Mad Men: Going Out in Style


Friday, June 08, 2012

Hand it to AMC's Mad Men: on its own, it has reshaped the way we think about the 1960s. Much of that is the work of costume designer Janie Bryant, whose outfits and shifts in style signal the tensions of 1960s America.

Writer Tom Fitzgerald deconstructs the characters' clothes in obsessive detail each week for and Slate. Fitzgerald tells Kurt Andersen that in the early seasons, Bryant dressed the characters as if they were still living in the 1950s to reflect how unprepared they were for their current decade. "That's why Betty worked a very Grace Kelly look and Joan used to work a very Marilyn Monroe look, because these were iconic 1950s women," Fitzgerald explains.

This season, Fitzgerald noticed the clothes reflecting arcs in the plotline. The rose motifs on the dresses worn by office manager Joan got smaller and smaller as her marriage soured; as Peggy the copywriter rises in power in the office, she’s often seen in a golden yellow. "Whenever she wears that in the office it usually signals something good is happening in her career," Fitzgerald notes.

As the show approaches 1968, the counterculture is poised to arrive on the scene in force, but Fitzgerald trusts the show will avoid excesses, instead reflecting the reality that some people are more able to change than others. "Don is going to end the '60s in a skinny tie and a skinny lapel jacket," Fitzgerald says. "He's not going to grow sideburns or start wearing Nehru jackets."


Is Mad Men more style than substance? Tell us in a comment below.


Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson and Joel Murray as Freddy Rumsen in a scene from Mad Men (Ron Jaffe) Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson and Joel Murray as Freddy Rumsen in a scene from Mad Men (Ron Jaffe)


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Tom Fitzgerald

Produced by:

Michele Siegel

Comments [7]


Fabulous in visual detail and emotional nuance. Sympathetic and true particularly to the females of that era, who are actual women, conniving, manipulative, generous, sexual, sweet, loving, ambitious, healing, capricious disempowered, desperate, sexual objects. The mother daughter relationship so painful... a subject that I hope is explored more in depth. All of it, particularly the beautiful perfectionistic Betty Draper, explains what we gals of the sixties were rebelling against.

Apr. 09 2013 04:40 PM
elka from NJ

I love this show so much. The clothes and interior design just draws me in. The stories are great too. The smoking is so obnoxious just the way it really was in the sixties. I wish it was on every day for 2 hours.

Jun. 13 2012 09:42 AM

Caveat: I so totally love this show, I might not be completely, um, unbiased.

That being said, I love how this show continues to go in directions you don't expect. The evolution of characters is not predictable, every other drama I've watched on prime time TV is so completely predictable, I get bored in 10 minutes.

Not so with this. I can't wait to see where this is going to go next, and I love that it keeps it all in the context of the time, and how the era influences what is happening... No other show has used it's time period in history quite the same way.

Jun. 11 2012 10:57 PM
Liz E. from Brooklyn, USA

I'm picturing Jon Hamm in Nehru and sideburns....Tom and Lorenzo's blog is so detailed and fantastic, great to hear him on S.360!

Jun. 10 2012 02:15 PM
John Mihalec from Fairfield, CT

As Mad Men moves into the early months of 1967, with the Summer of Love at the door and 1968 around the corner, this finely calibrated, perfected world is about to explode. Politically, culturally, satorially. That is what is so dramatic about this moment in Mad Men: we DO know what's about to happen. And we DO know what's coming, especially when compared to Kurt's recent essay about how little changed culturally from 1990 to 2010, except for communications technology. Up til now, Weiner has expertly managed very finely grained evolutions, especially the role of women, in a fascinating story. How can he keep control of it now when the world he has recreated is about to go off the rails?

Jun. 09 2012 08:22 PM
mg from Northern Virginia

I was interested in Tom's comment that one of the women characters often wears purple. I grew up in the 50s and 60s and I don't recall that anyone wore purple. When I got married in May 1969, I was stunned when a friend showed up at the wedding in a purple pants outfit. It was fabulous, but I'd never seen anyone in so much purple.

Jun. 09 2012 03:27 PM
jp from Boston

I think the series started off very strong. Joan and Peggy are the REAL STARS of the program. The 50s and 60s had ICONIC STYLE and design...which has not present (in a good way) since then...

Jun. 09 2012 07:05 AM

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