The Beat Generation


When it comes to TV shows, if I’m going to get into them, it’s going to be near on a decade after everyone else, which explains why I’ve only just started watching the first series of Mad Men. And like pretty much every woman I’ve heard on the subject, I have become obsessed with the clothes and style.

However, I have found that it is not the exquisitely perfect Betty Draper or curvaceous femme fatale Joan Holloway that has secured my adoration, but the oft-overlooked Midge Daniels, the independent minded and free-living illustrator with whom Don Draper conducts an affair.

Aside from being in general an interesting and forward thinking character, her clothing and style fascinate me. It’s as though, with so many anti-establishment thoughts and creative energy buzzing around her head, clothes for her are an afterthought and subsequently she appears chic but thoroughly at ease, particularly in comparison to the walking fashion mannequin, Betty Draper. In the scene when Midge and her friend Roy take Don to the avant garde performance club Midge wore a simple fitted black short sleeved blouse and black pencil skirt in which she straight-up stole my heart!

The character Midge and her crew are meant to be part of the Beat Generation. The Beats were a group of writers and cultural figures who attempted to push the boundaries of accepted American social values from the late 1940’s, during the 1950’s and into the 1960’s, at which point the ‘scene’ evolved into Hippie movement. The best known of the original members including Alan Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, were all men, but there were some lesser known key female protagonists including Edie Parker and Joan Vollmer. These two intriguing ladies shared a series of New York apartments which played host to many of the early gatherings, debates and think tanks of these early Beatniks. Stylistically, it is difficult to pin down what ‘look’ Vollmer and Parker would have adopted, as there are very few photos available. I would like to try to translate the early Beat culture into some sort of stylistic manifestation, but in this attempt I’m trying not to be swayed by the later stereotypes of the scene.

The literary output of the Beat writers was often of a graphic and therefore controversial nature. For example, William Burroughs’ Junkie (appearing with the pseudonym William Lee to protect his family from association with a drugs lifestyle) was too hot to handle for most publishers, and could only find a willing backer with a pulp fiction house called A.A. Wyn, Ace Publishing. There are many fans of the Beat Generation writers who, with often the best intentions, aim to distance their work from low-culture pulp fiction, but the historical links are undeniable if regrettable for some. For our own ends, further stylistic influence could be taken from these cover images. They seem to portray women as wild-living pin-ups, a party look if ever I heard one!

So, having rounded up this look’s inspiration and fleshed it out with sartorial asides, how to put it into effect? I think the best bet is to take a pared down, uncluttered version of the general late 1950’s silhouette, predominantly in black, with a few daring flashes. I am thinking the Sencha blouse in silk crepe tucked into simple capri pants or the seductive Beignet skirt (perhaps in black with red buttons). This outfit could be teamed with the dashing Lady Grey coat, possibly in black or even a thrilling leopard print faux-fur! Any ideas?

Zoe Edwards   —  

Comments 8


Great history snippet on the Beats…

The Cupcake Goddess

Oh I love it! Its so daring and so risk-ee! Thank you for the wonderful post and the historical references!

Lindsey M Nelson

Be still my heart… I love Mad Men! And thanks for pointing out that interesting little side story going on with the beat folks (I don’t know if you’ve gotten to this yet, but there’s a great one where the whole group is trapped in her apartment, the ending is especially fascinating). I also often wonder about lady Beats. From what I know the men of the Beat generation were quite misogynistic and unwelcoming of women, which might explain the lack of images. I wonder what research the Mad Men costume designer used for this character?


I enjoyed your reflection on “beatniks”(that’s what my generation called them).;> I just wanted to add that you must(!) add a “Tam” to wear with the “Lady Grey” coat. That would definitely accomplish the look that I remember.


What an interesting post. I remember that season and the beat genearation subplot. Excited you are getting inspiration from that show–it’s so fun to watch just for the visuals alone! (i.e. don draper…no, I mean the fashion!)

Brook Owens

Holy Hell… I’m MAD about Mad Men… Just finished season 2 on Netflix and now my dying for season three to come out…. The clothes are lovely.

Santo Christoforo MD bongosandespresso.blogspot

Thanks so much! I really enjoyed your article.


Go read the Wikipedia entry on Joan Vollmer. Nasty stuff. I’m sure they weren’t responsible for any glamorous look. Very unsavory group.

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