Don Draper’s Dinner Party Plaid Jacket in “Signal 30”
Jon Hamm as Don Draper, smooth ad man
Cos Cob, Connecticut, Summer 1966
Series: Mad Men
Episode: “Signal 30” (Episode 5.05)
Air Date: April 15, 2012
Director: John Slattery
Creator: Matthew Weiner
Costume Designer: Janie Bryant
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
To commemorate Jon Hamm’s 51st birthday today, let’s return to his Emmy-winning performance as the conflicted advertising director Don Draper. After four stylish seasons set across the early ’60s, Mad Men‘s fifth season took a darker and experimental turn with its storytelling, reflective of the more disturbing events of a decade that was evolving from the idealistic ’50s into an violent age of assassinations, serial murder, and war.
Following the dark “Mystery Date” with its homicidal fever dreams and Richard Speck references, the fifth episode “Signal 30” took its title from the gruesome instructional film illustrating the dangers of the road, shown to new drivers like Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce’s ambitious but insecure account manager, who could be argued as the central character of this episode.
Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner described “Signal 30″—which he co-wrote with Dog Day Afternoon‘s Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Pierson—as “probably the saddest episode we’ve ever had.”
Directed by series regular John Slattery, “Signal 30” is an episode of plumbing mishaps and forbidden passions, culminating in office fisticuffs. These passions range from Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton) continuing his literary side hustle against the wishes of his employers, Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) fighting his own battles with personal and professional masculinity, a business trip to a brothel where all attendees but Don indulge themselves, and Pete’s disturbing crush on a teenage girl in his driver’s ed class.
But before Pete lecherously throws himself at anything on legs—or throws any punches at colleagues—he and his delightful wife Trudy (Alison Brie) welcome the Drapers and Cosgroves for a dinner party. Perhaps appropriate for the only season of Mad Men where we don’t see him engaging in extramarital romance, Don allows his new wife Megan (Jessica Paré) to talk him into swapping his staid suit jacket out for a loudly checked sports coat more on trend for the middle of the swingin’ sixties.
What’d He Wear?
Already dreading the sort of social occasion he once classified as “work disguised as a party”, Don initially dresses in a somber charcoal wool suit, the same as he might wear to the office… or a funeral. In its dark shade of gray, the suit aligns with the many gray suits from his wardrobe that costume designer Janie Bryant has likened to the “armor” that the erstwhile Dick Whitman requires to retain his well-honed image.
“Why don’t you wear the sport coat I got you?” Megan asks Don before they leave. Perhaps seeing his conformist side rebelling, she follows up be reassuring him that “it’s the country,” coding that the quiet suburban hamlet of Cos Cob is actually a place where Don would better fit in by not trying to project the image of the quintessential man in the gray flannel suit.
“Megan is the new fashion-forward girl in the office, Don is that classic early ’60s style… still very minimal in his design,” costume designer Janie Bryant shared. “I love that they’re together as a couple and we can really see those two worlds coming together.”
The fashionable Mrs. Draper’s sartorial instincts proved valid as plaid jackets were evidently the gents’ unspoken uniform for the evening, with Don’s red-checked sports coat completing the presentation of primary colors as he stands aside Pete in his pale yellow checked jacket and Ken’s blue buffalo plaid.
I remember Don’s jacket being something of a cultural moment when the episode debuted a decade ago, having set my corner of Mad Men Twitter ablaze (what a simpler time!) as many fans reacted with the same bemusement as would paint the faces of the SCDP partners witnessing the Campbell vs. Pryce bout that closed the episode. (Or “Mr. Toad” vs. the “grimy little pimp”, if you will.)
This was hardly the first sport jacket that Don had worn on the show, and not even the first checked one, though his plaids were usually more understated classic patterns like gingham, gun club, and Glenurquhart. Gradually, the cultural understanding of “Mad Men style” expanded from just sleek suits at the office to include brighter colors and louder checks, and the Banana Republic Mad Men capsule collection—designed in collaboration with series costume designer Janie Bryant—even included a red, navy, and ivory plaid cotton sports coat that I hastened to add to my own wardrobe during that summer of 2011. (See my jacket here and yours truly wearing it here.)
Don rarely let anyone else dictate his clothing, typically retreating into the comforting conformity of his conservative business suits, so seeing Dick Whitman dressed so far afield of the traditional Don Draper persona indicates just how significantly his sense of self has dwindled. (Arrested Development fans may recall GOB Bluth having a similar crisis, after an impulsive marriage that led to a forced wardrobe because “the wife likes me in bright sweaters.”)
Between his absently doodling a noose during a meeting at the start of the episode and his likening an inoffensive dinner party to wanting to “blow your brains out”, Don could likely be talked into anything. Luckily for us, that “anything” includes a bold cotton sports coat patterned with a wide black tartan-style plaid, bordered with a yellow shadow check and overlaid with a medium-width red windowpane and narrower black windowpane, all against a plain white ground.
“I found this fabric and showed it to Matt and told him I wanted to build a sports coat for Don,” Janie Bryant explained. “It inspired [Matthew Weiner] to have Megan go supposedly buy [Don] a jacket that he ends up wearing to the dinner party.”
