Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the 60s and Beyond, by Jane Maas

Women in Advertising in the 1960s — an Ad Woman’s storymad women cover small 
If you’re a fan of the Mad Men TV series, you will be amazed by Jane Maas’ insider account. If you’ve never seen a single episode of Mad Men, you will probably find Mad Women fascinating, anyway. It’s also funny, gossipy, and well-researched, not completely dependent on Maas’ personal memories of being one of the first female advertising executives in the sixties. It’s full of mind-boggling facts; I found it very difficult to put down.

If you are too young to remember a time when ‘sexism’ was a revolutionary new concept, when the terms ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘glass ceiling’ didn’t exist, you should read this book. If, like me, you were a working woman in the 60s, you’ll find it triggers a lot of memories of ad campaigns (Does She or Doesn’t She?), social customs (‘We never drank in the morning’ ) [my italics] and 1960s fashions. (Maas is a great witness to fashion!)

How to Tell the Executives from the Secretaries

Maas mentions many details Mad Men costume designer Janie Bryant gets right, plus some that must have seemed too silly to put on television. ‘As soon as you were promoted from secretary to junior copy writer, you wore a hat in the office….  I never took my hat off, not even in the bathroom,’ said one woman who worked at the J. Walter Thompson Agency. A woman from Ogilvy and Mather explained, “Wearing a hat in the office was a badge. It proclaimed you were no longer a secretary.” (p. 115)

Office Attire in the 1960s

Not Allowed: A Culotte Skirt

Not Allowed: A Culotte Skirt

Maas’ description of the formality (and discomfort) of office attire in the 1960s matches my memories. I worked for a bank in 1968-1970. Women were not allowed to wear trousers — not even a pantsuit with matching jacket. The first woman to become a project manager at Clairol told Maas that, when she wore a long-sleeved, knee-length, gray flannel culotte outfit to work, “They told me it was ‘inappropriate.”‘ In 1965, Maas, a New Yorker, was refused admittance to a restaurant because she was wearing a pantsuit.A Different Kind of Office

The entire 60s office environment Maas describes is so different from our own that it’s hard to imagine how so much work got done: “Think about what we didn’t have. Computers, for openers. The Internet. Cell phones. Faxes, almost obsolete today, hadn’t yet arrived. Neither had Federal Express…. Secretaries still needed carbon paper to make copies…. Xerox machines were just coming in….” Even television was so new that some ad agencies didn’t have any interest in television advertising. Peter Hochstein recalls that “the average set had a ten inch screen…!”

Jane Maas – from Copy Writer to Executive

Maas began as a copy writer at Ogilvy and Mather in 1964. At the time, the idea of having a woman handle accounts aimed at women was still revolutionary. “Women weren’t even taken seriously as consumers.” (p. 55) Eventually she handled accounts for Lever Brothers and General Foods. (At initial client meetings, she was occasionally mistaken for a secretary.)  By 1976 she was running her own agency. She co-authored the textbook How to Advertise. As an ad executive at Wells Richardson, she headed the I (Heart) New York campaign. She was also a working mother and happy wife at a time when marriage and motherhood were real barriers to a career. Luckily for us readers, her lively mind and sense of humor remain intact.


Filed under 1950s-1960s, A Costumers' Bookshelf, Women in Trousers

7 responses to “Mad Women: The Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the 60s and Beyond, by Jane Maas

  1. Sounds like an interesting book – I may have to pick up a copy.

    I tried watching Mad Men when it appeared on Netflix instant, but I found myself getting angrier with each episode – mostly at the women for putting up with the stupidity of the way men treated them. (I guess I’m just too modern because I only made it through 5 or 6 episodes.) The costumes are amazing and wonderful, but I didn’t like any of the characters enough to put up with the show just for the costumes.

    • I admit that I watch Mad Men on DVD and therefore am never up on the latest episodes. I find most of the characters unlikeable, but, as someone who was a working woman in the 1960s, I’m glad that younger women are being reminded of what it was like then. Some people want those ‘good old days’ back. I’m amazed — and saddened — when I realize that we are at the end of 2013, and the Equal Rights [for women] Amendment still hasn’t been passed!

  2. How interesting! I entered the work force in 1977, and by that time, so much of the sexism had been addressed. Still, in the school system in which I taught, there was not a single female principal when I started working. When I retired in 2005, almost all of them were female.

    Women teachers had just begun to wear pants when I started, There were still strict rules about how the pants and top (preferably a tunic) had to match. I got my hand slapped for wearing a pair of slacks with a random blouse. Naughty me!

    • I was wearing slacks & matching jackets to teach in before 1977, but there’s a big difference between California other places. My husband grew up in North Texas. Our memories of what girls wore to high school are about two years different, with Texas schools being more conservative. Another reason why we can talk about fashions endlessly!

  3. I picked up a secondhand copy of this book and was really glad that I did – I felt that selling it in relation to Mad Men did the book a disservice (and I’m a Mad Men fan). Though I’m so glad I don’t have to work in that time, I found Jane as a narrator really inspiring – bright, warm and funny, I’d love to be able to work with her.

    • She does seem to be a remarkable woman, and I loved how honest she was about her personal life, as well as her professional life. She writes really well. I’m glad you enjoyed the book as much as I did.

  4. Pingback: What I Don’t Want for Christmas, Part 2: A Vacuum Cleaner | witness2fashion

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