The Exquisite Mad Men

Mad Men – where to begin? Now about to wrap up its fifth season, Mad Men has been a feast for the eyes since the first episode. Costume designer Janie Bryant consistently outdoes herself. There have been times when I’ve had to rewind my DVR because I’ve been so enthralled by the costumes and hair that I’ve missed chunks of dialogue! (But don’t worry, I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as I can for those of you who may not be caught up to the current episodes.)

Jon Hamm as Don Draper

Being set in a 1960s ad agency, there are, of course, a lot of suits. Don Draper is almost always dressed impeccably. The well-tailored suits, the fedoras, the beautiful overcoats. It was an era when almost all men wore suits to the office every day, and Bryant has done an excellent job of recreating that vibe for the men. As the show has progressed through the 1960s, the creative department of the agency has gotten more casual. Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has a couple of gentlemen who have never worn a full suit to work. Stan usually even skips a jacket and opts for more polo shirts and sweaters.

Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) & Joan (Christina Hendricks) in their earlier days at the office

And then there are the women’s costumes! What a gorgeous display. Each of the main female characters has her own distinct style. Joan has always worn clothes with a tighter, sleeker silhouette to accentuate her curves. Her style has actually not evolved that much over the years. While her ensembles are consistently beautiful, I think it symbolizes in part Joan’s desire to hold onto the effortlessness with which she attracted men just a few years back. She hasn’t quite made the transition to the more stylish dresses many of the other women at the office are wearing.

Peggy, on the other hand, has evolved quite a bit in her style. She started out as a mousy secretary, and her clothing reflected that. Her dresses were almost little girl-ish, and so was her hair. As she moved up at the agency, she seemed to become more interested in her clothing. She got some advice, cut her hair, moved on to more fashionable dresses. By last season (4), she had quite a few cute suits and hats. I have noticed, though, that this season she seems to have regressed a bit – she’s back to some of her earlier, plainer blouse and skirt combos. Perhaps it was an outward sign that she has seemed to have a little less confidence this season?

A more stylish Peggy

Megan has been very interesting to watch in season 5. She is perhaps the most fashion-forward character on the show, and she’s had some beautiful and fun ensembles. When she and Don go out for an evening, she quite often has some sort of exquisite beading on her dress. Most of her dresses also reflect the shorter length that was becoming popular as the 1960s charged on. They’re quite a contrast to the dresses Betty wore when she was married to Don. Quite often they had fuller skirts, or if they didn’t, they were floor length. She tended to wear a lot of pastels as well, whereas Megan leans toward brighter, more saturated colors.

I know I’ve only highlighted a few characters, but every single outfit on the show, even those worn by the extras, is remarkable. Bryant pays great attention to detail, so the hats and accessories are always fun to look at too. And while most of the show takes place in the office, occasionally we get to see that more formal event, with gorgeous evening gowns and gloves, and fancy French twist hairstyles.

If you haven’t had the chance to check out Mad Men, do yourself a favor and watch it – if only for the costumes alone! (Although the drama is pretty great too.)