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Today's Mad Men: Tie not required
Article Comments (1) AMY VERNER
From Monday's Globe and Mail
August 4, 2008 at 10:49 AM EDT
For anyone who has better things to do on Sunday at 10 p.m. than watch television, Mad Men is a fictional drama set in the early 1960s and revolves around Don Draper, the creative director of a New York ad agency. Not since The Sopranos has a television drama garnered such critical acclaim and widespread buzz.
In many ways, it presents an intriguing time warp, from the excessive smoking to the lack of diversity in the workplace. Even viewers who are less concerned with clothes than character development can't help but notice that the show's superbly stylized professional attire is hardly what most people wear in 2008.
Although sartorial evolution is not yet a recognized, exact science, visiting an ad agency to see how office fashion has changed in almost 50 years could yield valuable insight.
So with that, I found myself at Dentsu Canada last week where a team of about 50 people handles such accounts as Toyota, Lexus, Canon, Vespa and Scope mouthwash. As a satellite agency to Dentsu, a Japanese company that is one of the largest in the ad industry, it has a remarkably different pedigree than Mad Men's Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency, a boutique agency run by principal partners Bertram Cooper and Roger Sterling.
What's instantly clear is that a corporate parent and big-name clients do not come at the expense of an easygoing culture. So easygoing, in fact, that employees can get away with wearing shorts and flip flops.
President Bob Shropshire is not quite so casual; on this day, he is wearing a short-sleeved button down and jeans.
"They call me Bobby No-tie around here because I never wear a tie," he says. The caveat, of course, is that the suit always comes out for off-site meetings.
Thinking with his ad brain, Glen Hunt calls the approach "chameleon clothing." This is a superb tagline that suggests how he has to adapt his image to his environment. Mr. Hunt is the company's "creative catalyst," which is another way of saying creative director or, in his words, "someone who accelerates creativity."
Incidentally, his look comes closest to how the fictional Mr. Draper would dress today. The crisp, dark, button-down shirt boasts alternating coloured stripes, his jeans are distressed without being dishevelled and his boots strike the right balance between sporty and slick.
This is an outfit that will take him to a government office later in the afternoon. "You need to be formal enough but you want to give a punch of colour to say we have some personality. It's all about sending messages. But you want your work to be the hero," he says.
Because a meeting can sometimes materialize out of the blue, a few colleagues, such as Mark Russell, admit to having "emergency pants" or "trunk pants" which project a far more professional image than denim.
Shane Walters, who works on the account side, keeps a jacket in his closet. "Usually, when we see clients, we try to class it up a degree. We take it seriously," he says. "But when we're sticking around the office and trying to get work done, it's nice to be casual."
The contemporary equivalent to the three-piece suit circa Mad Men would be a T-shirt topped by a button down and jeans. "I think dressy days are shirts that have any type of collar," says Alex Rea, an art director.
The women at Dentsu Canada are a far cry from Mad Men's female employees, to the extent that they hold a wide variety of positions. In the show, the women fulfill secretarial roles and serve as titillating distractions. There may not be exposed cleavage, but their sweater sets have a miraculous way of making their chests look especially pneumatic. Meanwhile, Dentsu Canada's Toyota account directors, Emma Hall and Kathryn Long, realize that sex doesn't always sell.
"You need to be aware of the image you're putting out there," says Ms. Hall who, on this day, wears a classic grey shift dress livened up by magenta pumps. Suits are standby. "I work mostly with men. ... I always feel like a suit is like armour. It changes your attitude and confidence level."
In the summer, Ms. Long prefers black walking shorts which graze the knee and offer a smart alternative to pants. Worn with a white shirt and a black vest, she has interpreted masculine classics in a feminine way.
Advertising people can sometimes perpetuate archetypes. The grey flannel suit gave way to a sea of black by the 1980s. Now, according to Dentsu's creative team, Chuck Taylor All-Star sneakers are a calling card.
Many agree that there is a time and a place for suits but that they don't always lend themselves to inspired thinking. And for a company that is committed to W.I.T. (whatever it takes), the free flow of ideas is critical.
Studio manager Gasper
Barone describes himself as "zany and hectic and busy and colourful" which is never what you'd hear from a young 1960s era Pete Campbell who, as smart as he looks in a suit, can't generate any original ideas. "That's the thing,"
notes Mr. Barone. "We can wear ripped jeans and messy hair and it just adds to the creativity."