The age-old adage attests one should "dress for the job you want, not the job you have." And on Sunday night, Mad Men's Joan Holloway went shopping. Will she begin dressing for the bawse job she landed when we last left her?
Climbing up from the break room at Sterling Cooper ad agency to the Head of Accounts at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the former secretary with moxie finally wiggled out of those flashy, body-hugging clothes that swiveled the heads of businessmen for seven seasons and started slipping into Oscar de la Renta frocks that would demand their respect.
In the first episode — of the final episodes — shown Sunday night, "Big Red" (as she's known to all working misogynists in the ad biz) is a now prosperous chief partner of the SCDP after the merger with McCann-Erickson. But she's still being dismissed as little more than a sex object. Even Peggy Olson, her career-driven advertising maven of a "work best friend," offers her little pity, telling Joan: "You can't have it both ways. You can't dress the way you do…"
Before Peggy can finish that sexist trope, Joan cuts her off. While Joan does boldly take on meetings in navy and white peter-pan frocks, hot-pink double breasted ensembles or paisley print silk blouses, she's hardly wearing plunging necklines. If anything, Joan simply looks flashy and trendy; she can't help that her enviable curves steal the show and men can't stop being veritable assholes about it.
The exchange between Joan and Peggy was, as Alyssa Rosenberg at The Washington Post puts it, brutal:
Eventually, they reach the crux of their disagreement. “You can’t have it both ways,” Peggy lectures Joan. “You can’t dress the way you do and expect –” “How do I dress?” Joan cuts her off. “So what you’re saying is I don’t dress the way you do because I don’t look like you, and that’s very, very true.” Peggy, peeved and embarrassed, snaps back at Joan: “You know what? You’re filthy rich. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”
So Joan does what every over-worked, under-appreciated businesswoman with a decent credit limit does: She treats herself. Aiming for a whole new look, one that screams she's in charge, Boss Holloway buys a whole new, refined (but no less alluring) work wardrobe.
The camera pans over Joan's aspirational shopping spree: A Henri Bendel's bag looms large in the background, while tissue paper unfurls from the tops of shopping bags; Lord & Taylor boxes are stacked high, with hat boxes precariously balanced on top of each other. Joan is obviously on a mission.
Still: Joan is shrewd, despite the heaping pile of designer goods she's collecting. Deliberating between the pearl and feathered Oscar de la Renta frock that's hugging her like it was custom-made and some other navy number that most likely pales in comparison, Joanie wonders aloud if they are too similar. Still new to the luxury game, she can't tell the difference.
"Don't tell Oscar de la Renta that! Because the navy one is $159!," the thickly accented shop girl (from Sheepshead Bay?) squawks at Bosswoman Holloway. I have no idea if that's a lot of money or not, because inflation. But Joan makes a face, insinuating that money is obviously no object.
So, Joan, the millionairess does what every millionairess would do in that situation: just takes it ALL. "The boots, the tan heels, the chiffon, the red, and yes, this one…" she breathlessly coos, rubbing her hand over the ODLR's embellished bodice.
Shop Girl is probably running the numbers in her head (perhaps thinking of that fat commission check), and then she… ugh… she does the worst thing ever. She deigns to recognize Boss Holloway. Like, from when Joanie used to work on the floor at the store.
"Didn't you used to work here?! Because you can probably still the get the discount."
Ooof. Shop Girl's earnestness as well-intentioned, but Boss Holloway sees how the salesgirl is attempting to shift the power dynamic.
And so, like a boss, Boss Holloway smiles at said Shop Girl with the same measured contempt she does with, like, every secretary at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce besides Dawn, and says, "That's tempting, but I think you have me confused with someone else. Could you?!" And she motions to that pesky zipper.
Yes, you've confused Joanie for someone you can talk to like that.
You see, Shop Girl, you work for Joanie now. Not the other way around.
And as quickly as the humbled cog unzips Joan's newly minted, pearl-encrusted couture, Shop Girl zips that mouth of hers squarely shut. Like a life hack for the ages, Joanie teaches us that if you're going to troll your old employer, what better way to do it then coming back as the filthy-rich, wildly successful, supremely well-dressed version of your previous self? #goals
While a sobering narrative on the interplay of gender politics and dress in the office, Boss Holloway's new look perfectly encapsulates the immense success she was always destined become.
Marjon Carlos is a style and culture writer for Fusion who boasts a strong turtleneck game and opinions on the subjects of fashion, gender, race, pop culture, and men's footwear.