1960s Fashion: The Women of Mad Men
It’s not hard to fall in love with Sunday night’s Emmy Award winner Mad Men. The show’s early 1960s set and costumes are enough to make even the most forward-thinking men and women swoon- even if you have a love/hate relationship with womanizing art director Don Draper. But gosh, isn’t he just dashing in those suits? Now that’s what we’re talking about.
Stopping by the official show’s website, we discovered a treasure trove of pictures from the seasons’ stunning costumes alongside commentary by Mad Men Costume Designer Janie Byrant. So we had to share: we’ve repurposed these pictures and comments by Janie as she describes the era, the characters, and the delights of being the Costume Designer for one of the hottest shows of the 21st century.
You may already be familiar with Janie’s work as Costume Designer on TV show Deadwood and while there blood-soaked scenes are rather few on Mad Men (although Season 3 does offer an unfortunate blood-spraying scene all over Joan Holloway’s lovely emerald-green dress), we think she’s doing a stellar job. Actually, we want her job: shopping for vintage clothes and designing look-alikes based on 1960s sewing patterns? Where’s the job application?
Fashion in the Early ’60s
Costume Designer Janie Byrant on Season 2 costumes: “The year 1960 is a transitional period in women’s fashion. The hemlines are becoming shorter as opposed to the earlier fifties style of a circle skirt that has more of a flat front and that is longer and fuller. By 1960, there’s a gathering at the waist and the hem length has come up a lot: It’s right below the knee and getting shorter.”
Janie Bryant on Betty Draper, Episode 1 “Because it’s winter, I wanted her to have the cashmere sweater — it would be more traditional to do the shirt and the tie; I know my mother would kill me for using a little creative license because she rode, but I thought it was significant to use those pieces just in terms of how I see Betty Draper, like all in perfection… it’s so Grace Kelly.”
Janie Bryant on Betty Draper, Episode 1 “Here she’s added her winter white cashmere coat. That’s a genuine piece. And of course she’s wearing her pearls and it’s almost like an Hermes style vintage scarf — it’s not Hermes, it just looks like it! That classic Betty Draper style. And the gloves, and the quilting at the cuff. It’s quite simple but so gorgeous. And you know, you still see women like this. That beautiful classic style from the period that they’ve carried on for their entire lives.”
Janie Bryant on Betty Draper, Episode 3 “I love this dress! Matt and I had so many discussions about Betty and that she really, really loves Marilyn Monroe. So I found this dress at Roxy Costume and it’s a beautiful bubblegum pink silk taffeta, and I love the idea for the scene where she’s got a Marilyn Monroe halter — that character is very cool, and it’s about having that image and maintaining that sense of perfection, so it’s sort of how everyone sees her from the outside and not so much what’s on the inside.”
Janie Bryant on Betty Draper, Episode 8 “My favorite costume of the whole season, hands down, is Betty Draper’s dress in “A Night to Remember.” I call it her Sad Clown Dress! I love it so much. And when it gets ruined in the episode, it’s even better. You know, ruining clothes for TV, it’s just part of the process. I used to have sentimental attachment to that kind of thing, but it’s part of telling the story. And I mean, it was just wrinkled, it can be fixed! She didn’t rip it. Matt loves this dress, too.”
Janie Bryant on Betty Draper, Episode 7 “My other favorite costume is Betty’s dress when she goes to the formal gala. We put Don Draper in his dinner jacket when Jimmy Barrett says he’s having an affair, but I designed Betty’s dress for her, to make sure it matched the entire mood of the episode. I think it was the perfect contrast, that beautiful dress compared with the awful night she had.”
Costume Designer Janie Byrant on Season 2 costumes for Peggy: “On the other end of the spectrum is Peggy, who is more old-fashioned in the cut of her garments. Her clothing has a look of innocence and coming into this world, where she’s learning so much and seeing all these things happening with the men and the women in the office. So her costume reflects that.”
Janie Bryant on Peggy Olson, Episode 2 “Peggy’s dress is this cotton floral vintage dress and keeping with that schoolgirl style that Peggy Olson has, but just a little dressier. This dress was huge, it was like, five or six sizes bigger than Elisabeth Moss. So I cut it down to fit her and added some more pleats in the skirt, and then added the petticoats and the black satin belt. She had on white petticoats underneath the dress during the party, but when they shot the scene where the camera is above her, her sheets were white and I was like, we have to do a black petticoat because I love showing the undergarments and what goes into the making of the final piece.”
Janie Bryant on Peggy Olson, Episode 10 “I love this dress so much! That’s the grown up version of her blue and black check that she wore last year, which was really outdated and unfitting. This is so much more modern. I found it in the Helen Larson collection at Western Costume, and here, Peggy wears her long line bra and her girdle to make everything smooth and nice. That’s a trick she’s picked up this season.”
Janie Bryant on Joan Holloway, Episodes 4 and 5 “I think that Joan is a woman who knows exactly what her assets are, and I think she totally commands that office. And when she is on that screen, that’s all you see. Maybe she came to the office to find her husband…I think she’s probably a person who always wore form-fitting clothes.”
Janie Bryant on Joan Holloway, Episode 10 “People ask me a lot if Joan will ever wear a mini-skirt or a shift or something, and I say, “uh, no!” I always think of Joan as that character who knows exactly how to play it, and who works everything she has. Joan, she’s always worn fitted garments; she always will wear fitted garments, until the day she’s six feet under!”
Janie Bryant on Trudy Campbell, Episode 2 “Trudy’s dress is purple — you can’t believe how purple that bodice is in real life. It was like this huge size, and I cut it down to fit her. And how perfect is this, the label in the dress is called Park Lane Debs?! And my mother’s boyfriend gave the vintage brooch to me.”
Janie Bryant on Bobbie Barrett, Episode 3 “I see Bobbie having some sort of glitz because she used to be a showgirl. And this is the bodice, it’s a printed silk with gold beading covering it. Being forward, that is her character; she’s a total modern woman. Matt and I had a lot of discussions about where I was going with ’60 to ’62, and the change is really minimal, because change takes time.”
Janie Bryant on Sheila, Episode 10 “Oh, I love dressing Sheila. You know, the motivation for her costume here is that she’s coming into the city, and wants to look her finest and be presentable. So the whole costume is about her dressed up to see Paul in the city. And it is 1962, so that pillbox hat is pretty mainstream! You balance that with the fact that she works at a grocery store, so it shouldn’t look like she’s around all these sophisticated city women every day. But at that time, people had access to suits and pillbox hats as normal, everyday garments. She could have gotten it anywhere.”
Costume Designer Janie Byrant on Season 2 costumes for Rachel: “The jackets are also getting a little more square cut. They’re not the Jackie O style yet, with more asymmetrical lines and boxier cuts, but things are definitely heading in that direction.”
Secretaries of Sterling Cooper
Costume Designer Janie Byrant on Season 2 secretaries’ costumes: “We don’t want to see everybody looking like a model. The interesting thing about the characters in the show is that everybody is beautiful for being different, each looking like individual characters. With all the different body types — curvy, straight, tall, short — you can really showcase those elements through the costume design.”
All images and quotations from Janie Byrant are provided courtesy of the official website for the AMCTV show Mad Men.