If you’re a sucker for the “Mad Men” vibe of cool dudes, sexy chicks and midcentury style, you should really check out “Playboy’s Penthouse,” Hugh Hefner’s variety show from the early days of his budding Playboy empire. Episodes are available on DVD, including through Netflix.

The episodes were taped in a party atmosphere that brought together a cross section of fashionable society (the kind of crowd seen in our post “A Swellegant, Elegant Party“), and adult music (jazz, vocalists) that’s a far cry from the musical acts featured on today’s late-night shows.

And then there’s everybody smoking, including the singers while they perform. Is smoking glamorous? Don’t be daft: Of course it is.

In a February 1960 episode, a young beauty from Hef’s harem asks him about the turnback cuffs on his dinner jacket. Hefner, who had previously donned the Ivy League Look, proceeds to bore the girl to death with a dissertation on men’s tailoring, pointing with his Dunhill shell briar for effect.

Here’s what he says:

Well, this suit is Continental, Elsa. It’s a new style in America. Look, Tom’s formal is Ivy, which has been very popular. The difference is in the cuff. This has a little more cut to the jacket; it’s a shorter jacket. You’ll notice Tom has flaps on his pockets. These pockets are slanted.

After the war, when everybody was wearing full shoulders and full suits, Ivy came in. Ivy had been with us in the East for a long time, but it became very popular on a national level. Ivy has enjoyed a strong popularity, but just this last season something new has come over from Italy, and it’s Continental. It’s like Ivy in that it’s slim, but it’s a little more trimmed at the waist, a little more padding in the shoulder, the pockets are often slashed, and in addition the jacket is a little shorter, and you get accessories sometimes like the cuff and no belt.

Then Tom (the Ivy-clad fellow pictured above at left), perhaps concerned that the fashionableness of his attire may be nearing its expiration date, asks “Do you think Continental will replace the Ivy League style?”

Hef replies:

Playboy doesn’t think so. We did an article on it a couple of months ago. Ivy is so fundamental that I think it’s going to be with us. It’s basic, good conservative dress, and we think it’ll stay with us always. But Continental has a little more flair, it’s a little more elegant, and we think it fits those occasions when a man wants to dress up. We think there’s a place for both.

Ditching Ivy for Continental may be an error in judgment for us natural shoulder fans, but it’s not as bad as ditching clothing altogether in favor of pajamas.

After Hef’s style speech, he introduces Cal Tjader, who goes on to play the vibes in a gray sack suit and black knit tie (and with his specs and receding hairline, kinda looks like Newton Street Vintage circa 2009).

Here’s Tjader doing the lovely “Shina no yoru,” originally a Japanese propaganda song from the ’30s.

I like to sing it Nihon-go de in the shower. — CC