Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Ladies of Mad Men

Yours truly in her vintage/Mad Men best with
the obligatory and delicious martini
With the new season of Mad Men right around the corner, I feel it's the perfect time to  explore the fabulous ladies of this spectacular show and what we, as ladies ourselves, can take away from them and their struggle, as well as from the show and its themes in general.  Perhaps the most obvious thing to be learned from both the men and the women of SCDP is the importance of knowing who you are.  The enigmatic Don Draper is perpetually in flux over who he really is, sometimes reverting to his Dick Whitman self at all too inopportune moments.  Other characters similarly fluctuate between personas, such as Pete Campbell, who oscillates between being a self entitled jackass some of the time and a sensitive but world weary soul the rest of it.  Being uncertain of your footing as a person will result in nothing but mid-life crises and/or pleasing others at the expense of yourself.  Hammer your true self out in stone, however, and no one will shift you or bend you to fit their will. 

As for the ladies themselves, let us start with Peggy.  She's a woman who has changed in the most visible and drastic ways throughout the series, and is in a prime place to change more in the new season (confirmation that she will be in the next season:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/26/mad-men-peggy-is-trying-on-new-things-elisabeth-moss_n_2558152.html).  She has learned the careful art of breaking out of the role that others have defined for her without alienating those around her, and her skillful handling of this new position of power in her life has allowed her to excel and eventually move beyond the gilded cage of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.  In watching her it's excellent to remember that when (and/or as) we, as ladies, rise through the world we are not beholden to play nice or humor those who would disrespect us or those around us, and when we have a position of power we are free to exert it at our will, as Peggy did when she fired one of her sexist artists.  Being a stern boss does not make us less feminine.  It simply makes us less willing to put up with viciousness when we have the power to stop it, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. 

Betty, by contrast, serves more as a warning than a hero for ladies of the world.  Her personal difficulties have come to a head with her losing control of herself completely, though this ultimately is only the swing of the pedulum of self-loathing in her case.  It is not that Betty's gaining weight is inherently a problem - it is that such a drastic gain in such a short period of time implies that something bigger is at play in Betty's mind.  Most likely, she began with enjoying her freedom from the restriction she felt married to Don, but by carrying that too far she has begun to hate herself all over again in a different way and eats as a response to this stress, resulting in a snowball effect of self hate and her abrupt ballooning.  If there is one thing to take away from Betty, it is simply that excessive fixation on your body rather than your self as a whole will only result in pain and sorrow. 

Joan is, of course, is in many ways the darling of the Mad Men female cast.  She is certainly my favorite, and if there is one thing that Joan can pass on to us ladies it is a simple lesson that one can be beautiful, strong, and intelligent all in one package, all bound up with a will of pure steel.  Joan has shown some of the most striking turn arounds in the show's history, proving herself willing to go it on her own when she threw her abusive husband out the door.  Unlike Betty, she did not make sure she had another safe haven to fall back on with the ejection of Dr. Rape; she simply pitched him out on his ear because she knew, intrinsically, that he was only going to cause more pain in her life.  Her personal happiness and self confidence were more important than appeasing the ideals of her time.  As such, despite the often difficult (and sometimes outright miserable) circumstances she has had to face, Joan still pushes forward harder and climbs ever higher every time the world tries to drag her down.  Also, like Joan, it is always important to present your best self to the world, no matter the circumstances.  You may be miserable, but holding fast and standing tall and beautiful will bolster even the most battered resolve, no matter the squall you face. 

Meghan is still a newcomer to the ranks of Mad Men in contrst to Peggy, Betty, and Joan, but she in turn has her own strong will and persona to contribute to the mix.  Simply put, she does NOT allow Don to get away with the same deceptions he pulled over Betty's eyes, or at least Meghan has in season 5 (what occurs in season 6 is yet to be seen, given the ambiguous ending to last season:  http://www.idigitaltimes.com/articles/15750/20130305/mad-men-season-6-spoilers-don-betty.htm).  Where she will go from here is uncertain, but we can absorb some of her refusal to have the wool pulled over our eyes or settle for anything in our romantic lives.  There is no benefit to be gained from smiling and letting things that our lover does go, only to have them get under our skin.  Better to get it out in the open (whether gently or roughly is up to you) than let it fester into an explosion of frustration at the one you love.  We are worth too much to let someone else make us suffer for no good reason other than keeping a peace that is not be worth it. 

There are many other women and ladies throughout Mad Men, who I may dicuss more as season 6 premiers, but for now enjoy these four and their growth, struggles, and strengths.  We all can learn and emulate the good and learn to recognize the bad in ourselves through fictional characters, and Mad Men's depth and charisma is wonderful at letting us view the benevolent and malevolent traits in ourselves. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

A lady's guide to choosing a perfume.

