In our Mad Men introduction, we wrote a few things about Don Draper – marvelously embodied by Jon Hamm – but today we want to focus more closely on his person and clothing style.
Don Draper – The Character
Donald is certainly a multifaceted character – confident yet tortured, direct yet secretive. Like most of us, his external image doesn’t match his internal view of himself. He fights to strike a balance between living the way he wants and living the way it is easiest for him – which speaks to his very human desire to conquer his weaknesses. It seems like he often tries his best, but eventually he has to give in. This is especially true for women. Especially in the early episodes, he sleeps with almost every attractive woman that crosses his path, and even when he is torn in his dreams he usually gives in to his lust. His new wife Megan seems to have drawn out Don’s earnest desire to have a real relationship, and put his wandering ways behind him. Whether Don can successfully continue on this path is less certain.
Obviously, Don is a successful, self-made Mad Man who worked his way up. He is still involved in creative work landing contracts with major companies. In client situations, he does a superb job of emphatically analyzing what his client needs and demands, which is probably his key to success. Ironically, he does not seem to understand at all what his family needs or wants, at least in the past.
When he is upset or irritated, he often acts very impulsively. For example, he publishes a letter in the New York Times bashing the cigarette industry after Lucky Strike jumps ship, without consulting with his partners beforehand. On the one hand, this lands him a nomination from the lung cancer society and industry wide respect, but on the other hand big companies cautiously avoid entering new contracts with him, because they fear he might turn against them in case they split ways eventually.
Don is also concerned about his perception by others. He never wants to look weak and he enjoys being in charge. In order to maintain this facade, he is secretive and never asks for help- even his first wife did never knew during their marriage who he really was. Of course, the point is that we all see a little bit of Don Draper in ourselves – without the extremes. And while Don is touted as being a modern style icon, I can honestly say that while he wears his clothing well, I’m certain that the readers of the Gentleman’s Gazette know how to dress better. How’s that for confidence?
The Clothes of Don Draper
But, we will get to that assertion in a minute – back to Don. Clothing directly allows Don to manipulate his external image. He uses them to shield himself from his environment, while they support his aura of authority. He is absolutely not a clothes horse, rather choosing the same wardrobe staples that work for him: short brimmed hats, narrow lapels, skinny ties and white shirts. Though these fashion choices were the newest styles available after his return from Korea, Don has clearly stopped thinking about latest trends.
The costumes and suits for Mad Men were designed by Janie Bryant, who claims: “These guys were the elite of the elite. They all went to prep school – they’re used to uniforms, jackets and ties, a buttoned-down look.” Also, the set designers were so focused on details that they did not display apples in the show because modern-day versions are too big to be considered and apple from the 1960’s. Based on these statement and insights, I expected a lot of attention to detail sartorially.
Don Draper’s Suits & Shirts
The suits were probably one of the biggest disappointments for in the show, in my opinion. Apparently, some of the garments were authentic sixties, but I think they were rather cheap looking and not actually what the New York ” Elite of the Elite” would have worn. For example, the fabrics are categorically too flimsy and thin. Back then, the 13 oz weight was an absolute standard, even though synthetic fibers were used more heavily even in more upscale suits. The thin fabrics don’t drape well, and so you can often see Don with a gaping collar and ill-fitting sleeves and pants.
According to Bryant, she paid attention to the character showing some cuff, but to me that’s not a noteworthy highlight but an obvious expectation. Also, the buttons on the sleeves often do not feature button holes, not even sham ones. In the 1960’s, there were still custom tailors around and although mass produced suits were the norm, American Alpha males would have rarely worn suits without surgeon cuffs. Overall, the suits did not often look authentic to me (except in terms of the style) and I do own quite a few vintage 1960s garments. Right after the first season of Mad Men, one could purchase Mad Men suits from various retailers and currently, Brooks Brothers seems to have the licensing rights to it. These look very similar to the suits in the show, but of course, they are made of light weight fabrics and not 1960’s cloth. With prompting, Don will wear more interesting such as a plaid sportscoat, but he looks uncomfortable.
The shirts are often modern and were sourced from Brooks Brothers. The collar styles are all fairly classic and Don wears exclusively white shirts, even on the rare occasions he wears a sportscoat!
Donald Draper’s Shoes
Throughout the show, we rarely get to see his black shoes. In the rare occasions, one can see that they are Norwegian Derby shoes without the split toe. This style is a little less formal than a black plain toe oxford, like Roger wears, but they still business appropriate.
Don Draper’s Accessories
Follow the link to find a detailed article about Don Drapers watch, cufflinks, watches, and other accessories.
How to Create The 1960’s Don Draper Mad Men Look
Mad Men Suit Authenticity: Things done well
- I. Narrow Lapels
- II. Some shoulder padding
- III. Tapered jacket waist
- IV. Business colors – grey, blue, charcoal
- V. Narrowly cut trousers that taper to the ankle without a break
- VI. Use of authentic tie bars and cufflinks
- VII.Aviator Sunglasses
Mad Men Suit Authenticity: Things to AVOID
- I. Flimsy fabrics with wrinkles – choose heavy, beautifully draped fabrics instead
- II. The lack of stiff canvasing – sixties suits were all about stiff canvasing, so don’t forget it!
- III. Fit not perfect – but when has a poor fit ever been in style?
- IV. Lack of surgeon cuffs – the elite back then had buttonholes on their cuffs
Overall, I appreciate that the Mad Men crew created a distinctive style, although I disagree in regards to authenticity. The elite of the elite in NYC would have worn better clothes than the characters in the show. That aside, they did a great job in revealing the social issues of the era and reminding us of the style virtues of the time. As for you, my dear readers, I don’t have to tell you not to put Don on a style pedestal. You know that having great style involves variety, risk-taking, real confidence and no fear. So, let’s leave Don’s style as it is – a great time capsule and a representation of a particular character – but not a wardrobe to singularly emulate.