Tanya Sweeney: Back to the sixties

Tanya Sweeney

IT'S little wonder that Mad Men-inspired '60s fashion went positively stratospheric this year.

Nipped-in waists, curve-creating wiggle skirts and prom dresses that hide a multitude of sins, it's an era that couldn't have come into style quick enough. Yet it appears that some women are hell-bent on paying homage to the hit show in other ways. Never mind the lunchtime martinis and Brylcreem; we're talking a return to good old-fashioned family values. Specifically, the 'meet him at the door with slippers and a martini' kind.

First out of the gate is TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp, who has admitted that when it comes to home life, she favours a traditional approach.

The key to domestic bliss, she says, is letting her partner Ben Andersen take the lead. And who better to take advice from than domestic doyenne Laura Ashley (yes, she of the chintzy floral prints).

"I knew [Laura] when I was growing up, and I remember asking her the secret of domestic bliss. She replied it was putting her husband first, her children second and the business third. That's what I've done and, while I might be in charge when I'm at work, at home my husband is the boss. If you do what your partner prefers, he is happy and the children have a great time, too. If you let that relationship slide when your children are little, it might disintegrate and you might not be able to rescue it. So, at the weekend, I let Ben choose what we do."

And, if that wasn't Betty Draper-esque enough, she adds: "If you want to talk about feelings, make sure they have a full stomach when you do it."

It all sounds very peculiar to women of a certain generation, yet scratch the surface and you'll find that Kirstie isn't the only twinset and pearls throwback. Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal has adopted a similar philosophy: "Part of my life, a part of my mind, has to be devoted to my husband [actor Peter Sarsgaard]. My mother's generation has been bucking against that," she said in a recent interview. "But I've just been finding so much pleasure in sacrificing sometimes for my husband, going to where he's working and tidying up his trailer, and bringing him things that will make him feel better, and being a wife in a more classical way. It feels really right to me."

Elsewhere, there has been another worrying trend; male celebrities who pull their weight in a couple are all but beatified in some cases. As David Beckham posted a picture of himself online cooking up a risotto, one newspaper headline was moved to implore "Is David Beckham the perfect male?" (In a word, no. One risotto does not a domestic deity make).

Orlando Bloom is regularly photographed carrying his baby son Flynn about town, and is written about as though he were performing something truly extraordinary ('Miranda Kerr finally gets her hands free,' reads one recent headline). Read: man in baby-minding shocker.


Stateside, the rise of the 'retrosexual' has been charted, eclipsing the likes of the metrosexual and SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy). Putting the 'man' firmly back into manhood, the retrosexual is an advocate of good old-fashioned manners.

He likes gloriously expensive tailoring, knows how to dance with a woman, and date a woman properly. And while the retrosexual might not go the way of Don Draper by sleeping with his secretaries or downing martinis before midday, he wouldn't be caught dead watching Desperate Housewives or Come Dine With Me on the sofa with his missus.

Rather, he doffs his cap to the likes of Steve McQueen, Indiana Jones and Mick Jagger. He even has his own manual: The Retrosexual Manual: How To Be A Real Man, was released earlier this summer, further sealing the retrosexual's ongoing popularity.

It's a curious development, not least when compounded with the new fascination with all things homely. I have married friends who refer to themselves, without a shred of irony, as 'Suzy Homemaker'. The recession may have forced some of them out of the workplace, but in the meantime they appear only too happy to greet their men at the door, fragrant after an afternoon of baking and basting.

So, is there something in these old-fashioned values, or are the women who buy into these traditional ideas destined to go the way of Mad Men's Betty Draper, nervous breakdown and all? Are our super-modern, having-it all-morals ruining our relationships? Well, yes and no, according to Lisa O'Hara from Relationships Ireland: "The thing is, men are better at one thing, while women are better at another. When the roles are blurred, as they have been in modern times, we expect our partner to do the same as us. If the roles were more clear-cut we could just get on with things a little easier.

"It's not about being subservient; in fact, men need to take more influence from women. I think, ultimately, women can definitely do many things themselves, but they do like to feel cherished, complimented . . . and, in some cases, protected."

Perhaps the Suzy Homemakers of this world are on to something.

But whether you think doing the dishes is a small price to pay for the chivalry, the cocktail hours, and all that wonderfully expensive tailoring . . . well, I guess that's up to you.