Mad Men came to an end last night after 7 seasons of beautiful and elaborate (visual) storytelling. There are many memorable moments in the series’ 8 year long stretch on the small screen, ranging from lawnmower accidents to LSD trips, but I thought I’d pay homage to the series my way, dissecting some of the sartorial clues Costume designer Janie Bryant and Make up artist Lana Horochowski have left for viewers. While some bloggers go as far as to claim the characters are clad in green or blue before they cheat, Bryant says: “My job is to tell the stories of these characters through these clothes. There is definitely symbolism there, but sometimes it’s a bit more overt.”
Here are 10 outfits and style elements that helped tell this tale of midcentury drama: 10 iconic looks from 7 seasons of Mad Men.
1. Betty Draper’s nightie – S1E9 “Shoot”
For most of the first season, Betty Draper is a picture perfect Barbie doll, dressed up in flawless getups that were heavily influenced by Grace Kelly.
However, when Betty looses out on a Coca Cola commercial, she works out her anger and frustration by blasting the pigeons of her neighbor, Mr Beresford, out of the sky with a rifle. She does so in a semi-transparent nightgown, cigarette hanging from her lips, dead look in her eyes.
The scene happens just after a moment of seemingly domestic bliss, as Betty sends Don of to work, does a load of laundry and can’t help but smile at her children jumping off the bed upstairs. “My Special Angel” by Bobby Helms plays in the background, and TV magic was made.
2. Betty Draper’s black dress in Italy – S3E8 “Souvenir”
Although Betty looks amazing, this is a very atypical look for her. Even to that extent that Don doesn’t recognize her at first. It’s the first and last time we ever see Betty in black. On vacation in Italy, Betty wears a strappy black dress with long pearls. It’s a moment of surprise. We learn that Betty speaks fluent Italian, (a souvenir from her modeling days) and her fashionable getup is another hint at her life before Don. Soon after this, Betty leaves Don for Henry Francis.
3. Joan Holloway’s red dress – S4E2 “Christmas Comes But Once a Year”
Sexy Joan Holloway wears a lot (and I do mean a lo-hoot) of red dresses on the show, but there is one that takes the cake: a figure-hugging, bright red dress with a red bow on the back.
After series creator Matthew Weiner saw costume designer Janie Bryant’s creation, there was even a line written into the script where Roger Sterling asks Joan to wear this dress at the agency’s Christmas party. “The red dress, the one with the bow on the back, that makes you look like a present.”
“I showed him a picture from our fitting with Christina and he loved it so much that he said, ‘I’m going to write a line in there about the bow’ ” says Bryant.
Honorable mention in Joan’s wardrobe goes out to her signature pen necklace, an accessory that, though seemingly innocent and professional, can’t help but emphasize some of her “natural qualities”.
4. Megan Draper’s little black dress. – S5E1 & 2 “A little Kiss”
In the season 5 premiere, Don’s second wife Megan performs a sultry rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou” at Don’s 40th birthday party, embarrassing him while his colleagues gawk their eyes out watching Megan’s leggy performance. This was the first time anyone sported a minidress on the show, showing that in fact the times they were a-changing, but perhaps Don wasn’t so keen on changing with them. According to costume designer Janie Bryant, “It was very French and simple and elegant, and hip and chic. That’s Megan.”
Because there would be singing and dancing, Bryant designed the dress with extra large sleeves to add dramatic effect. The costume didn’t miss its mark, and Megan Draper instantly became one of the key figures of a new Mad Men era.
5. Fat Betty -S5E1 & 2 “A little Kiss”
When Season 5 premiered, there was one noticeable absentee. While Megan Draper was “Zou bisou bisou”-ing her way into the hearts and minds of the audience, Betty Draper was nowhere to be found. For a moment my heart stopped thinking it would be possible Betty had been written out of the series, but then episode 2 arrived and all was back to normal. Or was it?