The jacket has a shorter length, contemporary to the direction of men’s fashion in the latter half of the ’60s. The notch lapels are narrower, rolling to the higher button stance on his torso where he wears the top of two black sew-through buttons fastened. The jacket has straight flapped hip pockets and a welted breast pocket, though Don doesn’t wear his usual white pocket square. The shoulders are straight with slight roping at the sleeve-heads, finished with three-button cuffs. A single vent splits the back.
“It’s a louder palette, I think it’s younger and fresher and you can sort of see little bits and pieces of [Megan’s] influence in his life,” Bryant concludes. “So this was a really important piece for the episode.”
Don likely embraced the opportunity to shed himself of the uncharacteristic jacket sometime during dinner, as we see him in shirt-sleeves and slackened tie while the three couples converse over post-prandial cocktails.
The shirt is one of his usual white cotton dress shirts, with the double (French) cuffs undone and rolled up his forearms, possibly with the links still connected to one side of each cuff. It buttons up the front placket to a semi-spread collar, and a breast pocket on the left side stores his cigarettes—though Don has sworn off Lucky Strikes after the events of the prior season and is now an Old Gold smoker like the waiter he interviewed in the first scene of the first episode.
Don’s cornflower blue tie is straight, narrow, and simple, detailed only with a tall red three-pointed crown resembling a “W” embroidered at mid-chest with an ivory-colored dot embroidered at each tip and around the crown’s base.
Don’s charcoal flat front trousers suggest that he merely kept wearing the trousers from the charcoal suit he had intended to wear to dinner. The trousers have a somewhat lower rise, accentuated by the jacket’s higher button stance. The trousers have side pockets and jetted back pockets, with a button to close through the left pocket. He holds them up with a slim black leather belt that has a smooth gold monogrammed rectangular box-style buckle.
When the Campbells’ kitchen sink chooses the evening of the party to throw a gushing tantrum, Don doesn’t think twice before jumping into action, tearing off his shirt and tie as he eases under their sink, his torso stripped down to just his white cotton undershirt as he quickly resolves the plumbing issue that had been plaguing the Campbells for days.
In an episode centered around his flailing attempts to assert his masculinity, Pete’s ego isn’t done any favors as his virile superior takes command in his own household. The trio of wives stand impressed while Pete—in his pasty sport jacket and tie—shuffling desperately through a too-pristine toolbox while the virile Don, his muscles visibly flexing under the short sleeves of his undershirt, applies just enough elbow grease to illustrate that he doesn’t just dominate Campbell’s life at the office but also his home.
Beginning with the fifth season, Don had started wearing the elegant Omega Seamaster DeVille that would be his watch of choice through the end of the series. Powered by Omega’s cal. 560 automative movement, the watch has a slim stainless steel 34.5mm case housing the black gloss cross-hair dial with luminous hands and a magnified date aperture in the 3:00 position, fastened to an 18mm-wide black textured leather strap.
Don’s Omega was among four watches that appeared on the series included in a December 2015 Christie’s auction, where it sold for $11,875. According to the auction listing, “the watches were leased to the show by vintage watch specialist Derek Dier, who has supplied watches to the movie industry, noted musicians, actors, writers, artists, international dignitaries and Fortune 500 CEOs. Mad Men Property Master Ellen Freund worked with Dier to select the watches.” The Christie’s page further describes the watch as: “Signed Omega, Automatic, Seamaster, De Ville, Ref. 166.020, Movement No. 23’943’081, Circa 1960.”
We don’t see him wearing it with the outfit, but Don hands his dark gray felt short-brimmed trilby with its narrow black band to Pete when he arrives at their home.
What to Imbibe
“You should slow down,” Megan advises when she spots Don pouring himself a substantial belt of Canadian Club while they’re getting ready to leave. “I’m timing this for when we arrive. I want to hit the doorbell with my chin,” he responds.
Canadian Club originated at a Detroit distillery operated by Hiram Walker in the mid-19th century, though it received its current moniker after Walker moved his operations across the border to Ontario, from where his “Club Whisky” grew popular among the clientele in gentlemen’s clubs along both sides of the Canadian and American border.
By the time they get to the party, Don seems sober but still thirsty, requesting something “big and brown” when Trudy asks Megan to take his drink order… prompting Pete to hand over his own glass in one of his series of subtle emasculating deferences to Don throughout the night.
At dinner, the dregs of Don’s round, gold-printed rocks glass include an orange peel and muddled cherry, suggesting that the Campbells were well-prepared to craft the creative director one of his favorite Old Fashioned cocktails. Essentially a concoction of whiskey, bitters, sugar, and water, the Old Fashioned also dates back to the 19th century, though its preparation continues to vary based on who’s making it and where it’s being made.
How to Get the Look
Don Draper turned heads when he arrived at the Campbells’ dinner party in his boldly checked sport jacket, but fans should make sure that they’re a little more comfortable than Don when striding so dramatically far from their comfort zone!
- Black-and-red-on-white plaid cotton single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with narrow notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 3-button cuffs, and single vent
- White cotton shirt with semi-spread collar, front placket, breast pocket, and double/French cuffs
- Cornflower-blue vintage tie with red embroidered three-point “W” crown design
- Charcoal wool flat front suit trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with monogrammed gold rectangular box-style buckle
- Black leather lace-up dress shoes
- Black dress socks
- White cotton short-sleeved undershirt
- Omega Seamaster DeVille wristwatch with stainless 34mm case, textured black crocodile strap, and black dial with date indicator
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the whole series.
Saturday night in the suburbs? That’s when you really want to blow your brains out.