From Don’s Suits to Megan’s Boots: Mad Men Fashion Undressed

Mad_Men_Season_7,_Promotional_PosterFrom Don’s perfectly tailored suits to Peggy’s buttoned-up business attire and Megan’s beehives and go-go boots, Mad Men’s award-winning costumes are as compelling as the characters that wear them.

As the second half of the seventh and final season premiered last night, we checked in with fashion historian Clare Sauro about the historical accuracy of the fashion we’ve seen so far and what we can expect from the show’s foray into the 1970’s this season. Sauro is the curator of Drexel University’s Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.

Don and Betty Draper
Don and Betty Draper’s fashion choices reveal clues about them and the times they live in.

Why is fashion such an important aspect of Mad Men?
Mad Men has always been a stylish show and has skillfully used costume design to emphasize character traits or unspoken cultural shifts. Clothing is a subtle, but useful, form of non-verbal communication – the characters of Mad Men, through the clothing they choose to wear, give clues to their background, age and income, as well as their political and social views. Beyond the individual character development, the costumes and set design, as a whole, have evolved to convey the changing social mores of the turbulent 1960s.

Can you give us a few examples of how characters’ styles have evolved – or haven’t – and what that says about them?
Earlier on, Peggy is dressed like a schoolgirl (ponytail and sweater) and is teased for her out-of-date style (longer, full skirts, a style associated with the 1950s). This is to emphasize her innocence and lack of sophistication. Later, as she begins to move up in the office as a copywriter, she trades her ponytail for a modified bubble cut. The cutting of her ponytail is a symbolic gesture representing her break from her past life and her decision to pursue new career ambitions.

Peggy Olson
Peggy Olson’s “schoolgirl” style transformed into that of a professional businesswoman.

In another example, when Betty Draper attempts to return to modeling after being praised as the “Grace Kelly”-type, she arrives at the agency in a strapless bouffant dress – a striking contrast to the modestly dressed models in the waiting room. This represents her old-fashioned and unrealistic expectations regarding her career, and how out of touch she has become while living in the suburbs.

The final season of the show will take us into the 1970s. What do you expect to see fashion-wise? Bell-bottoms? Fringe?
Although it had been building for some time, last season really emphasized the growing generation gap of the central cast. The costumes worn by Megan Draper are the most striking example of this – T-shirts and panties instead of a proper nightgown, miniskirts, bare feet and “poor boy” sweaters all emphasize her youth and interest in counterculture ideas.

Banana Republic's Mad Men-themed line i sjust one example of the show's influence on popular culture.
Banana Republic’s Mad Men-themed line is just one example of the show’s influence on popular culture.

Also, as an actress, youth and beauty are assets and she has always been the first of the cast to adopt new trends. This rift is striking when compared to her husband, Don, who has barely changed his appearance since the first season, and his ex-wife Betty, who has settled into the modest suits and bouffant hair of a political wife. Don and Betty may soften their look in this last season but it is unlikely they will change much.

I would expect to see high granny boots (possibly with platforms) and hot pants for Megan this season. The colors last season had already begun to shift toward the earth tones of the 1970s and I would expect this to intensify with lots of warm brown, harvest gold and avocado green. I think we will be seeing another pantsuit on Peggy as she continues to climb the corporate ladder.

Romper in the Fox Historic Costume Collection, Saks Fifth Avenue, circa 1970.
This romper from Saks Fifth Avenue circa 1970 in the Fox Historic Costume Collection fits with Megan Draper’s style aesthetic on the show.

Have you noticed any influence from the show on contemporary style?
Mad Men has certainly had an influence on fashion; there were even Mad Men-themed collections at Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers. Mad Men has also played a part on the widespread revival of the slender silhouette for men and the winged eyeliner seen all over Pinterest.

What pieces in the Historic Costume Collection would fit in on the show? Which characters can you see wearing them?
We have a number of things in the Fox Historic Costume Collection that would fit the characters for the show’s final season. In particular, we have a black lace hot pant evening romper that is exactly the sort of thing Megan Draper would wear. For additional 1970s items in the Collection, check out this article of top-10 favorites posted by the Drexel Alumni Association.

For Sauro’s thoughts on the historical accuracy of 1920s fashion in Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of The Great Gatsby, click here.

For her thoughts on Kate Middleton’s maternity fashion, click here.

Members of the news media who are interested in speaking with Sauro further should contact Alex McKechnie at at 215-895-2705.