Mad Men is a televised Rorschach test. People see it as everything from an examination of psychological anxiety in an age of cultural ferment to a commentary on the birth of postwar feminism. While there may be something to these theories, don’t be duped: Beneath the veneer of intellectual gravitas, Mad Men is really about cool stuff — cool furniture, cool clothes, cool stereos, cool automobiles, cool everything. “Happiness is the smell of a new car,” Don Draper says. “It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay.” And from the looks of Mad Men’s most recognizable props, we couldn’t agree more.
“Now try not to be overwhelmed by all this technology,” longtime SCDP secretary Joan Harris tells newcomer Peggy Olson in season one. “It looks complicated, but the men who designed it made it simple enough for a woman to use.” Complicated indeed: The IBM Selectric II had 2,800 parts. This space-age machine quickly became the top typewriter in corporate America. But the Selectric was more than just efficient — it was a status symbol. It was stylish, celebritity-endorsed (Hunter S. Thompson used one), and stratospherically expensive (a standard model retailed for today’s equivilent of $2,700). Which is why Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, usually a stickler for historical accuracy, insisted that the Sterling Cooper secretarial pool be outfitted with them, even though it isn’t exactly chronologically accurate: The show starts in 1960, but the Selectric II wasn’t introduced until 1971.
If you’d like a Selectric of your own, the IBM plant in Kentucky produced 13 million machines, many of which are still in circulation and available for purchase.
It isn’t until 72 pages into Judy Gelman and Peter Zheutlin’s The Unofficial Mad Men Cookbook that food is even mentioned. In a nod to SCDP’s boozy esprit de corps, the most important recipes come first: how to mix the perfect old-fashioned for Don and make the perfect martini for Roger Sterling. But for the junior execs requiring some caloric ballast, a generous selection of food recipes true to the show and the time period is included. For instance, Trudy’s Rib Eye in the Pan with Butter was a women’s magazine staple in the early ’60s, and pineapple upside-down cake was the height of dessert chic for every American homemaker during the Kennedy administration.
For those hoping to ape the Betty Draper look without making a foray into the thrift-store circuit, Banana Republic and Mad Men’s Emmy-Award-winning costume designer, Janie Bryant, have teamed up to produce their third Mad Men clothing collection for Spring 2013. The collection, in stores now, illustrates the transition from the early ’60s Camelot look into the late ’60s’ Carnaby Street-esque pieces, like graphic pedal pushers. And for those feeling sartorially challenged there’s The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men — a tutorial in re-creating the Joan Harris sexpot look.
Unlike the other hypermodern Mad Men sets, the office where Dr. Arnold Wayne psychoanalyzes Betty Draper is an eclectic mix of old and new. The doctor may sit in a contemporary leather chair, but the chair itself sits atop a Persian rug. Items that would in any other setting be horribly kitsch — like a gold-filigree Kleenex box holder — perfectly offset the two showcase pieces in the office: the Barcelona couch and the Saarinen side table. Designed by Mies van der Rohe, the Barcelona couch is as massive as the Tulip table is ethereal. Handcrafted of Spinneybeck leather, African mahogany, and chromed steel, each Barcelona couch is made to order in Italy. So if you’re looking to invest in a surefire classic, dip into the nest egg and put in a call to Knoll.
Although ’60s dresses may have hewed to a clean and simple aesthetic, the jewelry of the period was anything but. From shoulder-duster earrings to elaborate clustered brooches, the girls of SCDP glitzed themselves out with their accessories. One of the most iconic looks is Joan’s gold pen necklace, which personifies her glamorous, take-charge attitude as office manager. Responsible for overseeing the secretaries and attending to the executives’ needs, she gives a Midas touch to her obligation to be perpetually ready to take notes. If you’d like to cop this optimistic attitude and luxe look, imitations abound, but this 1928 edition is most faithful to the original.