Perfume, ultimately, is the most significant calling card of a lady.  More than expensive clothes, more than diamonds, more than the parties we attend or people we know, the odor we announce ourselves with reveals so much about us and inspires such responses in others that it behooves any lady worth her salt to choose wisely in the way she scents herself.  As such, here's a small guide on how to find the best scent for you as well as a list of the perfume houses and makers I find to be the best in the business.
My perfume collection
1.  The first, biggest thing you must consider when picking a scent is, simply, what kind of scents do you like in the first place?  Are you fond of certain flowers or spices?  Do you like smells just for themselves or do they conjure up specific images for you?  To explore your nose if you haven't previously, find your way to a shop like Sephora and just work your way through the perfumes, sniffing and sampling.  Note which ones you like most and try to identify what similar elements, if any, exist between them. 

2.  The second thing that comes into play with picking a perfume is body chemistry.  This tends to be more applicable for essential oils, which are more volatile and capricious in how they manifest, but it crops up in perfume with an alcohol base as well:  certain scents may react badly on your skin.  It may smell delicious in the bottle, but, for whatever reason, it doesn't smell good at ALL on you.  If this is the case and you still really love the perfume and just must have it, you can always apply it to handkerchiefs or other odor neutral things for your own pleasure, just don't wear the perfume in public.

3.  Scent is not a place to skimp as far as expense goes, ladies, and cheap perfume is easily the greatest sin a we can commit.  Plastic, artificial smelling perfumes you buy at your drugstore are not going to give you the scent that you want.  Neither is a dime a dozen eau de toilette from Victoria's Secret.  You are trying to pick a scent or scents that will define you, and if that scent is so unremarkable as to be available virtually everywhere then it begs the question of why, exactly, you consider yourself a lady if you're so willing to blend in with the masses.

4.  Feel free to create quite a collection of perfumes, with different functions applied to each.  I have certain scents I wear to exude a businesslike attitude, some to turn up the sensuous and seductive side of myself, some just for when I feel happy, and even a few worn specifically to indicate anger or combativeness.  Having a wide, ever growing range of perfumes means never feeling at a loss for a scent to suit your mood.

5.  At the same time, however, have a deffinitive 'YOU' scent.  This is your Chanel no. 5, your iconic odor, the one that describes you best.  Wear it often and build up the association between you and the perfume.  Let this be the ribbon of scent that allows people to know that you have just walked past them.  This is particularly useful in a romantic setting, as building a strong scent association between you and the perfume in the mind of your lover will cause them to become weak in the knees at the very hint of the scent.  (My own iconic scent is Lubin's Gin Fizz perfume.)

6.  Speaking of Chanel no. 5, however, beware of using perfumes that have become too classic or generally well known, regardless of price.  Chanel no. 5 is a perfect example of this, as while it is a beautiful scent, it is so iconic and, to a degree, dated that it will be associated more with a certain era than with you.  In simpler terms, you may love your grandmother, but you don't want to smell like her. 

7.  Respect other people's sense of smell.  If you are going to be on a plane or in some other tightly enclosed area for a long period of time, don't wear your strongest perfume.  Do not douse yourself in scent; one spritz on the neck and one of the wrists is sufficient.  Do not wear overpowering or overly sensuous perfumes to work.  Avoid having your scent rub off on those around you (this can be avoided by not dousing yourself in it). 

8.  Always wear perfume.  Even if you have no other makeup on, even if you aren't sporting fancy attire, perfume gives a touch of class that brightens everything about a lady.

And now, some of my favorite perfume houses:

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab:  This is a good place to start your perfume collection, as the small bottles of essential oil are not in the least pricey while still being masterfully blended.  I recommend ordering imps (scent samples) first, however, so you can decide whether the scent is to your liking and works on your skin.  (See point #2).  Also go to the BPAL Madness forum for added information and reviews of the different scents.  Victoria's personal favorites:  Manhattan, The Last Unicorn, Ozymandias, and Peacock Queen.

Jo Malone:  These scents are wonderful to play with and layer, while also being classy and excellent on an individual basis.  Some perfumes are blends of scents, such as their signature '154' or the popular 'Lime Basil Mandarin', while other are single note in nature, as are their rose and grapefruit colognes.  Victoria's personal favorites:  154, Rose, and Grapefruit layered over Orange Blossom.

Lubin:  The most expensive of my favorite brands, Lubin is a French perfume house with one hell of a pedigree, having started in 1798.  Their perfumes are wonderful, multi-faceted olfactory experiences, with hosts of notes interplaying with each other to create a scent that is so much more than the sum of its parts.  Victoria's personal favorites:  Gin Fizz (my iconic scent, see point # 5) and Black Jade.