalgia of floral prints, the tins of William Greenberg cookies, and the pin-curls and plaids that seduce me back home to a New York that I will always embrace.
Thank you, Mad Men.
Here’s one more Martini back at you.