Betty’s storyline included a cancer scare and an interesting call with ex-husband Don, but all anyone could talk about was the arrival of “Fat Betty”. Following noticeable weight gain, a 34 year old Betty sits in her doctor’s office and is told that “With middle-aged women, it gets easier to put it on and harder to take it off.” Betty is now considered old and fat, no longer the aspirational (yet cold) Barbie doll she once was, and it’s the beginning of a very interesting storyline for her.
It was however, not the best storyline for many fans who took to social media to fatshame Betty Draper. Fatshaming is not a good look on you, fans.
6. Sally Draper’s Go-Go boots – S5E7 “At the Codfish Ball”
If there’s one character who has grown up with the show, it must be Sally Draper. When we meet Sally in season 1, she’s just a child, but as the show progresses she turns into a young woman, and a very sassy one for that matter.
Nowhere is this transition more apparent than in season 5, where Sally’s white boots (picked out with the help of Megan and Marie Calvet) were a symbol of her budding puberty.
In the seventh episode, Don Draper made Sally take off the boots (as well as her make-up) because they looked too mature. In the 12th episode of season 5 Sally finally wore the boots in public while on a date. The trip to the Natural History Museum was cut short by nothing less than Sally’s first period.
7. Ken Cosgrove’s Eyepatch – S6E12 “The Quality of Mercy”
From the beginning of Mad Men, Ken Cosgrove is actually one of the few men in the series who is a pretty decent guy. He’s not a drunk, he doesn’t cheat, he’s loyal and he’s good at his job. He also writes and publishes sci-fi stories, and he can tap dance, which is pretty cute.
Somehow, good guy Ken Cosgrove constantly gets screwed over. But never as much as by the end of the sixth season, when Ken gets beaten down by a year of hard work for Chevy in Detroit, and he literally gets shot in the face by his clients. From then on, Ken wears an eyepatch, and he’s a changed and somewhat bitter man. Poor Ken.
8. Peggy Olson’s Pant Suit – S6E13 “In Care of”
The moment Peggy Olson walks in the office on her first day as a secretary, she is a paragon of innocence. She never uses the way she looks to attract attention and is usually dressed in conservative outfits with subdued and understated colors.
When Peggy climbs the corporate ladder, her appearance transforms. While she’d never wear anything revealing, she leaves her schoolgirl quality behind and ventures into a more business appropriate wardrobe. She takes lessons from the boys.
When Peggy finally took over Don’s position in the Season 5 finale, there was only one choice, according to costume designer Janie Bryant: “That was a huge, huge moment for her character. She had to wear pants. She became the modern woman.”
9. Roger Sterling’s Moustache – S7E8 “Severance”
As Mad Men ventured into the 1970s, the show’s creators started thinking about facial hair. Head of Make Up Lana Horochowski explains: “You don’t want to like wake up one day and everyone on the show has facial hair.” So they decided to slowly transition certain members of the cast into trendy styles of the era.
Last season, they made Harry Crane’s sideburns a little longer, then they had Michael Ginsberg grow out his mustache. And then there was Stan Rizzo with his big beard.
But as season 7 part 2 began, there was one character who took the cake. Roger Sterling suddenly appeared sporting a glorious white moustache, and somehow got away with it.
Roger’s stache was a hit on the internet, and according to Vanity Fair, that made Lana Horochowski very happy.
10. Don Draper’s suits – All episodes.
As much as every character has evolved in 8 years on screen, there is one that has stayed more or less the same when it comes to appearance. And yes, that character is of course Don Draper.
He’s known for wearing a Cary Grant style, perfectly tailored two-button suit and a crisp white shirt.
Costume designer Janie Bryant kept Don Draper’s grey suit the same through all seven seasons for a reason: “When you think of Superman, you think of the red cape, when you think of Don Draper, you think of the iconic gray suit. His suit is about masculinity, but it’s also like armor to protect himself from the world, from others knowing him.”
There you have it, my 10 favorite Mad Men moments in which style has helped tell the story. What’s yours?
All images (c) AMC