There's something about Don

Manscape blog

What has Don Draper got that the rest of us haven't?

The mystery was partly solved during the latest Mad Men series as Mrs Manscape and I became transfixed by Don Draper's powers and how they waxed and waned. With his grooming.

When he was on his game, when his suits were sharp and his shirts pressed, his hair slicked and his chin carrying no more than a hint of a five o'clock shadow, he was all powerful. A lion of Madison Avenue. A prince among the "creatives". But spot him without the Brylcreem and he looked anodyne, his smile turning from winning to wonky.

Unshaven he looked uncertain. Unsuited he felt unsuitable for anything but the farm work he'd left behind in his secret, shadowy, parceled-away past.

Maybe it was the drink: the lunchtime martinis and afternoon whiskys had finally taken their toll. Or his age, or the fact that it was the mid-Sixties and the world around him was changing. But mostly it was his grooming that stood out. Neat and well turned out, and (probably) smelling discreetly of alpine blue, he ruled his world. Mussed up and messed up and reeking of Canadian Club he was washed up and knew it.

The Mad Men message? Grooming, not manners, maketh the man. Trim up, shave regularly, smell nice and clip your nails and all will be well.

But that was then; that was the Sixties when men wore hats and women wore gloves and everyone smoked all of the time and didn't stress about it.

Is the same true today? In the past 10 years there's been a marked "casualisation" of fashion in the workplace. Trainers and chinos are more likely to be seen than suits and ties except in the most conservative of professions. So does this mean the old grooming rules need no longer apply?

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According to British etiquette classic Debrett's, you should dress for the office as you would like to be treated. "Men who look dishevelled run the risk of appearing the same in their work," it tuts.

One might argue the advice in Debrett's is way out of date, but in fact the edition I consulted was written by the late John Morgan in 1996.

This does make you wonder whether niceties such as ironed shirts, shiny shoes, and short nails are just a charming relic from far simpler times or a timeless standard that should stand apart from fickle tides of fashion or nationality.

It is not easy to reconcile the world of Debrett's with the reality of life in Australia – a country that has always prided itself on being a laidback, casual kinda place, and where the wearing of thongs is a national birthright.

Especially as much of today's work is done by phone, keyboard or teleconferencing, not at meetings in woodpanelled rooms with fingerbuns and cups of tea.

So should we be celebrating our era of creased shirts and a three-day growth, or does Don Draper's descent into dishevelment serve as a timely warning to us all?

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