As we await this Sunday’s last “Mad Men” episode of the season, I thought it might be fun (particularly if some of you love costumes as much as I do) to look back over some favorite looks. I’ve long thought that costume designer Janie Bryant has one of the best jobs in television (right up there with Susannah Buxton, Rosalind Ebbutt and Caroline McCall, who design “Downton Abbey”), and I love the way she mixes vintage pieces with newly designed looks. In this interview, Bryant says that she always watches movies before each season for inspiration, and for this season, which takes place in 1968, those movies were “How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying” (starring a young Robert Morse, who plays Bert Cooper), “The Graduate,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and — no surprise — “Rosemary’s Baby.”
There’s no way I can begin to do justice to the hundreds of costumes this season (and if you want to read a wonderfully thorough examination, check out Tom and Lorenzo’s fabulous weekly column “Mad Style“). But here are a few favorites. (Unfortunately I’m restricted to what AMC makes available on its press site, which is mostly photos of the main characters — I’d have loved to include some of those very stylish secretaries, especially Clara and the squeaky-voiced blonde whose name I can’t remember, but who wore a baby-doll dress a few episodes ago that cracked me up.)
Here’s Joan, the first time we see her this season, looking regal in purple — in a skirt, blouse and vest designed for her by Bryant. “When we left Season Five, Joan had gotten a new income and new position at the office,” Bryant said, “Considering that, and everything that was happening in her personal life, I really wanted to give her an update. . . . I think it spoke to the masculinity of the office but the femininity as well.” Up until this season, Joan’s outfits and hair hadn’t changed much — body-hugging dresses (rarely separates), a carefully arranged updo — so this look is quite a departure for her. (Note that her hair’s a little looser as well.) She looks like a very, very tailored Bond Girl.
By contrast, Megan’s look has changed a great deal: she is now a successful soap-opera actress, not to mention a rich man’s wife. While at home, she’s usually barefoot and in jeans and T-shirts (an outfit no other woman on this show is ever seen in) — but when she goes out, she puts on the miniskirts, the high hair, and the ’60s-makeup mask of pale lips and smoky eyes. She wore this outfit for a client dinner with Don; I don’t have a full-length picture but I remember the skirt as very, very short. She looks beautiful and glamorous — and just try to picture this outfit on anyone else in the show. (Joan? Never. Peggy? Perish the thought? Betty? A couple of seasons ago, maybe . . . but not now.) Don’s tie coordinates nicely with her dress; they look, for all outward appearances, to be the perfect couple that we know they’re not.
I tried to find a photo of Peggy looking young and swingy (she’s pretty close to Megan in age, I think), but I couldn’t do it: Peggy seems to be the only woman on the show (outside of Pete’s mother) still wearing hats. Here, she looks like she’s at church — this photo could be right out of Season 1, minus the short haircut — but she’s at work. I love how Bryant conveys how these characters think about their clothes: Peggy doesn’t think about them too much, obviously, other than wanting to look professional.
Has Betty ever looked more beautiful than on this episode, when she and Don briefly reunited while visiting Bobby at camp? And has she ever looked more relaxed? It’s just a simple print blouse and shorts — you see women wearing this outfit today — but here it’s all-American glamour. Note the soft hair, the soft makeup, and the way January Jones was lit during this episode; she practically glowed. Betty’s look has changed the most over the years, but this season Bryant has settled on a chic politician’s-wife look, much like Jackie Kennedy (who Betty has said she admires). But here, she just looked young, casual and happy. The hair is back to blonde (thank goodness Betty’s Jackie period was brief); the clothes are simple and functional. Just perfect.
Look at this trio: Joan, wearing an appropriately jaunty sailor outfit for a trip to the beach (and her hair down, which is rare); the ubiquitous Bob Benson, wearing shorts I didn’t think were common in 1968 (Bryant’s a stickler for accuracy, so I suspect they are), and Roger, wearing a jacket that everyone’s dad once had. It’s as if all three of them are in a different era — and it shows how far apart Joan and Roger have become.
And finally: I couldn’t not include Harry Crane, could I? The dweebiest SC employee of Season 1 has become a hipster with a vengeance: note, here, the yellow pants with pink jacket, the groovy shades, and how he matches the car in a way that’s perfectly goofy. Harry, perhaps thinking that a TV guy needs to look hip, was one of the first SC men to embrace sideburns, unmatching bright-colored jackets and pants, and a floppy Beatles-ish haircut. Unfortunately, he’s still a goofball. (In this same episode, he wore a lemon-colored blazer so bright he could have stopped traffic.) I love seeing what Harry wears; he’s a walking punch line.
Got a favorite “Mad Men” outfit? Let me know — and check back here for this season’s last Mad Men Monday. Have a great weekend. You too, Harry.